The Boy and I watch a lot of shows together. I watch more shows than he does because I have time and try to be productive while I’m watching whatever it is when I get home – cooking, knitting, stuff on my computer that must get done – that kind of thing. But the Boy is focused. For the few shows he watches he wants to sit and watch them with undivided attention. Which is not to say that we aren’t occasionally distracted by our phones, but the point is that he tries much harder than I do to be in the moment and focus on a show. Perhaps it’s because he has less free time at the end of the day than I do, so he’s trying to savor every moment. Whereas if I were to watch TV from the moment I got home to the moment I went to bed, that would be up towards 6 hours of laser-beam focus, and I cannot do that. My eyes would likely melt, and chances are my brain might to start leak out my ears.
In any case – I started watching House of Cards a few years back when a different guy that I was dating who worked in politics recommended it as amazing and crazy. He also recommended the British version, but I didn’t have time for that because Frank Underwood owned my soul at that point (I may go back and see what Francis Urquhart does that is so shocking, and it’s only 12 episodes total … still possible?). For the past few years the timing of Netflix’s House of Cards release has been very close to a snow day, and so I’ve been able to binge watch hours at a time while cuddled up on the couch while watching flakes fall outside my window. Not so this year, when the season was released on March 4 and our only real snowstorm was in January. Lucky for me at this point, the Boy was caught up (having watched the series bit by bit on his own), and joined me to start watching as soon as we could.
***Note: Spoilers from here on out. All seasons, all spoilers fair game. Skip to under the last photo of Frank at his desk if you only want to read my final thoughts***
When last we left Frank, he had just won the Iowa caucus, but his wife has also told him that she is leaving him because she doesn’t feel equal in their partnership (literally, walked out the door). Stamper finally killed the former-prostitute from season 1 that he was meant to kill back then, and got back into Frank’s good graces to edge out Seth for the chief of staff job. Frank’s competitors for the Democratic nomination are Heather Dunbar and Jackie Sharp – and after Jackie drops out and endorses Heather, it’s looking like the former Solicitor General will be tough to beat. Add in Remy’s continuing affair with Jackie, the loyal in every sense of the word Secret Service Agent Meechum, and the newly added novelist-turned-confidante Thomas Yates, and things have been set up fairly well for the season.
I cannot recap every episode for you here. There are 13, and they are jam-packed with craziness and intrigue. If that’s what you’re looking for, I highly recommend Vulture’s House of Cards recaps. The important new characters we meet are Leann (seen above – first Claire’s political strategist/campaign manager turned FRANK’s political strategist/campaign manager…it makes sense, I swear), and two amazing actresses playing political powerhouse mothers – Gena Rowlands as Claire’s mother, and Cicely Tyson as a retiring congresswoman who is trying to pass her seat to her daughter and both sides and battles with both Underwoods at various times.
The season is broken up into three acts. In the first Frank is doing badly in the campaign – partly because Claire has abandoned him – until the moment he is shot (YES SHOT! HOLY COW WAS THAT A MOMENT OR WHAT???) by Lucas, the former editor who was trying to expose Frank and was instead incarcerated for cyberterrorism. Meechum dies, Lucas dies, Frank has hallucinations due to a failing liver which requires a transplant. Heather Dunbar is caught up in it because she met briefly (and secretly) with Lucas before the shooting, and due to some twists and turns (this is House of Cards, is it not?) she is forced to drop out of the race.
During the time that Frank is in the hospital, there is a standoff with Russia over drilling rights for oil (which has shot up gas prices to more than $6/gallon in that world – a nightmare I’m glad never came true for us), and Claire manipulates the Vice President/Acting President into letter her take over the negotiations, and becomes the not-so-secret hero of the entire affair…setting herself up as a political genius. When Frank awakes and goes back to work and the campaign, he agrees that Claire needs to play a bigger role…maybe even Vice President if they can work a way to get her on the ticket.
At this point we skip ahead to the second act, which is the convention, which is a disaster. Frank has not formally chosen a running mate (though openly recommending that delegates to choose his Secretary of State as his running mate) and instead left the convention “open” (a very prescient topic for the writers) in the hopes that he and Claire can manipulate it to become an Underwood-Underwood ticket. A Not-ISIS group called ICO becomes a talking point for the campaign, and a crisis with ICO draws the Republican nominee Conway to a discussion with Frank, and during his time in Atlanta (where the conventions is being held), Conway manages to make mischief and bring even FRANK’S nomination into doubt by telling the Secretary of State that he would keep her on if the presidency changed hands.
But fear not – the Underwoods are colder than that, making threats against the Secretary to expose her flaws and weaknesses that were clear during the Russia negotiations. Claire’s mother also dies, and Thomas Yates, the novelist-turned-speechwriter, writes the speech of her life for her to give at the convention. And then they sleep together, because the Underwoods keep their best assets very close. Claire is brilliant in her mourning – her mothers death (which she helped along, of course) is the spark that the country needs to see her as a calm and compassionate, but still fiercely tough balance to Frank as President. They are nominated by acclamation.
Act three takes us into the heart of the campaign. As Frank recovers from his surgeries, he is not able to fly around as much as he would like to get out and see voters. So Claire is left to make the interminable journey, but luckily she has Thomas as her companion and speechwriter to get her through. Since Frank cannot campaign in person, he must campaign by being as presidential as possible. Taking up the big issues as they come, including the final episodes confrontation with ICO-inspired homegrown terrorists who kidnap an American family. It’s brutal, but Frank plays is mercilessly, and ends up looking very presidential…and leaves us with the country on the verge of all-out war as campaign strategy.
There’s so much to this season that I left out. The Underwood’s use of NSA data as a way to equalize the other campaigns having a search engine in their donor pool and providing them information. Stamper manipulating the organ need list to get the President to the top of the line…and his weird relationship with the widow of the man who did not get the liver. The opposing candidate and his picture-perfect life, who seems up to it despite his youth, but when push comes to shove…may not be able to appropriately balance being a leader and being a husband and father on this kind of national level. And finally, the Zoe Barnes and Lucas’s old editor who after being asked to gather all their materials…puts it all together, and figures out the main political case against Frank Underwood (missing completely the actual murders that Frank did or had done). Some of these stories are better than others – the journalism one in particular is compelling…but gah. There’s just so much!
On the Saturday night when the Boy and I would watch the final episodes, his daughter H asked what we were going to do after she and her sister went to bed. “We’re going to watch a show called House of Cards”, he said. “What’s it about?” H asked. We looked at each other. “It’s an adult show about grown-up stuff. You wouldn’t like it.” That got me thinking about the kinds of shows that I watch now as an adult – this sort of slow-burn political drama really gets me, and as a “grown-up” I now have the patience for things to come together slowly over the course of a season (patience I rarely had even as a teenager). I love to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and how a real puppet-master can make those around him dance without even knowing there are strings attached. The world of House of Cards is a scary one. I have a hard time believing that Frank would ever really get elected, but that’s only because I know what goes on behind the scenes. Would he look powerful and presidential from the cheap seats? Or would everything he’s done radiate from him like stink waves? I don’t know, but that’s part of what makes this show so fun – trying to imagine if we live in a world where Frank Underwood could actually exist. Or if he already does.
Details: House of Cards, streaming on Netflix