Our roundtable of Ayanna Julien, Josh Hamm, and Richard Garcia discuss three episodes from the third season of House of Cards.

The plot continues to thicken! At this point, we are delving deeper into many of the story lines that began in episodes 1-3 of the third season of House of Cards. The mounting pressure from both of the positions in which they are ill-qualified is fast becoming a source of contention in the usually tactical and steady relationship that previously existed between Frank and Claire Underwood. What’s more, they are losing more friends—if you can call them that—than making any as they become more and more fixated on reaching their own professional goals; to the detriment of their regime.

Frank’s Crisis of Non Faith

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AJ: Just when I thought that Frank had a heart—such as when he reacted so seemingly compassionately to Mahmoud’s personal story of tragedy as a result of a drone strike—and perhaps believed in a higher power, he goes and does something like spit in the face of a statue of Jesus after declaring that he wasn’t buying what he [Jesus] was selling: love. And that was after I thought that Bishop Eddis was making some headway with him. No matter what faith you practice, if any at all, you have to be able to see that Frank’s actions were purely disrespectful and unfathomable.

For me, the entire scene with the Bishop was particularly captivating. Bishop Eddis said all the things that any morally sound person should have said to a person like Frank, albeit two seasons too late. My favorite quote, however, was: “you were not chosen; only he [Jesus] was!” The significance of those lines was paramount in both a metaphorical way and a literal way. Frank wasn’t chosen by the people to lead them, he took the presidency. Even further, Frank apparently does believe in absolute power and it is his goal to serve himself; making him the complete antithesis of what Bishop Eddis spoke about when he was referring to the way God wants us all to live.

RG: Frank believes in the book of Frank—faith where the interests of Frank Underwood are the interests of everyone.  The sacrifices of others are the currency towards his self-interests.  Frank knows very little of the gravity he toys with during his Presidency.  The more he pulls in people to do his bidding, they push Frank away.  This seclusion will play itself out when Claire’s agenda conflicts with Frank’s self-motives.  Furthermore, we see this when Heather Dunbar denies Frank’s offer to succeed Jacobs due to his illness and announces that she will be running for President of the United States.  As Frank alluded to at the end of episode four, he’s got God’s ear—God is in fact responding in kind by letting his own (Frank’s) faith pave the way towards his misfortunes.

JH: That scene in the church was a long time coming. For a show fraught with the intersection between American politics and the divide between moral and Machiavellian means towards power, I’ve been wondering when Christianity would come into play. But it still only registers on Frank’s radar when he needs something from it; religious validation for drone strikes. It’s curious that here, he has some modicum of contrition, or at least an uncertainty that he has done the right thing, yet he was not seeking out forgiveness or justification when he killed Zoe Barnes, a much more personal act of murder. Frank is not concerned about his own morality or religious standing, but about his standing as the president. No, Frank doesn’t want absolution from God, he wants justification to rule, the divine right of kings.

Our concepts of God can often tell us more about ourselves than about God, and Frank only understands a God who rules through fear. He doesn’t understand how love could drive someone. Not in a simple “carrot and the stick” way, but as an internal selfless quality. He mocks the statue of Jesus by saying “Love, is that what you’re selling? Well, I’m not buying it”, in a moment proving his complete lack of theological understanding on a basic level, and revealing again his own true nature. Everything is a commodity; sincerity, even on Jesus’ part, is not even an option.

It’s unclear when Frank moved to wipe the spittle away from the statue, if he’s doing so out of respect or if he merely doesn’t want the Bishop to discover his mild desecration. Yet that one act in turn destroys the statue as a whole, as it smashes on the stone floor below. House of Cards has never been particularly subtle, but this is almost too obvious an indicator of the lack of God in the show. Unlike another show revolving around evil, like NBC’s insidiously good Hannibal, which inverts and contorts ideas of God and the Devil, House of Cards simply lets the face of God crumble.

Enter Thomas Yates

ThomasYatesRG: In episode five, we see the introduction of Thomas Yates, a novelist whom intrigues Frank by his game review on Monument Valley; a game we see Frank play the night before his speech on his initiative, America Works.  After a public reading from his latest book at a bookstore, Remy summons him during his book signing.  This introduction is unique in so many ways, for one, we see that Frank has great taste in video games but most importantly, it is awesome to see the writers paint a positive light towards gaming as opposed to vilifying it which a lot of mainstream outlets do.

Thomas doesn’t agree with Frank’s lofty drive in America Works.  He is hesitant to agree to pen a novel based on Frank’s tough upbringings and how it relates to America Works because Thomas doesn’t believe in America Works.  Thomas doesn’t believe he’s a salesman but merely cashing in an easy check by writing a game review.  The scene ends when Thomas is handed a pair of binoculars and off to the distance is a line of people awaiting entry in an America Works branded tent.  With Frank believing in Frank, it’ll be hard to see why narcissism will help sell America Works.

JH: It’s situations like these which I find myself scratching my head at Frank’s decision making. For all his bluster and smooth talking rhetoric he uses to influence people, he’s proven to be often quite poor at reading people. Bringing in a novelist to write propaganda for America Works seems like an inherently silly thing to do, especially a famous, well respected novelist. I could very well be proven wrong, but this just strikes me as another Zoe Barnes all over again. Frank thinks he can control people, force them to espouse his perspective, but people, especially journalists and writers, often don’t react well to authority figures telling them what they can and cannot say. I have a sneaking suspicion that when Thomas does write something, it won’t paint Frank in a good light.

UN Ambassador or First Lady

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AJ: Although much of the episode focused on Frank using his muscle to bypass Congress to fund his America Works program, I feel as though Claire was the star of episode 5. I was particularly impressed, or better yet, in awe of her gumption when handling the Russian Ambassador, Alexi. After taking a minute to collect herself post insult over the insinuation that she is merely just a beauty with no brains, she responded in the most inappropriate yet appropriate manner: by discussing her update on the matter at hand while putting on makeup and then using the bathroom in front of him. In such a crass move, she made sure to distance herself in that moment from being the First Lady as well as proved that she is Ambassador to the United Nations and thus should be dealt with as such.  You have to admit that she is the crudest classy lady. How oxymoronic?

Nevertheless, true as Alexi’s remarks may have been from a purely professional standpoint, he was out of line for saying them at all; at least to her. It was not his place and he should have known how hurtful such remarks would have been to any female, particularly one who is obviously working so hard to create her own legacy irrespective of her husband’s accomplishments. I’ve said this before, but Claire is an enigma and I just can’t figure her out. However, it certainly is entertaining to watch her character in action.

RG: WTF Claire?! Ayanna is right, I don’t know if I should be rooting for Claire or if I should hate her.  On one hand, she shows her assertiveness by refusing to leave Michael Corrigan’s cell until a deal is made between him and her regarding his release while Victor and Frank hash out a deal that will bring peace to the Gaza Strip.  Then there is the inexperienced UN Ambassador Claire that doesn’t know how to keep her composure by breaking when tensions were high in Russia following the death of Mr. Corrigan.  Which Claire should I root for?

Claire does what Claire wants and during her meal with Michael Corrigan, she was hit with an epiphany when Michael struck a nerve in Claire.  Claire silently related to Michael when he started to describe the rift between him and his husband after many years of love.  Epiphanies are nothing unless you act on them, which led to the argument on Air Force One, sans-Michael.

JH: The moment when Claire did break ranks and speak out against Petrov was powerful. Of course, in terms of foreign policy, not a great move; morally though, it needed to be said. I raised my eyebrow as a thought came to me while watching Claire’s declarative attack: here she is, not only attacking Petrov, but by proxy, her husband as well. We catch a glimpse of what Claire is capable of doing, in particular her ability to disregard Frank’s plans when she disagrees with them. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

The Fight

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AJ: To my relocation, Frank and Claire hardly ever fight; if at all. This is why their fight at the end of episode 6 was particularly intense and hooking.  Despite many of their actions, they are indeed human, so it would only be appropriate for all of their penned up prior frustrations with one another would cause them to explode in anger in the moment and manner in which it did; following the suicide of activist Michael Corrigan in the Russian prison.

What surprised me the most was the fact that they withheld no punches, including attacking each other’s competency in their current roles. And to think what started it all ensued because Claire had an epiphany after speaking with Michael Corrigan about relationships and his subsequent suicide. Finally, we see Claire grow a semblance of a conscience, or at least her existing one surfaces, at the cost of a potential peace agreement with Russia and Frank’s humiliation. The question is: how will they rebound from this one?

Moving On

DougandHeatherDunbarAJ: While Frank and Claire continue to swim in the catastrophes of their own making, the world continues to turn. For Doug, that means a new job; which I might add is great because hopefully he will have something to distract him from all of his vices. Although, I can’t help but think that part of the reason for his specific interest in Heather Dunbar’s presidential campaign is to stick it to Frank and his administration after he basically abandoned him post Rachel attack. I wonder what will happen to Doug once Frank finds out about his betrayal.

JH: Doug’s new turn, working for Dunbar, has me immediately wondering if he’s playing it straight, trying to unseat Frank, or, if it’s a long con, and he’ll slowly work to undermine her as he tries to regain Frank’s favor in the most dramatic way possible. It’s hard to tell at this point, but I’m curious to see the rest of the season manages to tie everything together – and how much they leave unconcluded for next season.

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