As in previous years, I’m binge-reviewing the latest season of Netflix’s House of Cards, the TV show that helped popularize the idea of “binge watching” when it premiered in 2013. Don’t read farther than you’ve watched.
Episode 11 (Chapter 50)
Despite the Underwoods’ formidability, it’s never been clear how good they are at doing the thing that politicians are supposed to do: convincing people to vote for them. With Frank stranded in D.C. thanks to a health scare, Claire spends this hour searching for a way to connect with the electorate, but it’s a struggle. Tom Yates helps her comes up with a solution, and in typical Yates fashion, it’s a pseudo-profound abstraction: “beyond marriage.” In telling us that this is effective messaging, Cards becomes like, say, TV shows or movies about musical geniuses, where you just have to suspend disbelief that the mediocre original song that the producers commissioned would really sweep the nation.
But the underlying principle of the episode is inarguable: Human connection matters. Claire’s affair with Tom is the result of pure yearning, and Frank recognizes her need for affection to be real and serious enough to sanction their canoodling—even when it results in awkward breakfasts at the White House residence. Stamper, in a fittingly queasy-making plot turn, seems to pursue a romance with the very woman widowed by his own efforts. The fact that he now has something to live for besides his job should have concrete effects on that job, maybe to Frank’s detriment.
It may, in the end, be the Underwoods’ disregard for human fellowship that sinks them. Remy, a former ally spurned by betrayal and sickened by Frank and Claire’s tactics, has begun talking to Hammerschmidt (though in one small bit of good news for Frank, it appears the journalist is only pursuing him for political crimes, not murder). General Brockhart has been lured to the campaign of Conway, who remains impervious to Frank’s overtures regarding ICO. And most shockingly of all, Freddy explodes at Frank, having endured enough false warmth from him to last a lifetime. Note that the folksily condescending way Frank at first was talking to his old friend and ribmaster sounds a lot like the way that Frank talks on the campaign trail, or when he’s lying to someone’s face. People are starting to see through the shtick.
Read the review of the next episode.
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