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.