House of Cards Season 4, Episode 3: The Live-Binge Review

Is that Frank Underwood’s KKK scandal, or Donald Trump’s?


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 3 (Chapter 42)

It turns out Frank is having the same stabby suspicions about Clare that I was having. Those suspicions are warranted on a metaphorical level—she indeed plays Brutus in this episode—but I have to say it’s disappointing if her long-con goal really is to end up as her husband’s running mate. The show’s writers lost me a bit when Frank’s first reaction to her proposal at the end of this episode was to insult her and say she’s not worthy of the VP spot.

Isn’t the actual rational objection a practical one? Can’t a first lady have just as much de facto power as a VP? Aren’t people already factoring her in when they consider whether to vote Underwood? Isn’t putting her in the VP spot redundant? Why doesn’t she see that? In moments like this it’s good to remember that Cards really, fundamentally is a stupid TV show instead of a particularly cunning comment on political reality.

Of course, echoes of political reality are inescapable, regardless. Frank Underwood’s dad was once photographed at a KKK rally—just as Donald Trump’s dad was once arrested at a KKK demonstration. At first, thinking back to when Frank peed on his dad’s grave and made reference to his Confederate great-great grandfather, I thought this revelation would be a chance for Frank to give a forceful and thorough repudiation of his family’s racist past (just as the David Duke endorsement might have been a nice chance for Trump to forcefully and thoroughly condemn the white supremacists who’ve backed his campaign). But instead, Frank gave a weird story about his father needing a loan (and then taking a nice photo for some reason)—a story that, you imagine, would read as plenty reprehensible to a lot of voters. Frank, we all know, believes there’s nobility to sacrificing your own principles to expediency, but most upstanding people would like to say they don’t share that view. Trump’s strategy for dealing with the would-be scandal about his dad—basically declaring it off-limits for discussion—so far has turned out to be the more effective one.

Other ongoing hints of danger for the president abound. Frank keeps sidelining and modulating his dealings on the Russian crisis because of his campaign, which is maybe not what an International Relations textbook would recommend he do. Lucas prostituted himself (and walked into a future extortion and blackmail scheme) in the name of enlightening Heather Dunbar about Frank, an attempt that in the moment seemed quixotic but that might pay off by planting seeds of suspicion. And—sorry, but the headlines are on the brain—now that Frank has insulted his wife yet again, she might just make like Mitt Romney and go make a speech about a conman.

Read the review of the next episode.