House of Cards Season 5, Episode 11: The Live-Binge Review
Paranoia sets in.
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. (The whole series will appear here.)
Episode 11 (Chapter 63)
Called it! After much hinting all season, Claire turned to the camera and, finally, finally, spoke to us. “Just to be clear, it’s not that I haven’t always known you were there,” she told viewers while framed by the window of the presidential quarters, where she’d been searching for an absent Frank. “It’s that I have mixed feelings about you. I question your intentions. And I’m ambivalent about attention. But don’t take it personally. It’s how I feel about most everybody.”
The meta moment made sense in an episode suffused with the feeling of being watched. The White House team now has eyes on them constantly thanks to the Underwoods tapping their phones, mics, and laptop cameras—including those of former confidantes, including LeAnn and, as of midway through this hour, Tom Yates. It’s not a mere formality: The president, vice president, and chief of staff are definitely tuning in. And yes, you can add “White House leaker hunt” to the list of Trump-era crossovers this season.
The question of who’s sending birthday cards with flash drives of Underwood dirt to The Washington Herald could make for a juicy whodunit, but it’s hard to imagine many viewers plotting out all the possible culprits when they can just hit “next episode.” The obvious person of interest, Cathy Durant, seemed to be ruled out by her agreeing to testify; I’d suspected Counterterrorism Director Nathan Green, but then Frank said he suspected him too, so that may be a red herring. Perhaps Aidan set up an automated leak system to cause havoc from beyond the grave—he seems to still be sending LeAnn items. The other obvious pick is Jane Davis, she of the constant skullduggery and bottomless access to info. Her desire, it is increasingly clear, is to ensure Claire’s political future, even or especially at the expense of Frank’s.
Claire hasn’t quite seemed to take Jane’s offer of assistance, and it hasn’t been specified that the VP actively wants Frank to fall. Her talk with Frank and their advisers about ensuring she remains non-implicated appears to be about expediency, and she seems ambivalent as she removes her makeup and practices canned lines about her ignorance. She even followed Frank’s orders and sent Yates away—and she did more than just tell him to fall back until things calm down. In their break-up scene, Robin Wright did an amazing job of performing performance; Yates marveled at her coldness, but viewers know she showed a lot more emotion than she typically has when dismissing people. Despite all of this, Frank feels increasingly jumpy about his wife’s intentions, which may only worsen any divide between them. “Don’t get paranoid” Claire told Frank, to which he replied, “If not now, when?”
Throughout, the episode took advantage of surveillance’s associations with voyeurism and sex. Frank leered in on Doug and LeAnn’s hook up, which may have been a bid by her for renewed access to the White House or may have just indicated her crush on D.C.’s biggest creep. Frank also rejected the overtures of trainer-slash-lover-slash-unhinged-stalker Eric (Claire’s excellent analysis of him: “He did have a facial expression I won’t miss”). And Lauren Moretti showed heretofore unseen bite as she revealed her knowledge of what Doug had done: “What did you think was going on here? Huh? I’m not fucking you because I like you. I’m fucking you because I hate you.” Really, most characters having sex on this show could deliver those same lines to each other.
The public investigation into Frank keeps expanding, and new charges keep emerging. At the hour’s start, the president wouldn’t consider censure and scoffed at the thought of impeachment; by the end, he agrees to censure, asks what happens if he isn’t acquitted, and seems to adjust to the idea of Claire taking the highest office. That’s huge—all season long, his credo has been that he never loses. Yet, remember “one nation, Underwood”? Why would checks and balances be the one democratic norm he succumbs to? What would a dictator do?
Previously: Season 5, Episode 10
Next Up: Season 5, Episode 12