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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

House Of Cards: “Chapter 21”/“Chapter 22”

Illustration for article titled House Of Cards: “Chapter 21”/“Chapter 22”
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The season’s eighth episode is yet another hour of set-up, but things finally begin to pay off in “Chapter 22,” one of the few House Of Cards episodes to pack a genuine emotional punch. Before that can happen, however, Frank and Tusk have to spend more time jockeying for position, each trying to prove he’s smarter than the other.

For Tusk, this means deploying Remy to do his dirty work. It’s not hard for Remy to find someone who’d been fired from Claire’s nonprofit and fallen on hard times. “Loyalty’s not her thing,” says ex-CWI office manager Evelyn, who points Remy in the direction of Claire’s ex-lover, photographer Adam Galloway. For Frank, it means trying to flip Feng from Tusk’s side to his own by dangling the bridge project, as well as trying to get back at Lanigan by arranging for a rival tribe to be officially recognized, thus putting them in position to launch a competing casino. For once Frank is outwitted, as Lanigan simply folds the splinter group back into his tribe, giving them a piece of his own casino. This makes for an amusing (if typically unsubtle) image, as a disgruntled Frank tosses Lanigan’s steak into his pool for his attack dog to chase.

Still, by securing the president’s approval to go ahead with the bridge project (and doing an end-around Linda in the process), Frank appears to have secured the upper hand by episode’s end. That is, until the tabloid headline “Mrs. Underwood Between The Sheets,” accompanied by a potentially compromising photo, hits the wires. Tusk has made it personal, coming after not only Claire for her past indiscretions, but Freddy as well. It’s not hard to see bad things coming for Freddy when “Chapter 22” begins with a montage of the ribs man getting ready for his day, squashing a cockroach in his bedroom before heading out into his impoverished neighborhood for another day over the grill.

“Chapter 22” devotes more time to Freddy than the entire series to date, which is a pretty good indication that his plans of launching a franchise and helping his son out of his dire circumstances will end badly for everyone. But the predictability of the arc does nothing to diminish Reg E. Cathey’s performance, which conveys both Freddy’s unshakable pride and his hidden hurt that his relationship with Frank exists only as long as it’s convenience for the veep. In a way, the episode stacks the deck against Freddy when his son pulls a gun on the news photographer; it might have been more interesting to see if Frank would have actually gone through with standing by Freddy had this not happened. Nonetheless, when Freddy says, “You were a good customer. That’s it. You ain’t gotta pretend to be my friend,” it’s as close as House Of Cards has come to a genuinely heartbreaking moment.

If anything, Adam Galloway gets screwed even worse than Freddy, as the Underwoods actively paint him as a liar and publicity hound. Frank has no problem with this, of course, since the guy slept with his wife, but once again the notion that loyalty isn’t Claire’s thing is pushed to the forefront. Assuming someone brings Frank down before this series ends, the smart money would have to be on her. Yet Galloway’s fate doesn’t resonate nearly as much as Freddy’s, mainly because his character is an unpalatable mix of sleaze and spinelessness.

As directed by Jodie Foster, who may have a score or two to settle in this area, “Chapter 22” paints an even more gruesome picture of the the press than the early-season storyline involving Lucas Goodwin. Ayla Sayyad at least appears to be a competent, ethical reporter, but when she comes up against Tusk he lets her know exactly how he feels about her chosen profession. Indeed, Tusk’s contempt for the “parasites” of the press is rewarded not only by the tabloid nude shots of Claire (or, as Seth would have it, a lookalike) in the papers, but by the photographers who egg Freddy’s son on to violence. House Of Cards may be beloved by Washington pols (odd as that is to contemplate), but could beltway journalists possibly feel the same way?


In the end, the damage Tusk inflicts is purely collateral: Frank may love Freddy’s ribs, but only Claire is truly “family.” All Tusk has truly accomplished is to challenge Frank to  a down-and-dirty street fight (and not only Frank; Claire wants to “make him suffer”). The innocent victims are already forgotten, as Freddy understands all too well as he locks up the Joint for the last time. “Eyes ahead.”

Stray observations

  • The sad (and occasionally icky) ballad of Doug and Rachel continues to play out. On the plus side, this means Rachel and Lisa shacking up together and sharing a tender first kiss. On the minus side, it means Doug creeping into Rachel’s apartment and sniffing her sheets. (That’s Kate Lyn Sheil as Lisa, by the way, and you should make all haste to check her out in Sun Don’t Shine.)
  • “I have no ulterior motive here!” Even Frank must know that no one he’s ever met believes this.
  • President and First Lady Walker have gone into counseling. Did you die of boredom just reading that sentence?