The escalation of tension between Frank and Tusk in “Chapter 22” amounts to little in the subsequent two hours of House Of Cards, which are the very definition of “all talk, no action.” Well, there is a little action near the end of “Chapter 24,” as if the writers suddenly realized nothing of consequence had happened in quite some time and they needed to do something drastic to get our attention back, but we’ll get to that later.
The crisis with China is growing but it feels completely weightless. We get scenes with President Walker and his advisers discussing whether to send ships into an area where Japan and China are feuding over an island, but there’s no sense that these events are connected to our characters or present genuine peril on a global scale. These trade-route skirmishes are too distant and abstract. There’s a way to weave these plot elements throughout a season and create a sense of mounting dread, but the show couldn’t be less interested in that. It’s a phantom menace in more ways than one.
The same can be said for the threat against Claire: a former marine with a duffel bag full of explosives who holds a grudge against Mrs. Veep because his wife got an abortion. Said marine is also responsible for the white powder sent to Frank’s office back in “Chapter 17,” which makes no sense because Claire didn’t reveal her abortion in the CNN interview until hours after the powder had already been received. This just plays like a sloppy attempt to tie up a loose end the writers had forgotten about, and despite several cutaways to the abortion protesters outside the Underwood gates, it’s another nonstarter as a credible suspense generator.
“Chapter 23” might not be so lackluster if Frank was at the top of his game, but he’s far from it. After vowing scorched-earth vengeance on Tusk last week, his big move turns out to be dropping the casino/Feng/Tusk links into Alya Sayyad’s lap and waiting to see if it blows back on him. Frank is so impotent in this episode, he watches porn with his pants on. His trusty Secret Service agent Meechum catches him but, as with the rest of the episode, there’s not much to see here.
The temperature rises a bit in “Chapter 24,” which opens with Frank being questioned by the special prosecutor he tricked President Walker into appointing. (Frank’s mind control over the prez is always the same. “Mr. President, I think that’s a very bad idea.” “I’m going to do it anyway, Frank.” “Well, sir, if you insist.”) Dunbar, the prosecutor, has photographic evidence that Doug was in Lanigan’s casino, which may implicate Frank in the whole Chinese money laundering scandal.
Really this is about Doug falling off the wagon, not for booze but for a cute ex-prostitute who reads scripture and A Tale of Two Cities to him. The whole Doug storyline is odd and not quite fully-formed, but there’s a tangible sadness at the core, maybe just because Michael Kelly has such a dark, inward presence as an actor. He suggests layers of gloom and trouble the scripts don’t necessarily provide.
Doug pulls himself together, at least temporarily, deleting Rachel’s number, tossing his phone, and working with rival Seth to make sure Frank’s travel logs are spotless before turning them over. Walker is reluctant to submit his, fearing that his visits to a marriage counselor with the first lady will be revealed, but of course, Frank talks him into it. The end of a presidency is surely in sight, but it can’t come soon enough for the dullest character on this show.
We can’t wrap this up without touching on what has to be the second-biggest “WTF?” moment of the season following Zoe’s impromptu train trip. Meechum has become a trusted confidant. The Underwoods are stressed-out and horny. Meechum cuts his hand. Claire bandages it up. They get drunk together. Frank comes home. And it all leads to a threesome, the graphic details of which we are spared. (For those who are disappointed by the show’s discretion, the scene is immediately followed by Doug peering in on some hot lesbian action between Rachel and Lisa.) I guess this doesn’t come completely out of nowhere, as there have been hints that Claire and Frank have been itching for a little something they can’t get at home. But it turns out they can! And since jogging is out of the picture for the moment, it’s another physical activity they can enjoy together. Now let’s just move on and pretend it never happened.
- There’s trouble in paradise between Remy and Jackie, as each has been ordered to turn on the other. That business with Jackie’s tattoo turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. She got it because…she killed people in the war and she wanted to feel pain? Fine.
- “Thank you for making me do this,” Megan tells Claire after finally submitting to a press interview about her assault in the military. The Underwoods share a gift for making people do what they don’t want to do and be grateful for it anyway.
- Rest easy. Cashew is still with us.