If rumors are to be believed, the Winter Olympics have been continuing, there was a new episode of True Detective on Sunday night, and there were things to do in the evening other than watch House of Cards. As neither my wife and I are that interested in such rumors, we have been continuing to plow our way through the second season of the Netflix show at a pace that will make us soon regret that we have no more new chapters to watch until next year. Nevertheless, it is so hard not to take advantage of the entire season of House of Cards being available at once, as the plot is gripping and each installment seems to fly by in no time at all. If you have not yet watched episodes 9 & 10, look away now (perhaps to the previous reviews covering episodes 1-3; 4-6 and 7-8, 11-13), otherwise, come with me to a BBQ restaurant in the suburbs with faux peeling linoleum…
I consider it a bad sign if a minor character whom I like in a show is prominently featured prior to the opening credits, since it means there will be a focus on them in that episode and that could spell trouble. So was the case in this installment of House of Cards – which was directed by Jodie Foster – as it opened on Freddy the barbecue man going through his morning regime…clearly far too much attention being paid to him…why can’t they just leave him alone and let him serve breakfast ribs to the Vice President? Alas, Freddy will not be spared and so we have to watch him make the walk down the street (which for fans of The Wire – or those who just know Charm City – is very clearly Baltimore) to his BBQ joint and watch him as he burns the newspaper story about Claire Underwood reportedly having had an affair with Adam Galloway. We watch the representative from the company who wish to franchise his restaurant describe how he wants to give an “authentic” feel to the new locations by not making them “too nice”, but still locating them in the suburbs so white people will go to them. Oh, and he is offering Freddy a guaranteed $95k just for signing the deal . . . consider me doubtful.
To pile on to the inevitable downfall, Freddy is shown going to visit his son and grandson, offering to give his boy, Darnell, a job and buy a house of them both, now that he finally had something he could give. However, the “no matter what” of the $95k is unsurprisingly not actually guaranteed, since there is a “morality clause” in the contract and the company pulls out when Remy – acting for Tusk to get to Frank Underwood – leaks that Freddy had served time for vehicular manslaughter. The situation is exacerbated as Darnell then pulls a gun on a member of the paparazzi who is trying to get photographs of his Dad in the street and, when Francis makes a special secret trip to see Freddy, he learns that not only has he lost the franchise deal, but also he has to sell his restaurant in order to put up the bail for his son. The barbecue man is philosophical about the downturn of his luck and, while he clearly still has an affinity for Underwood – he tells him that those out to get him will learn that “they done stepped on the wrong damn motherfuckin’ rattlesnake”. Freddy also states that even though the Vice President had been a great customer for 20 years, that did not mean the two were friends. I’m really sad that this part of the show will no longer be there – in my review of the first season, I stated that I would be excited for the second season even if all 13 episodes just involved Frank going to the BBQ joint. I blame the reporter who got the restaurant known and started this whole thing (played by Jeremy Bobb, coincidently a college classmate of my wife’s), but allow me to believe that Freddy’s skills in making ribs are still second-to-none and he opened a food truck, finding success selling his barbecue from New York City to Portland . . .
Freddy was not the only long-term acquaintance of the Underwoods who got caught in the crossfire of his ongoing war with Raymond Tusk in this episode, as Adam Galloway’s relationship with Claire was forever ruined as they dealt with the fallout of the leaked photograph. In a phone call, the Vice President’s wife asks the photographer to deny having even taken the picture, but in a press conference Claire then declares that she does not know why Galloway lied as he had been commissioned by Francis, who had it hung in their home. Adam is forced into a corner by Remy, who has arranged for his fiancee, Inez’s father to be arrested in Bogota and face the death penalty under the accusation of aiding rebels, so Galloway gives him another picture of Claire, this time in the shower. With the Underwoods scrambling, Seth Grayson steps in and finds a model who looks similar to Claire to take his own “fake” photo, then Frank uses his influence to have the charges against Inez’s father dropped, in exchange for Adam claiming he has made up the whole thing to try to get notoriety to help sell his work. The Vice President’s wife – who was told by Galloway that he now hates her – clearly harbors plenty of resentment herself, since when the whole tabloid scandal is dealt with, she tells Francis not just to obliterate Raymond Tusk, but to also make him suffer.
With Zoe Barnes out of the show, there is a new reporter digging into Underwood’s business in the form of Ayla Sayyad, who currently has her attention focused on Tusk, who attempts to threaten her when they meet. Judging by the way that the St. Louis billionaire mercilessly kills one of his birds who will not stop squawking when Remy tells him he can do nothing to Inez’s father, Ayla may be advised to tread lightly. Elsewhere, Doug takes a break out of pining for Rachel to tell Seth that the ceiling of upward mobility for Seth with the Underwoods stops with him; and the Vice President ruins the concept of working from home for everybody by spending part of his time during his day out of the office painting his miniature war figures. Finally, there were a couple of great moments where Francis spoke to the audience: after visiting Freddy, “Think I’m a hypocrite? You should. The road to power is full of hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret”; and when Claire says that Tusk must suffer, “I don’t know whether to be terrified or proud…perhaps both”.
At the beginning of this installment – well just after the very first few moments, which involve Gavin the hacker listening to the same thrash metal that Jonah from VEEP likes to rock out to – there is a crisis that the President and Vice President have to attend to as China and Japan are involved in a standoff over the issue of the sovereignty of the island of Yonaguni. What concerns Francis most about this is not two nations with powerful militaries squaring off, but rather that his Chief of Staff was not there to prepare him for the briefing. Instead, Doug was at Rachel’s apartment listening to her read the Bible she recieved from the Fellowship church she has become attached to, in a scene that makes Stamper seem so creepily in love with a woman who could cause Underwood so much harm. His weakness could end up costing the Vice President dearly. Frank makes it clear to Doug that he is unhappy with his recent performance, not only with his absence during the brewing crisis in Asia, but also that he has failed to find a way to get to Raymond Tusk. Frank therefore enlists Seth Grayson to assist him, despite protests from his Chief of Staff.
While Underwood is in the Situation Room, a man is spotted attempting to get near the Vice President’s home, but he is caught by the Secret Service who discover explosives in his duffel bag and strapped to his body. They discover he was a former marine and his target had not been Francis, but rather Claire, as his wife had an abortion the previous week without his knowledge. This leads to increased security on Mrs. Underwood, but most notably the transfer to her detail of the Vice President’s favorite agent, Edward Meechum. Not wanting to be outdone by Doug on the creepiness scale for the episode, Francis watches an explicit video on his computer in the residence and appears to relish it when Meechum catches him doing so, even happily reporting the incident to his wife later on in bed. He then asks Claire whether she misses being with Adam and she then asks “what about you, are you unsatisfied?”, with the suggestion being that now he is so high-profile he cannot be caught up in anything that would be considered scandalous. There was an episode in the first season where Underwood visited his old college and a guy he had a relationship with during his time there suggests he might be interested in men, perhaps even Meechum, whom he notably refers to as Edward to Claire. The three also have a flirtatious encounter in the courtyard too, when the secret service agent risks his job by drinking some of Frank’s beer (at the Vice President’s insistence), then when Claire comes out with another bottle both her husband and Meechum mistakenly think she has brought it for them, before she starts drinking it herself. There was definitely some reason behind those cufflinks that the secret service agent gave Francis earlier this season, now he seems happy to get closer to the couple – I wonder if he is working for one of Underwood’s rivals.
Ayla Sayyad, the journalist who has been looking into Raymond Tusk, clearly never watched The Wire, because it takes her receiving a note in Chinese to heed Lester Freamon’s advice of following the money trail if you want to really investigate a conspiracy. When she does learn to do that, her path goes from Lanagin’s casino in Kansas City (that part was easy since the note was written on the back of a card from the establishment) to Xander Feng in China and she gets enough information to be able to print a story questioning the source of Super PAC funds in the Wall Street Telegraph. (Side note, why do TV shows and movies always do bizarro versions of real newspaper names? It’s so off-putting, if they cannot call themselves the Wall Street Journal, why not come up with something completely different, rather than the wink to the actual paper they’re spoofing on?). The release of the article is just in time for the President to be asked awkward questions about it at a press conference he was giving about the Japan/China stand-off and he is clearly unhappy to be blindsided. As is Frank’s want, he manipulates Walker to do exactly what he wants – appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the matter – but does so by arguing both sides of the issue to get the President to make the decision he wants. Ultimately, the decision is made to appoint Heather Dunbar as the special prosecutor – from the description she is hardly as eager for blood as Kenneth Starr was for President Clinton – but the question remains as to why Underwood wanted Walker to follow this path.
During an appearance on Letterman about a decade ago, Matt Damon did an impression of Matthew McConaughey constantly asking the director of their movie if today would be a good day for him to a scene with no shirt on. If Damon has been watching this season of House of Cards, he might want to attempt to do Remy Danton’s voice, as for each of the last three installments, the lobbyist has been bare-chested at least once per episode. On this occasion he is trying to find out why Jackie Sharp got the tattoo on her back and, when she will not tell him, he uses coercion to get a response – let’s just say it seems as though Remy has fingered Jackie as somebody he can garner information from, or maybe he is genuinely interested in her. Either way, the relationship looks to be heading for huge problems: when Sharp will not co-sponsor Claire’s bill requiring civilian oversight in the military Francis tries to get her in line and then tells her about Remy’s connection to the money being spent by the GOP that could see her lose her re-election bid that November. Although Jackie wanted a relationship with the lobbyist that was clearly delineated from their working lives, it was hard for her to accept something that could make her lose her job. Danton is then put in a difficult position when Tusk insists he goes after all of the Democratic Congressional Leadership – especially Sharp – in order to get them to turn on Underwood.
Finally, right at the end of the episode, Doug goes back to see Rachel again, this time asking her to read A Tale of Two Cities to him as his Mom had done so when he was a kid – he definitely wins the creepy stakes for this installment – but the kicker is that he is being tracked by Gavin the hacker who has a GPS signal on Stamper’s cell phone. We do not yet know who Gavin is working for, or if he is just building a case to protect himself should the FBI decide to send him to jail for cyberterrorism, but Doug’s usual diligence in acting in the shadows appears to have been destroyed by his yearning for Rachel.