It’s a big FU.
An introduction to season three.
Stay tuned for the finale…
Just when you thought Frank Underwood couldn’t stoop any lower. He was hardly a beacon of virtue, but even those who commit murder for their cause in the name of love, religion, power – you name it – don’t usually literally piss on their father’s grave as a form of celebration. Now Frank, of course, is no ordinary man, and such an action serves as a hefty early reminder of his utter contempt for anyone whom he perceives to be afraid of failure, to be holding him back, or both. Dead or alive, Frank doesn’t discriminate. As has been made abundantly clear throughout House of Cards, our main man will go to the greatest, sickest lengths possible in order to simply indulge his own piece of mind, to both reach the top of the world, and to remain there. This, ladies and gentleman, is a new level of villainy. Nixon, Kurtz, and Iago rolled into one: the classiest of the classless, blinded by power.
Whilst the manner in which such an immoral frame of mind and heart of darkness are symbolised here is irritatingly impractical (surely the press are going to jog up and have a look at his father’s grave after he leaves), and seemingly shoehorned in for what is essentially, on the face of it, throwaway shock value, Frank’s nonchalant attitude towards his misdeed – almost that of a naughty child who knows he’ll get away with it – suggests that this isn’t the first time he’s ‘visited’ his father’s resting place in this fashion. Originally I thought perhaps a flashback to a time when he first made it in politics or something similar would have been more appropriate (if anything because the eyes of the fucking world wouldn’t have been waiting just behind the ridge), but when I looked at it from this point of view it made more sense. Frank not only wants to win, he wants to make those who stood in way suffer – to privately revel in their misery as much as he does publicly in his own victories.
Such a factor extends to the major themes and plotlines addressed in the remainder of the episode. The main beneficiary of being reminded instantly and brutally of Frank’s rather undignified slap-in-the-face stance on morality, as well as his unequalled win at all costs attitude, is the subsequent juxtaposition created against his former aide, Doug Stamper. A militant machine of unwavering loyalty at the start of proceedings, Doug’s one weakness finally came to a head (quite literally) at the end of the last season, leaving him now painfully exposed in terms of both his physical and mental mortality. His breakdown from immovable object, to weakening support structure, to the floored man we now see spiralling downward still further is as heart wrenching as it is engaging. Doug is human, after all, and whilst his steady relapse is made to be rather predictable as the episode progresses, it’s done in a creative, intriguing fashion, played out and concluding in a manner befitting the incomprehensible nature of a man who has been over the edge before, and is now, ever so slowly, lowering himself him down once again whilst desperately looking up for help, but finding none. His side plot with Rachel grew tiresome to an extent before its explosive finale, but the development here is refreshing; not only from a technical standpoint (the flashback and Doug’s subsequent scenes are the highlights of the episode’s direction, editing and sound), but also in terms of character arc and nicely plotted, intense storytelling.
For all of his loyalty and willingness to bleed for the Underwoods however, Doug is expendable to Frank, and deep down he knows it. Frank’s ruthless nature doesn’t allow for any cracks to spread too far, which is why the secondary focus of the episode will likely end up becoming the most fascinating of the season; Frank’s relationship with Claire. For the first time there’s seemingly genuine friction between the two. Previously they’ve met each crisis as a united front, regardless of who did what, when, and why, for the sake of Frank’s political career – the bedrock of their joint ascent. Claire had her own goals earlier certainly, but always ended up sacrificing them. Now that she once again has potentially conflicting ambitions, but this time won’t back down, we see a rare glimpse of Frank’s human side as he attempts to deal with the situation, intimately and away from his cynical inner monologue. He knows that Claire, like any other spanner in the works, should be contained, but he is bound to her so tightly by the couple’s twisted version of love that she remains the only person on the face of the planet for whom Frank will consider bending his unbreakable mission statement for. They go from the symbolic physical barrier of separate bedrooms and an almost business-like demeanour to a re-established emotional acceptance and aspirational compromise within barely half an episode. And although the episode ends with the two entering their residence together, hand in hand, the seeds of doubt appear to have been firmly planted. On paper they’re united, but both of them know all too well, now more than ever, that the love of politics they preach and the politics of love they live lead to an endgame that does not exist on paper, with a prize that cannot simply be calculated or divided: power.