The first genuine cliffhanger of the series resolves itself with…Frank Underwood at Zoe Barnes’ apartment on the morning after. Whatever restraint Claire showed in Chapter 4—passing up Adam advances while still using their relationship for business—is at odds with Underwood’s indulgence here. The Underwood-Barnes dynamic is one of the politician’s few unplanned maneuvers within the series so far, so the potential fallout of this is likely to come. For now, their evening-morning together ends with Barnes turning down a TV gig at Underwood’s recommendation that she’s “a good writer.” He dunks her phone in a cup of water and promises a personal burner each week. And she’ll be taking her talents to the House of Cards equivalent of Politico—Slugline. “Everyone at Politico reads it because Slugline’s breaking stories before they are.”
(Missed multi-platform marketing opportunity, right? Netflix needs to own Slugline.com for S2 promotional use.)
Underwood’s next stop is back home to Claire, but she knows the situation before he even says a word.
“Just this once?”
“I’m not sure.”
She doesn’t say she’s angry, perhaps doesn’t have to since these two know each others’ tendencies—silence, body language included—so well. All Claire inquires about is how this relationship benefits the pair’s long-term plans—and to her it appears Barnes is getting the better deal.
No time to linger however and Underwood still has education reform dominating the office. Union leader Marty Spinella comes to argue about the recently added collective bargaining aspect of the bill. Teachers aren’t going to stand for this, despite Underwood’s insistence that it’s merely a chess piece, something that is in the bill for leverage but will ultimately get cut. But Underwood wants performance standards as a concession from the Union and Spinella loses his shit. “You fucked me, I fuck back.” He walks out with emphasis. No time to grieve here either, Stamper comes in and lets Underwood know the DNC leadership meeting is happening in his office ASAP—the party office is doing green renovations at the moment.
Patricia Whitaker, DNC chair, is discussing Pennsylvania’s Governor race. PA is why Matthews became Walker’s Vice Presidential candidate, but the Dems don’t have a candidate to fill his old position at this time. To make matters worse, RNC is backing the Pittsburgh mayor who will have recognition throughout the state and the new governor will oversee redistricting (meaning seats in the House could be lost). Whitaker talks the need for a fresh face, so as they go through each sitting Congressman in the state (crossing them all of accordingly) Underwood has an idea. The first name ignored: Peter Russo. Hmm.
Later that night, Stamper is at Underwood’s house strategizing over the teacher’s strike. They anticipate Spinella is organizing the largest teacher strike the US has seen, so the immediate plan is to undercut him. Cut a deal with one of the partner unions—the NEA with Chuck Sloan. The two aren’t the only ones strategizing however. Claire is awake trying to crunch the numbers for the CWI’s Sudan initiative. She appreciates the Congressional donations coming at the gala from what Underwood coaxed, but it’s still paltry compared to what Remy Denton and San Corp were offering. $1.5 million v, $0.5 million. She goes to bed (to call Adam we soon discover), he retreats to talk with Chuck Sloan. “Claire, we made the decision to turn Remy down. No one forced you.”
Next night, Underwood calls Barnes, but pauses the call to take another… from Barnes. He’s outside with her place with the first burner. Barnes doesn’t want to play this game though, she goes on about trust but Underwood needs more than words. She offers, “pictures, the type my father wouldn’t want to see.” They do have new smartphones after all.
Next day, Underwood’s first meeting is with Stamper. He needs to convince his righthand man about Russo running. What about his past? It becomes a redemption story, overcoming drugs and more. Does he want it? He’s from the streets, definitely hungry. Can he win? “I think he can be a contender.” If he wins, what do we gain? “Isn’t better to be holding the reins than watching from the stands?”
“This isn’t just about this race, Doug. Expand your thinking, who else is from PA? No, no, not in Congress. The executive branch…” Cryptic stuff. As we all knew, Underwood has a plan.
The conversation abruptly stops here as a call from Claire comes to the office. The hotel she booked to host this fundraising gala is in bed with the teachers’ union and refuses to host her. “He can go after me all he wants, but to go after my wife? No class.” Underwood heads right there with Claire, trying to rebook in the vehicle but it’s too late. They can’t find another space and can’t risk people missing the event by not checking their e-mail that afternoon. Next move, try to strongarm the manager. Also not effective.
But here we get to see how much the Claire-Frank duo can achieve when in harmony—even with only short moments to plan. Claire has an idea, why can’t they hold the gala outdoors in the plaza right in front of the hotel? Underwood sets his staffers in motion: acquiring tables, clearing their evenings to work the event, handling florists and what not. Freddy gets called to provide those famous ribs. All the major news outlets have been notified, Barnes is invited even. Stamper finishes it off by handling an irate hotel manager. He calls the police chief on the spot. “No? OK, you’d rather talk to him in person that’s great. He’s coming to the party, I’ll be sure to introduce you to him. Thanks for your hospitality.”
The manager tries his last resource, calling Spinella. Spinella demands an emergency picket—”I don’t care if their teachers or not, I just need 200 bodies.” The stage is set.
At first, Spinella is looking good. The camera crews are focusing on his protest even though his words are somewhat faulty (asked why this event, when CWI is privately funded and pro-a good cause, he simply explains this is where the politicians will be and they need to hear the message).
But the Underwoods can even handle this on short notice. They approach the protesters with leftover food and kegs of beer from the gala (humming along successfully by the way). Who knows if Spinella’s army is all teachers, but the few who eagerly reach for food and drink suggest not. The major cable headlines say it all: “Protestors choose ribs over rhetoric.” Underwood 1, Spinella 0. But Spinella reacts quickly—”if the other union leaders are ready to pull the trigger, we strike tomorrow.”
The Underwoods head back to their apartment to enjoy their Gala victory, but it’s a brief moment. Waiting them on the doorstep is one Peter Russo, drunk and high after a day that included being berated by a childhood best friend, his kids asking about Christina and thousands of angry constituent e-mails read while under the influence.
What happens next may be the most memorable bit of operation Underwood has done to date in the series. He tells his detail that he can handle this, and he and Claire invite Peter in. They feed him, offer coffee and insist on housing him after a brief Peter blow-up (he notices that he’s lost his phone after Claire asks about pictures of his kids). The niceties end as soon as Claire shows him to the guest room and deposits the linens however.
First, Russo lets out his rage. “You think fresh towels changes anything?” The shipyard closing has broken him professionally and personally. He tosses the linens at Underwood, berates him but the rant ends with self-pity. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and all these people, all my friends, are still fucked. And I’m still fucked. But you fucked all of us and I’m going to get blamed for it. So now I have to carry all that weight on my shoulders. You fucked me, Frank. I shouldnt’ have let you do it but I did.” Sobbing on the ground.
“Are you done now? Get up.”
Underwood demands Russo to follow him, leading in to the bathroom. He’s already turned on the water for the tub and demands that Russo “take off your clothes and get in. Do it now.” It’s a bizarre seen—an adult man, Congressman no less, stripping in front of a peer as he gets lectured about the PA governor’s race. Underwood hands him some aspirin but then reveals he’s stuck up for Russo (which, he hasn’t). “I made them keep you in contention, you’re still on that list.” You show up at my house at night, drunk, to whine and complain… I’m the only person who believes in your Peter but maybe that’s one to many.”
Underwood hands him one more thing before leaving the bathroom—a lone razor blade. Hot water will thin and aspirin will put his blood in the perfect setting, and “if you do choose to take the coward’s way out” across not up and down. Whoa.
The next morning, Russo walks into the Underwood kitchen and is offered coffee. He’s alive, sobered up for now. Underwood insists on giving him a ride back to his house before work and lays out the new plan. Russo says he’s in, but he won’t have Underwood’s support without one month of sobriety. We get one final soliloquy as Russo stares out the window. “Think the seed is planted? Only time will tell.”
This second trio of episodes has done a better job of interweaving our supporting characters into the larger Underwood web. But there’s still some important happenings going on in the background. Barnes visits Slugline to get the scoop on working there. It’s a bean bag chair, no-chains-to-your-desk type of office. And the EIC has a new media mindset—she can get bored in 8-minutes and that includes getting bored of you.
Barnes takes the job and we get to see her talking to the EIC about her first proposed piece: a midterm elections preview. The “proposed” is an issue, Slugline wants writers posting right away. And the topic is too Herald, “bull shit” as Barnes admits. EIC agrees. Later we get to see Claire reading her actual first byline at Slugline: about how the teacher protestors collapsed and what happened on the inside of the CWI gala.
One last note from Barnes-happenings: the former EIC at the Herald, Tom Haberschmitt, becomes, well, the former EIC. The paper’s owner clearly supports go-getter, new media types like Barnes and believes it’s what the people want. His actions are the justification (it’s a mutual, amiable “resignation”), but Haberschmitt lets one last rant go about how these things—the Barnes-types, Twitter, blogs, etc.—aren’t the real soul of the profession. They aren’t what the people need… but right now he just needs a new job.
Russo’s no-good, very-bad day starts with his childhood best friend, Paul, coming to the office. He’s the spokesman for the ship workers in Russo’s district, and Paul comes to ask what happened with the closing vote. Russo dodges the conversation with a few vagueries—”My hands were tied, people wanted it closed… people up the food chain.” “It’s not going to happen, it’s political.” This probably won’t be the first fuck you Russo hears from a shipyard-related constituent, but it hurts coming from a long time buddy. We later see his kids asking about Christina (no developments there) or Russo reading negative e-mails while drunk and high. It all builds nicely to that last, extremely memorable scene.
With Claire, Adam the photographer is back in the picture. She called him that night after the Barnes evening, though got no answer. We see he later shows up at the party to help upsell his donated paintings (which is does quite nicely, $80K). But he mentions the phone call, says they should talk as he arrives. When he leaves the party early, Claire returns the sentiment.