House of Cards: Season 1, Chapter 2

One of the House of Cards Season 1 ads

I recently listened to the commentary tracks (now available for all S1 eps); I recommend the ones w/ producer David Fincher, director James Foley (note: British accent) and Paris Barclay (one of the few African-Americans directors working regularly on various TV series).  Barclay directed several eps of HBO’s In Treatment, a series I loved (for the most part).  You can skip the commentary by director Joel Schumacher, which are less substantive. 

Did you know House of Cards is shot primarily in the small town of Joppa, MD?  Yes, DC is the back-drop, but they don’t shoot much there.  Zoe’s crumbling little apt. is set in an ethnic ‘hood of DC, but that street is actually found in Baltimore.  The same is true of Freddie’s BBQ joint.  (It’s much cheaper/easier to shoot in Baltimore.)

Like AMC’s drama series, Mad Men, House of Cards is very good at setting tone and creating an atmosphere (we can relate, though we’re not power players in the federal government). The color palette also sets the mood; red is a color rarely seen on the show- we see white, beige, gray, dark blue, and a lot of black.  At first, I didn’t notice much about the music (by Jeff Beal; he worked on HBO’s Rome); it’s a seamless part of the show.

What may put off some (potential) viewers- the lack of a typical, heroic protagonist.  However, if you liked Edmund (King Lear), Iago (Othello), and/or Richard III, you’ll be fascinated by Francis Underwood.  I did feel sympathy for Peter (“he’s a hot mess,” Fincher commented) and Christina; both of these actors have expressive eyes. Corey Stoll is just pitch-perfect in his role; I’d never seen his acting before.  Claire is a tough cookie, but not totally unlikeable (she has her moments later on in this season.)

SPOILERS: Don’t read further if you have not seen, or don’t want to know, details from this episode.

The 2nd ep starts right after we left off from the pilot.  After his early morning rack of ribs at Freddie’s (a common ritual), Frank goes to have breakfast w/ the House Speaker and Majority Leader.  Yes, Frank is a Democrat!  We also meet Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali from Crossing Jordan), a tall, dapper lobbyist at Glendon Hill.  He now handles the SanCorp account, so stops by to say hello to his former boss.  Remy, who’s African-American (an unusual casting choice for a lobbyist), was Frank’s press secretary for several years.  Later on, the two men speak in the lobby. 

SanCorp helps me purchase loyalty, and in return, they expect mine.  –Frank explains in an aside   

Such a waste of talent!  He chose money over power.  In this town, a mistake almost everyone makes.  –Frank comments about Remy

In his office, Doug Stamper points out a 1978 editorial written in the Williams College Register; Michael Kern was editor of that newspaper.  Frank doesn’t see the big deal about this article, but Stamper thinks it can be used to bring down Kern (who has been nominated for Secretary of State, but not yet confirmed).

Then Frank gets called over to Linda Vasquez’s office.  She’s very concerned about the leak- it happened on Walker’s first day!  Frank assures her that he can handle the education bill; he’s worked w/ 4 different presidents, after all.   

In his conference room, Frank has gathered together 6 of the “best minds on education” (LOL- they are aides in their 20s) who will be working on another first draft of the education bill.

You know me, I’m no wheeler-dealer.  I can put my mind to policy, but I’m no good at this brand of politics.  -Blythe admits to Frank

When Frank meets Blythe, he dramatically says that Linda (and therefore, Walker) is “furious” at Blythe for the leak; we know this is a lie.  Blythe, who Franks deems a “martyr,” concludes that Frank should be managing the Education Reform Act.

 How very Deep Throat of you.  -Zoe comments when she meets Frank (at night)

Frank gives that editorial to Zoe and points out one line in particular; it’s about the “illegal occupation” of Palestinian territories by Israel (always a hot-button issue).  But Kern probably didn’t write this himself.

Everything is a story.  -Frank says to Zoe re: Kern’s nomination

I’m not saying there’s a story.  All I’m saying is there’s a question that needs to be answered.  -Zoe tells Lucas, her editor

We know that Lucas and Tom approved Zoe’s article; on This Week w/ George Stephanopoulos (the newsman plays himself), Senator Kern gets questioned about the editorial.  He says he doesn’t recall that article.  When he laughs and calls it “ludicrous,” that’s just the ammo Frank needs!  He has Nancy call the “ADL” (Anti-Defamation League).

Late at night, Peter is sent off to the boondocks to interview one of the guys who wrote for the Williams College paper.  Stamper has the info and tickers all ready.  Michael Kelley projects confidence, a strong, (disquieting) presence, and a lot of mystery; his character will slowly be revealed over the season.

Peter meets w/ Roy Kapeniak, a left-wing conspiracy blogger, in his trailer home in a small town.  To get Roy to open up, Peter presents him w/ liquor and coke. Back in DC, Stamper presents $10,000 to Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), the young pro that was pulled over w/ Peter.  All she needs to do is be silent about the matter.

Can a corporate sellout roll a joint like this?  -Peter asks Roy

Roy admits that he wrote the editorial, not Kern, though Kern was even more radical than him in college.  But eventually, Kern sold out (in Roy’s opinion) and began studying for the bar.  Peter convinces Roy (when he’s high) to pin the article on Kern. 

Back in their DC office, Christina is very upset to see Peter’s drunk/high state.  He waves off her concerns, telling her to cancel all his appointments for the day.

 …I think the way you’re handling this is… cruel.  -Evelyn, Claire’s assistant of 10 yrs tells her re: the mass firings

After having Evelyn fire 18 employees, Claire asks Evelyn to leave, too.  This is a shock to the older woman, who proclaims “no one hires anyone my age.”  The firings didn’t come easily to Claire, we guess, as she pauses and thinks about it.  However, she’s not one to show her emotions so easily.

This is where we get to create.  -Frank explains to Zoe

Zoe interrupts a senior staff meeting to tell Tom that she has a guy willing to go on the record and say that Kern wrote the (now controversial) editorial.  Kern denies it to the media, saying Roy wrote the piece, but we realize that it’s the end of his bid.  Frank tells Sen. Cathy Durant (a Republican)  to get ready for her turn, then feeds her name to Zoe (late at night in the metro).

Linda is very impressed by the new draft of the education bill, which she’ll soon present to the president.  Frank mentions Kern, and wonders who’ll be the next Secretary of State nominee. When Linda says rumors abound re: Durant, Frank casually lists her merits.  Smooth operating there…

Zoe goes on live TV to discuss the nomination; Janine looks on w/ jealousy, Lucas with admiration.  Kate Mara transforms from a overeager “metro scrub” to a poised young lady in this scene. 

As Frank leaves his office for the night, we see cleaners working in the conference room (where the 6 young aides wrote the education bill).  Remy says that SanCorp likes Durant, too, in the hallway.

I liked the scene w/ Claire and the older cashier struggling w/ the computerized system at the coffee shop; it brought to mind Evelyn’s earlier words.  Claire looks at the woman sympathetically for a brief time.  In the last scene, we see Frank using the rowing machine that his wife bought for him (b/c she was worried about his health).  See how Claire admires him from the stairs?  It’s a nice moment that sheds some more light on their marriage.   

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