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House of Cards - "Chapter 7"

House of Cards (2012) poster

Written by : published Monday 11th February 2013

"Chapter 7" marks the halfway point of the first season for Netflix's House of Cards. All thirteen episodes dropped on February 1st, and I thought now would be a good time to check in, before finishing out the season. Expect my next review of the series to post next weekend, covering the season finale.

By "Chapter 7," one of Frank's (Kevin Spacey) biggest missions in the early episodes has been completed. President Walker (Michael Gill) signs Frank's education bill into law. Frank stands behind him, proud as can be, knowing that he has earned himself more of the power that he craves so much, and the trust and respect of the POTUS. Considering that a few short episodes ago Walker stole away Frank's promised Secretary of State position, it's quite a feat.

Not that Frank's intentions are noble; they never are. The education bill is just one more stepping stone on the way to amassing the influence that he really wants, which will likely end with the highest office in the land. Walker may be president now, but he won't be forever, and he's far from the only player in the game. Frank holds many of the cards, and he is biding his time, waiting for the ideal time to make a move. For now, having Walker trust and rely on him is enough. But that won't make up for the betrayal that Frank feels.

Frank is such a complex character, using people as pawns in his game. As he's said, he doesn't crave money, he craves power because it means more and goes further. Getting to stand behind the president for the photo ops helps him achieve that, and it goes a long way towards furthering his other goals.

Of course, one doesn't reach such lofty heights without acquiring a few enemies. Walker's chief-of-staff, Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) has no love lost for Frank, and the better he looks, the more it discredits her in front of the commander she serves so loyally. She won't allow him to keep running an end game around her, and a showdown between Frank and Vasquez will surely rear its head soon enough.

Of more immediate concern could be Vice President Matthews (Dan Ziskie, Treme). They try to push Matthews aside at the bill signing, he doesn't get a cherished pen (Frank just gives his away, a trinket, rather than something meaningful), and he isn't consulted about the Democratic replacement for Governor of Pennsylvania, his old office. This makes him feel useless, which is a dangerous thing.

Most people don't consider the Vice President's position all that important. If something happens to the president, then the office matters. Other than that, Vice Presidents often don't get a lot to do. Matthews clearly isn't OK with that, and at least wants the tokens of the job, such as choice photo positioning and ceremonial writing implements. If he isn't paid off with these things, he could stir up trouble.

It's not immediately apparent if Matthews blames Frank for any of any of his slights. Frank plays nice and offers some kind words. This may enough to satisfy Matthews, should others do the same. Or it may make Matthews feel like a fool when he realizes that he has even less say than he thinks he has, played like a fiddle by a master musician, which, make no mistake about it, Frank is.

Frank's choice for the governor's office is Peter Russo (Corey Stoll, Law & Order: LA), an inexperienced Congressmen who has a weakness for drugs and prostitutes. On paper, that may seem like a recipe for disaster, but to Frank, Russo represents an opportunity. After all, if Frank can turn Russo's track around and build him into a great leader, Russo will not only be in Frank's debt, but may even be a puppet Frank can play with at his will. That is, as long as Frank doesn't make him too great.

So far, Russo has fallen right into Frank's trap. Frank manipulates him into getting sober and doing the campaign Frank's way, the whole time letting Russo think things are his idea, and that he has some control over his own race. Instead, it's Frank behind the scenes, pulling the strings, that is making Russo something, and Frank can just as easily undo all this hard work. Should Russo get too big for his britches, Frank can take him down. Frank is just betting that he won't.

The wild card here is Christina Gallagher (Kristen Connolly, The Cabin in the Woods), Russo's former assistant and lover, whom Frank brings back into the circle. The idea could be that Christina will keep Russo in line, convincing him not to call on hookers anymore, and provide him the emotional support that he needs to find his confidence and win. It works in the short term, but given Russo's appetites, there is no telling if she will be enough in the long-term. She wasn't before Frank came along, so it is a shaky gamble.

I am curious as to whether  Doug (Michael Kelly, The Adjustment Bureau) is actually a recovering alcoholic, or if he attends meetings just to keep an eye on Russo. Doug seems to speaking directly to Russo at their most recent gathering, and reports back to Frank on what transpires at the "anonymous" event. Frank trusts Doug explicitly. Is that because Frank rebuilt Doug the way he is doing with Russo, or because Doug is willing to do anything, even act like he has a substance abuse problem, or hide a prostitute, for that matter, to keep their situation status quo.

I love that House of Cards doesn't lay all this out explicitly. It makes viewers think for themselves, and allows guesses and leaps of logic. Even when Frank mugs to the camera, breaking the fourth wall and revealing something of his thoughts, he is still putting on a show, only telling what he wants to tell. He's trying to manipulate us, the audience, as well as the characters that surround him. It makes for an intriguing drama.

As Frank muses about Zoe (Kate Mara), the young reporter he is sleeping with, people only show others what they want them to see. Everyone has a persona. Zoe wants Frank to think that she only wants sex and information from him, and that she's a game player like he is. She is, to an extent. But despite her protestations that she get some meaningful benefit from him, such as a big scoop, she also seems smitten, and her romantic feelings could ruin things for both of them.

I worry about Zoe going forward. Frank thinks he has her under control, and that's what he assures his wife, Claire (Robin Wright). And yet, Zoe isn't always predictable, and she thinks a bit too much for herself to just be a stooge. Her heart guides her sometimes, leading her to decisions she probably shouldn't make, but that's not all she is. Should she begin feeling cast aside by Frank, she could seek revenge, and she has the smarts and tenacity that she could prove a threat in the way others have not.

Frank has kept her, and most everyone else in line, for a long time. But he has a lot of irons in the fire, and there are bound to be slips.

I'd like to take a moment to touch on Frank and Claire's marriage, even though it really isn't featured in "Chapter 7." It's one of the most surprising unions presented on television, an open arrangement, with both allowed to take lovers that are discussed freely with their spouse. They use each other for political gain, and are a powerful team in D.C. But there is also real affection there, with both putting the other first when they need to. It's an odd arrangement, certainly unconventional, but it seems like it's been working for them for a long time. Even when cracks show, it's likely that it will keep working, since they have honest communication, at least, what passes for such for people like them.

In Zoe's arena, the unstable element is Janine (Constance Zimmer). I think that Zoe is sincere about wanting to work with Janine again, and not just because it's a boon to her online employer. But I also think Frank asks Zoe to do the profile on Russo as a favor, and Zoe passing it to Janine isn't what Frank had in mind. Janine is too seasoned to buy Russo's falsehoods, and if she digs deeper, she could cause a few headaches. I see things potentially becoming awkward if Frank comes down hard on Zoe to kill the profile, and Zoe has to ruin what she's rebuilt with Janine, or worse yet, their mutual boss.

There are even more characters and plot arcs I could go into, but this article has gotten long enough. House of Cards is a very intricate web of a political drama, with amazing acting and brilliant writing. Each installment only gets better as we're drawn further into Frank's world. In his position, he has to keep a lot of balls in the air, and even though we only see a portion of them it's a hell of a spectacle to watch and keep track of. This should run for ten seasons, the creative team and cast willing.

House of Cards season one is available in its entirety to Netflix streaming subscribers.

Want to read some of my fiction? It's on my website, JeromeWetzel.com! Also, for the latest updates and article links, as well as commentary on episodes I don't fully review, please follow me on Twitter.

About the author JeromeWetzelTV

JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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