HOUSE OF CARDS Review: Episodes 1-4


house of cards excerpt

With two weeks left until the election, and slipping poll numbers showing a close race on , Frank and Claire will lie, cheat, and steal to stay in the White House. Their manipulation of the public and its perception of ICO’s threat to America may help the Underwood’s get what they want. Will Hammerschmidt’s article expose the Underwood’s for who they really are, or can they change the narrative and bury his story?

Frank and Claire made a very deliberate choice at the end of season four to allow the domestic terrorists to cut off the head of James Miller, and use it to focus the publics fear. If they can leverage that fear they can control the narrative, bury the damaging Hammerschmidt article, and surge in popularity by seemingly being tough on terrorism. It starts with a campaign of getting the public to tell on each other if they see anything out of the ordinary, closing down the borders, and severely limiting visa’s to the United States from certain countries. It sounds familiar, right? The impact of this season of House Of Cards plot would’ve been much stronger had our current political developments not taken place and left this crazy plot to seem entirely plausible. It’s unfortunate, and leaves me wondering what it would be like to experience this season if Clinton had become President instead.

The hunt for the terrorist Joshua Masterson is used to whip up the public’s fear, with anything out of the ordinary being blamed on him and his terrorist supporters. A gas station fire in Virginia? It’s ICO terrorists. If the public is in a constant state of fear, it will play right into the authoritarian bent Frank and Claire aim for. They want to be seen as the public’s protectors, strong leaders who will do anything to keep America safe. Frank even takes to the House floor in a highly unprecedented move to demand they pass a declaration of war both home and abroad against ICO. The pall of fear these alleged terrorist plots within the United States cast put the legislators in an awkward position. They can both grant the declaration of war and appear strong against terrorists, or they can deny the President and appear weak against the enemy.

Each move the Underwood’s take is brilliantly thought out. Frank’s appearance at the funeral, and his embrace of the young girl who survived, even though she whispers in his ear she hopes he dies, is orchestrated for the best possible public perception. He uses the Miller family and their tragedy as a campaign slogan to drum up support and sympathy for his cause. Even though Conway knows this, he can’t come straight out and say it publicly because it would make him appear petty and jealous, and probably make a close race less so. Will is almost powerless to stop the drumbeat of war the Underwood’s are pounding. The only thing he has to play against their war hawk mentality is his own personal military service. He knows what war looks like, and it’s not something to be taken lightly.

While the public worries about Joshua Masterson running loose in America, the truth is he’s been caught and is held in a secret, secure location. Frank actually goes to see him, and prods the young man with questions about why he did what he did, and how he chose the Miller’s. All this time Frank’s been playing up the fear of Joshua and his terrorist acts, he’s been a captive. There’s a striking image while Frank talks to Joshua, where Frank’s face is reflected in the glass over Joshua’s. In a way, both of these men are terrorists. Frank deceives the public into being afraid when there’s nothing to be afraid of, literally terrorizing the country. It could be said Frank is the bigger terrorist now. With Joshua no longer of any use to him, and it being politically expedient to “capture” the threat, Frank orders Joshua’s death. It will be staged to appear Joshua was killed in a gun battle, and a bump in the Underwood’s polling numbers follow.

Even though Frank’s “captured” and dealt with the domestic terrorists, he pushes the envelope by inviting Governors from all of the states to come to Washington and meet with him. He tells them there’s chatter suggesting ICO may strike polling places on election night, and Frank wants to have each state authorize the National Guard to be out in force in public places, and to consolidate voting districts to make less targets. He’s basically pushing voter suppression, and the rural consolidation of polling places would strike his Republican opponent hardest. Frank being Frank, offers sweet deals to some reluctant Governors. With polling numbers so close, the Underwood’s will do anything to get a leg up in this election.

While all this is going on, there’s a House investigation into the claims in the Hammerschmidt article, focusing on the President. Both former and current members of his administrations have been called to testify, and when they do it’s no walk in the park. Tough questions are asked, and there’s a possibility some of his dirty dealings may come to the surface. The Underwood’s are in constant damage control and narrative shaping. They’re masters of manipulation. For how serious the allegations against Frank are, so far they’ve been able to subvert the public’s gaze through fear, but how long can they keep this up?

Their man inside the NSA is on the verge of being caught with the algorithm he uploaded to the system to manipulate data, and he needs to erase it before the NSA catches on. If he’s found out it would be incredibly damaging to the Underwood’s, so in order to get into the system and erase it, he makes it look like ICO hackers have disrupted the internet and cellular service in all of Washington D.C. to scare the public and cover his tracks. Frank exploits this intense fear to get all of the remaining reluctant Governors on board with his plan. As long as it looks and feels like terrorists may be plotting a domestic attack, the Underwood’s have the upper hand.

Conway is still polling incredibly close to the Underwood’s, and even though they’ve based their campaign on fear, Conway’s military service and his role as a hero have pushed him almost neck and neck with Frank. There’s something off about the story of his heroism though. Will never likes to talk about what happened in Afghanistan that day. Is he hiding something Frank can exploit? No matter how hard they try leading up to Election Day, Frank and Claire are unable to dig deep enough to find out what really happened.

Election day goes badly for the Underwood’s. Voter turnout is way down, which gives a boost to Conway. Things are neck and neck with only a couple of states left in play, and it looks like Conway is going to win the election. This is when Frank and Claire decide to retain the White House by any means necessary. Stamper gets fake terrorist chatter to two governors in order to pressure them to close polling places early for fear of an attack, and they also orchestrate a fake attack on another polling place, forcing the hand of the Governors of those two key states. The polling places being closed are in key Conway districts, and may swing the election in the Underwood’s favor. In order to make it look like this isn’t his intention, Frank calls Will and concedes the election. It’s a ruse since we know there’s no way Frank is willing to cede power without trying every trick in the book to keep it.

More thoughts:

  • Frank’s childhood friend and lover Tim has gone missing and is presumed dead. It strikes him in a hard way, and it’s clear Claire had no idea about the nature of their relationship.
  • Claire’s own relationship with Thomas Yates is hot and heavy until it suddenly isn’t. She basically shuts it down. How will Yates react? Will he leave their employ? He knows too much and could be a liability the Underwood’s can’t have as a worry.
  • Doug and LeAnn have some sexual tension this season. Will they end up together? Doug is still seeing the widow whose husband’s death Doug is responsible for. Will she ever find out the truth?
  • Will the secret of Conway’s heroic day come out, and is it as damaging as it seems to be?
  • How will Frank and Claire swing the election to their favor without it appearing they manipulated the outcome?


Season 5, Episodes 1-4 (S05E01-04)
House of Cards Streams on Netflix

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For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
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