By Jordan Katz
House of Cards season 3 was released today, and I feel like reviewing and recapping the episodes as I go along. This should go without saying, but there’s major spoilers ahead.
- The biggest development in this episode is quite clearly that Doug Stamper is alive. After being hit with a brick by Rachel, it seemed all but certain that he was dead. Yet he has remarkably survived, albeit with some major injuries. The pain of being separated from President Francis Underwood is quite evident in his behavior, as Stamper now finds himself as an outsider looking in. It’ll be interesting to see if Stamper ever returns to the White House, and if not, how he handles it.
- Francis’ big political agenda appears to a job-creating program, known as America Works. With it, Francis intends to create 10 million new jobs for the American people. Of course in order to get the money for that, Francis has a bold plan: no more entitlements. He wants to get rid of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Naturally, Francis is met with opposition from party leadership, but appears to be determined to get what he wants. This looks like it’ll be Francis’ main political focus while in the oval office, and it’s a doozy. Getting rid of cornerstones of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal is a pretty bold move to try, but Francis is certainly the kind of person to do it.
- We learn that Francis’ chief of staff is Remy Danton. While the two of have been as much friends as enemies in the past two seasons, it’s hard to think of a better choice as Francis’ right hand man in the Oval Office. Remy is intelligent and can be ruthless, two qualities I’m sure Francis values very highly.
- Claire Underwood wants more than the First Lady position, and we can hardly blame her. She has her eyes set on the United Nations. Throughout the show, Claire has shown is just as power hungry as Francis, and be the UN Ambassador for the USA is a good way to acquire it. Of course, she has to go through a Senate confirmation first, and that’ll hardly be easy.
- Francis and Claire have had more happy episodes than this one, that’s for certain.
- Francis is informed by the Democratic party leadership that they do not want him to run for President in 2016. No one elected him in the first place to Vice President or President, so the advantages a regular incumbent has does not exist. The party wants to have a new candidate, but they currently have no one in mind. Francis has had his power challenged and tried to be undercut before, but this feels different. He has never had this much power and thus, never had this many people who would like to challenge it or take it away.
- Claire goes in front of the Senate to be nominated for her position as UN Ambassador for the USA. However, it doesn’t exactly go well. She calls the military “irrelevant” and is then drilled by Senator Mendoza for it. Mendoza is looking likely to be the Republican candidate for the 2016 election, making the decision to publicly embarrass the Democratic First Lady a wise one for him. The comment was taken out of context by Mendoza, and he knows that. The damage is done for Claire regardless.
- Francis at least temporarily agrees with the Democratic leadership and will not run in 2016. But he wants to get something out of it. In exchange for not running, he wants the leadership to do everything they can to get America Works through Congress.
- The decision for Francis to opt to not run is a wise one once Francis lays it out. He doesn’t have to put energy into campaigning and can instead put that energy into actually governing and staying in Washington DC. Francis feels that his legacy can be defined by America Works, and is willing to sacrifice a second term for it.
- Francis then addresses the nation in a speech and reveals to the world what we already knew: he does not intend to run for a second term and the full details of America Works. Francis continues to be bold and gutsy in his pursuit of America Works in this. He tells America that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are what is weighing this country and tells the American people they aren’t entitled to anything.
- It’s the battle seemingly as old as the USA itself in this episode: the USA v. Russia.
- We are introduced to President Petrov, who is about as close to Vladimir Putin without actually being Putin himself. He looks just like him and much like Putin, he has a background in the KGB. President Petrov is all the Russian stereotypes you can imagine: he has a thick accent, can tend to rude and disrespectful and most importantly, he enjoys vodka. The choice for the show to make the Russian president basically Putin is one enjoyable for the viewers, it makes the action in the episode seem more real.
- President Petrov also has quite a thing for Claire. He makes several flirtatious remarks to her in his toast and continues to display his affection for her at the state dinner for Petrov. What goes from largely harmless flirting becomes a bit more serious once he dances with Claire and surprises her with a kiss on the mouth. It is tough to tell rather Petrov truly fancies Claire or is doing it simply to draw the ire of Francis. Regardless, it’s a move only someone with the kind of confidence and chutzpah the president of Russia would have.
- Along with Petrov putting some moves on Claire, the band Pussy Riot is at the state dinner. (They are a real band, and their name is indeed Pussy Riot.) The band are known for their protesting of Russia’s policies, and this episode makes note of that. At the state dinner they made a toast defying Petrov before defiantly walking out.
- In addition to the age-old USA v. Russia battle, another familiar political conflict is in his episode: Israel-Palestine. The issue is what brings President Petrov to Washington. Francis wants to negotiate on the issue with Petrov, but Petrov isn’t willing to budge much. Petrov’s negotiating leads to his request that the USA pull missiles out of Europe in exchange for cooperating on the issue. But Francis makes a bold move and decides to not agree at all. What was intended to a joint press conference between Petrov and Francis is suddenly just Francis. Francis renounces Petrov publicly and offers his support to Pussy Riot. Francis asserting his power over Russia is a move that could backfire for him, but it was one he had to make. No one takes kindly be someone trying to walk all over them, but especially not President Francis Underwood.
- Hacker-turned-FBI worker Gavin Orsay makes his first appearance in this episode too. Stamper asks him to track down the exact address of Rachel, which he is seen doing. Stamper and Rachel already had an odd relationship but that was before Rachel attempted to murder Stamper with a brick. Does Stamper plan to kill her? Continue their romantic relationship? Some third thing? It’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens with Stamper, Orsay and Rachel from here, as all three of them appear to be wild cards, especially now that Stamper is no longer officially working for Francis. If season 3 ends with Francis falling from grace in some way, don’t be surprised at all if it’s at the hands of Orsay or Rachel.
- Francis has gotten rid of the Russians but now he finds himself with an enemy much closer to home.
- The Democrats have a candidate they’d like to support for the 2016 campaign. It’s Solicitor General Heather Dunbar. Dunbar emerged in season 2 as a relatively minor character but an important one: she helped lead the impeachment effort that removed now former President Walker. Dunbar seems like a perfect candidate in every aspect so far: her parents own a business that should easily finance her campaign, her record is clean as a whistle and she has the backing of her party’s leadership. Of course as we get more episodes in, a fatal flaw could be revealed in her campaign. She also appears to have the support of Stamper, who is looking to get involved with politics now through any means necessary, even if that’s a political rival of Francis. Dunbar has never run for any sort of public office and hasn’t gotten her hands dirty in the world of politics, something Francis will surely look to target and exploit.
- Francis had his plan backfire to prevent Dunbar for announcing her candidacy. Francis knows that Supreme Court Justice Jacobs has Alzheimer’s. In Chapter 27 he convinced him to stay on the bench until Francis had a chance to get America Works through Congress. But now Francis has had a change of heart and wants the justice to step down. He claims it’s for his health and Francis probably is worried about that, but his real intentions are to open up the spot on the bench. And with that spot, Francis will appoint Dunbar as a Supreme Court justice. If you’re in the Supreme Court, you can’t run for President. However Dunbar figures out the plan and rebuffs the other.
- Francis also finds himself questioning himself and his religion. He sets up a meeting with a Mr. Mahmoud, who lost his legs due an American drone strike. The meeting is powerful for Francis and winds up leaving him rattled, especially when Mahmoud experiences phantom pain from the amputations during the meeting. Francis then later talks to his bishop about some religious questions he has. Francis then asks his bishop for some alone time at his church, where he spits at a statue of Jesus. Francis seems vulnerable in these moments, something highly uncommon for him.
- The Stamper/Rachel/Orsay thing is still stewing. They’re making progress towards finding her, but right now it’s not exactly the most exciting part of the episodes. As we get closer to the season finale the storyline should become more interesting, but right now it feels like it is just stealing time away from Francis and/or Claire.
- For probably the first time all season, Claire and Francis are both going on the offensive and man oh man is it fun to watch.
- Francis’ entire political tenure is defined by willing to make bold moves that most other people wouldn’t have the courage or guts to try. But his latest move is easily his boldest one yet. Francis gets the mayor of Washington, DC to declare a state of emergency. Not for a flood, hurricane or earthquake. Rather, the state of emergency is the lack of jobs available. The mayor calls on FEMA for funding, which was Francis’ idea. It’s important to note here that FEMA funding is normally used for natural disasters, not unemployment. Implying that unemployment is a natural disaster is done for the sake of America Works, putting it into action before Congress can say no. It’s not only bold but also very sneaky and clever, exactly what you’d expect from Francis. The plan is a smash hit, and on the 4th of July, there is a line stretching from the Mall all the way to the Lincoln Memorial with people lining up to get jobs. Included in that line is Freddy, Francis’ close friend and former owner of a fantastic ribs restaurant.
- Democratic Whip Jackie Sharp gets her first real air time in this episode and does a lot with it. As a way to distract from Dunbar, Francis asks her to run for president. Jackie accepts the idea. Later in the episode, Jackie gets married. While her campaign for President is only meant to be a dummy to take away attention from Dunbar, it’s totally foreseeable for Jackie to want her campaign to be for real.
- Over at the United Nations, Claire is getting things done with Russia. For all of Chapter 30 and the first 40 minutes of this episode, there has been much bickering and negotiating on a UN resolution for putting troops into the Jordan Valley, something Russia is highly concerned over. But Claire has finally made a breakthrough thanks to the President, who just so convenient is her husband. Francis wields his Commander-in-Chief power to deploy troops with the approval of Congress. This is especially important because Russia has threatened to sell weapons to Iran. The power move leads to Claire and the Russian ambassador agreeing to set up a meeting in Moscow between Francis and Petrov to discuss the issue. This is the first time we’ve seen Claire really take control in her tenure as UN Ambassador and it’s pretty enjoyable to see. (Hopefully it will be a more productive visit than the first time the two met. Probably with less kissing and drinking of vodka, but we can’t be certain on something like this.)