Another episode, another enemy: House of Cards Season 3, Episode 4, reviewed
When Netflix flipped the switch on the third season of House of Cards Friday morning at 3 am, I was up -- bleary-eyed but game -- to watch and recap each episode. You can read all thirteen recaps from my sleepless marathon in one article here, but for convenience's sake we also split them up into individual reviews, all of which you can find right here.
“Chapter 30″Another episode, another formidable enemy for Underwood.
This time it’s Solicitor General Heather Dunbar, a woman who possesses both scruples and ambitions — a dangerous combination for Underwood. The President had aimed to neutralize Dunbar by offering her a seat on the Supreme Court, one that would be vacant as soon as the President’s people leak that one of the sitting Justices has Alzheimer’s. But his gambit backfired, emboldening Dunbar to announce her own candidacy for president in an effort to bring “honor” back to the Oval Office. These adversaries are piling up quick, and with them so too are Underwood’s anxieties.
To make matters worse, it’s proving to be more difficult than expected for Underwood to keep up the ruse that he isn’t running for president. After an American citizen in Russia speaks up about gay rights, he is jailed by Russian authorities — likely as an act of retaliation against the US after the Underwoods chose to sidestep Petrov and move forward on the UN peacekeeping initiative in the Middle East. This gives the press an opening to pressure Underwood over his vague stance on gay rights. When he refuses to take the bait, it raises the question: Why is a man who isn’t running for reelection so hesitant to voice a potentially controversial opinion?
Underwood is flailing around in panic as he struggles to stay afloat. But just as he’s done in the past three chapters, the President ultimately adopts a measure of resolve in the episode’s final moments after conferring with his wife. As I wrote in the previous recap, this narrative is beginning to grow stale, and I sincerely hope that House of Cards finds some fresher ways to telegraph Underwood’s struggles and personal reaffirmations.
That said, the final scene here is totally bonkers in the best way possible. After debating with a pastor about the merits of ruling with fear versus ruling with love, Underwood approaches a giant crucifix at the head of the church. And because he’s Frank Underwood and why the hell not, he spits on it. Underwood immediately feels a pang of guilt, but as he leans in to clean the saliva off Jesus’ face the whole crucifix falls to the floor and shatters.
Is the lesson, “Don’t spit on Jesus’ face?” Not a chance.
The message is clear: No half-measures, no guilt, no scruples. If you’re going to spit on Jesus’ face, spit on Jesus’ face without remorse. Now apply this to the action of the episode: Sure, Underwood’s attempt to take down Dunbar didn’t work. But his attempt to manipulate her — to “rule-by-fear” — was only ineffective because Dunbar is that rare bird in Washington who operates with some semblance of ethics. Does that mean he should try to make things right? Soften his strategy with her? Clean up the spit?
No. The rules of the game are the same, even if Dunbar refuses to play. And that, I suspect, will be her undoing. After all, among the many cynical themes proffered by House of Cards is the notion that people don’t ascend to positions of real power without getting her hands dirty. She’ll either stay clean and fail in her ambitions, or bring herself down to Underwood’s level, giving him the opportunity to destroy her.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]