Contains spoilers -- do not read unless you've seen House Of Cards Season 1, Episode 11
For the first 10 episodes of House Of Cards, there has been a layer of secrecy and double-dealing over everything. Typical of politics, there's always that level of occurrence that's inaccessible, disguised in jargon and back-room meetings. What we get is second-hand information, manipulated and massaged by people out to meet their agendas. With Peter's very public implosion, that layer has disintegrated, and the characters on the show have no choice but to reveal their truths, no matter what the consequence. When we see Stamper at the end of the episode fiddling with a chessboard, that's no random placement. This is the moment before checkmate. It's make-or-break for Frank.
He acknowledges this to us as he masterfully plays Linda like a flute, realizing that she's got his number on everything. She sees Frank's machinations, from his insurance of getting her son into the Ivy League, right down to his double-play of VP Matthews and the President. He reveals the truth to her: yes, he wants the VP to step down and run for Governor of Pennsylvania so that he can run for VP himself. This has been Frank's plan from Episode 1, and it's all starting to fall into place. He just needs to ensure that nothing shatters its fragile foundations.
(Looking closer at the plan, we really have to suspend disbelief. To think that Frank could so easily sway the President of the United States, along with the dim-witted VP, is a tall order. Also, suggesting that a VP leave office mid-term to take on a Governor seat is preposterous. It would absolutely never happen, unless there were health reasons. So, accepting that this is indeed fiction -- as a commenter studiously pointed out to me last week -- we push forward.)
There are three essential pillars threatening to crumble, thereby destroying Frank's plan: Zoe's knowledge of events, Claire's absence, and, of course, Peter. It's interesting how Frank uses one person to manipulate the other -- though I'm not wholly convinced that Zoe is fully buying into Frank's bullshit. He calls her over to his house (Claire's still absent, living it up at Adam's), and Zoe proceeds to rifle through Claire's stuff, as she did in her house last episode. Zoe takes it a step further and tries on the dress Claire wore to the gala ("It's like steel," she observes) and goes so far as to ask what side of the bed she sleeps on. After attempting to clean up her drab, filthy apartment, I assume she's trying to get a feel about what it's like to be Claire. Zoe is like Claire before she married Frank -- idealistic, naive, still dreaming. Putting on the gown is restrictive, and even though it looks good, it doesn't fit properly. This kind of life doesn't fit Zoe, which is probably why she so easily acquiesces to Frank.
He asks her to end the sexual part of the relationship -- since, if he becomes VP, he most certainly can't have some young woman traipsing in and out of his office -- and Zoe agrees, but again I have a feeling that she's going to do something to screw Frank over once and for all. But, for now, one fire out for Frank.
Up next is the messier problem of Peter, who's quite literally sinking under the weight of his vices. We see him knocking back bottles of booze like water, and doing surprisingly well at Jeopardy. All of his furniture is overturned, and still-burning cigarettes sit in ashtrays. Even Christina can't break him out of his funk. He drunk-drives to his ex-wife's house to see his children, but even they don't want to see or talk to him. At rock bottom, he proceeds to drunk-drive to the police station and turn himself in. He can't even get himself arrested! Stamper and Frank come get him (well, Frank meets them in a back alley -- surely he can't be seen at the police station), and Frank volunteers to take him home.
On the way back, Peter says that he's going to tell his truths and reveal everything in a statement. This is a disaster for Frank's plan, and he realizes he has to do something drastic. About midway through this scene, you know what's going to happen based on the look on Frank's face. In a fantastic exchange of dialogue, Peter and Frank talk in Peter's car in the parking garage, where Frank plies him with booze and stories about he and Claire contemplating having children. It's beyond low, but it works. Peter passes out, Frank turns on the car, rolls down the window, gets out, and closes the garage door. Yes, Frank murders Peter, disguising it as a suicide, in order to keep everything in line.
And then, in a move that requires absolutely zero conscience, Frank uses Peter's "suicide" to get Claire to come home. After multiple texts from Frank that Claire has ignored (we see them on her phone), she sees this one and writes, "Coming home." She leaves Adam's house -- just as we knew she would eventually -- to be that pillar of support for her husband, even though a huge part of her detests him and her life. She could have been Zoe, she could have been Adam, but she made her choices a long time ago. Adam's studio apartment doesn't fit her, just as her dress doesn't fit Zoe.
The episode ends with Frank giving a speech about Peter with Claire standing stoically at his side.
Check -- for now. No checkmate yet.
Best Frank Quote: "Once someone is exposed, they're at your mercy."
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