This episode is all about big decisions; nearly every character is told to "think about it" at some point or another. The irony is, in making most of these choices, there is no "right" or "wrong" outcome -- and in some cases, like Peter's, there is no good option at all. I suppose this is representative of politics at large: for every bill passed, for every law enacted, there is a winning party and a losing party. No victory comes without its victim.
Frank: Frank's decisions bear the most serious outcomes, and he's involved in every single other character's dilemmas (or he causes them, directly or indirectly) -- and in this episode he's out to make sure the collective bargaining agreement is added to the education bill. He wants to undermine the President at any cost, so we travel with him from manipulation to manipulation in the back rooms of Washington. As a result of his deception and to ensure his plan follows through, he has to enlist the help of everyone in his inner circle (including his wife). All others have to suffer in order for Frank to win.
Before our eyes, we can see Frank devolving into someone we can't possibly root for. House Of Cards almost blatantly sets him up for the fall. In Episode 3, he was despicable (lying in church, deceiving grieving parents, etc.), but his deception was fun to watch. In Episode 4, it's getting harder to understand his motivations, and the bitter taste in my mouth escalated as the plot progressed.
In response to Frank's puppetry, here's how everyone else decides.
Claire: Frank's wife has a couple decisions to make. One directly affects her business, and the other involves her marriage. It seems that Claire already knows Remy (the lawyer that "ran into" Frank in Episode 2), and is instantly suspicious when he shows up at CWI with the offer of $1.5 million in donations. If she accepts Remy's donation offer (which obviously has strings attached, and would have repercussions for Frank), she'd be able to hire back her fired staff and push forward with her big plans for her company. Frank is horrified at the idea that she's even considering taking the funds, and tells her flat-out to reject it. He even makes a semi-romantic overture to her, sending her a photo of the two of them, with writing on the back: "You don't need Sancorp, you have me! -- F."
Knowing Frank as well as we do, the gesture is pretty empty. Their relationship seems to function solely on a business/political level, and Claire is fully aware, because right after reading the text on the photo, she picks up the phone and calls Adam Galloway, the photographer we saw her make doe eyes about in previous episodes. There is literally no emotional response when Claire reads the photo, and she sets up a "meeting" with Adam. In a classic scene, obviously meant to indicate the lack of emotional connection between Frank and Claire, he helps her pick out a seductive dress, almost as if he knows she's going out to meet another man. She meets up with Adam in a hotel room, with the biggest phallic symbol on Earth in plain view (the Washington Monument) through the window. They share a kiss, but then Claire abruptly tells him to stop and leaves the room. There's history here, and true chemistry. This isn' t the last we'll see of Adam.
In one fell swoop, because of Frank, she rejects Adam and then rejects Remy's donation offer. Claire is left to her own defenses with a selfish, emotionless husband, and she's beginning to wear the resentment on her sleeve. Also, the early signs of menopause kick in ... not good.
Peter: The show's biggest loser thus far has been Peter. He never wins, he's always screwing up, and he owes Frank big-time for the drunk driving/drugs incident. Frank uses this leverage to corner Peter, forcing him to close down a shipyard in his district, even though he got into office by campaigning to keep it open. Many of his backers and close personal friends voted for him because of his support for the shipyard. So Peter has to choose: do I close the shipyard and keep my job (and move up the ladder), or do I keep it open and ensure these close friends of mine don't all lose their jobs? Of course, under Frank's relentless pressure, he opts to let the shipyard close. The fallout is intense: he receives vitriolic emails and even a painful visit to his office from a former friend. Despite his deepest intentions to be a "good guy," he fails, and once again falls victim to his vices.
And even though he and his ex-wife's kids are in his care (at his apartment), he decides to go out and get drunk, leaving them to fend for themselves. Luckily, Christina comes home from work and finds them there, and she feeds them and puts them to bed. Peter stumbles home in the wee morning hours, doesn't even say "thank you," and falls flat on the bed. Upon waking, he realizes that Christina has sent his kids to a relative's house. She quits her job, and then breaks up with him unceremoniously, slamming the door in his face. All I can say is: finally.
Zoe: Our up-and-coming reporter Zoe is promoted to White House correspondent in the blink of an eye -- totally unbelievable, but OK. She spends the bulk of the episode hemming and hawing about it: should she take it? Should she not? I'm not really sure what the debate is here, but we have to agonizingly sit back while she thinks about it. Finally she calls Frank to get his opinion, and he, of course, doesn't like it. Having her as his lackey on the outside is one thing, but having Zoe in his sandbox is a potentially dangerous interference.
Still unsure, Zoe heads to her editor-in-chief's office and gets in a heated argument because she can't make up her mind. She says it's "f--king unbelievable," and he calls her a "c--t," then fires her. Ridiculous but entertaining, the back-and-forth is the most scintillating dialogue we've heard thus far. In what seems to be a common theme among the characters, she heads out to a bar and gets drunk to drown her sorrows.
From the most interesting to most revolting discussion, all of a sudden a drunken Zoe is flirting with Frank on the phone, and she invites him over to her apartment. Where did this come from? While there have been mild sexual undertones to their text-message conversations, I never thought this would proceed to full-blown sex between these two. (To be clear, it's not that I don't think this stuff happens in Washington -- quite the opposite, actually, I think it happens all the time -- but with these two it just materializes out of thin air.) Plus, gross. Really, truly gross.
And holy foreshadowing: "You've been with older men before."
"Then you know they hurt you. And after they hurt you, they discard you."
"You can't hurt me."
Oh, yes he can, Zoe. And he will.
Best Frank quote: "I revised the parameters of my promise."
As I mentioned in the comments of my last post, this is a really easy show to spoil for everyone. So please, if you do comment, try not to reveal any information from upcoming episodes. Thank you!
You can stream House Of Cards at any time on Netflix.