Contains spoilers -- do not read unless you've seen House Of Cards Season 1, Episode 9
The first shot of this episode features Peter's young son playing with action figures -- two military soldiers, of course -- and one figure points his automatic weapon at the other. "This is what we do to cowards!" the boy exclaims as he tosses the now-executed figure onto the table. Politics, war and this entire series encapsulated in a 15 seconds. Well done, House Of Cards!
All of our main characters are either rewarded for their bravery or punished for their cowardice in this episode, and we start to see the decline of many relationships we thought were stable, relatively speaking. Tenuous threads of trust are severed as personal interests take precedence over the greater good.
Peter and Vice-President Matthews: VP Matthews hates Peter. Like hates. Bitter over his not-as-good-as-he-thought position of Vice-President of the United States (which, apparently, is just a name and not much else), Matthews is upset that Peter is running for his former position of Governor of Pennsylvania. Matthews is aware of Peter's drug-and-hooker past, and doesn't want to see his former glories sullied by an upstart who doesn't deserve the position.
So on Peter's three-day, 22-stop campaigning bus tour, Matthews is forced to come along and help promote Peter. Instead of helping, he sabotages Peter's speech by staying at the podium over his time limit, and continually brushes Peter off whenever he tries to approach him. He also cuts Peter down in front of the constituents, making him look (and feel) like a jackass. Still in subservient mode, Peter calls Frank to get his help, and Frank basically tells him to grow a pair and confront Matthews. (For someone who "hates kids," Frank is ironically really good at no-nonsense parenting.)
Peter gathers his strength and confronts Matthews in his room. In one of the best House Of Cards scenes yet, we finally see Peter emerging as a tour de force. He's also learning the fine tools of manipulation, as instructed by Frank. Matthews folds almost immediately and throws his support behind Peter. This guy could be a killer politician yet!
Frank and Zoe:We didn't see Zoe last week (not that I'm complaining -- her "journalist" storyline gets to me), but here she is, front and center, as she tries to keep her political source secret from fellow reporter, Janine. It seems Janine, back in her junior reporter days, did a lot of sexual favors in return for scoops, and she lost a lot of credibility because of it. At first I thought she was lying so Zoe would divulge her source, but it was all truth, and Zoe is completely freaked out. Janine's dire warning of "You don't want to f**k your way to the middle" gets to her, and she immediately lets Frank know that she wants out of their sexual relationship. She wants to keep things professional. Frank doesn't bat an eye and quickly agrees, but the look on his face indicates that Zoe isn't going to get off scot-free.
And sure enough, like an immature teenager, Frank starts to ignore Zoe's calls and messages, and denies her important information about the CWI watershed bill vote count, which apparently people care about (news flash: yawn). Frustrated, Zoe caves in, but not entirely. Yes, she calls Frank over to have sex, but it's not for her own pleasure; she does it strictly to get the information she's after. Immediately post-coitus (after some more unsexy Frank and Zoe sex), Zoe is an out-and-out firebrand, tearing Frank a new one and basically exposing that she's never enjoyed their sex, that he's too old, that their relationship is "sick," and accusing him of being in love with her. (For the record, Frank's facial expressions throughout the episode do indicate that he has genuine feelings for her, which is kinda sad.)
She gets the vote count information in the end, even though it ends up being wrong -- and that's where we get to...
Frank and Claire: Oh, how this pot simmers. In a testament to superior acting, Spacey and Wright depict a marital tension unlike any I've ever seen on TV (OK, except for maybe Tony and Carmela Soprano). No joke, you can practically feel it resonating off the screen. In a nutshell, Sancorp's pestering Remy has been approaching the entire Congress with huge monetary offers to shut down the watershed bill, and Frank is pissed off. Claire has $200,000 worth of water filters trapped in the south of Sudan, and she can't get them out. Even the Secretary of State, who owes her a favor, can't get them for her. Naturally, Claire proposes to Frank that she use Remy's influence and connections to get them out -- and Frank explodes at her in a rare loss of control. This moment screams volumes about Frank's state of mind; could it be that all of his lies and manipulation are finally starting to get to him?
He shuts down Claire's proposition, stating that if Remy does her a favor, then he owes Remy, which obviously won't work considering the precarious status of the watershed bill. Immediately after shutting out her idea, Frank asks her for another favor. Terrible timing, Frank. TERRIBLE. He wants her to convince two flip-floppy congressmen to vote "yes" on the bill, even though they're leaning towards "no." She agrees to do it, but Frank misses the most obvious, most venomous bitch stare ever given in modern human history. This is not going to go according to plan.
And sure enough, Claire tells the men to vote "with their conscience" (which basically means "no"), and then turns around and lies to Frank's face, saying they're on board. She also accepts Remy's offer -- he'll get the filters out of Sudan if she'll work to kill the bill. I was practically rooting for Claire to f**k over Frank; the shit this woman endures at the hands of her husband is ridiculous. He cheats, he lies, he's emotionless, she's going through menopause without support, people around her are having children, men want her (and she wants them) but she can't have them, and he uses her for political gain nearly every waking second. Need I go on? It's obvious that she's had enough and she's not going to take it anymore.
In one fell swoop and with a powerful smirk, Claire turns the tables on everyone. Peter's campaign is crippled by the failed bill, CWI benefits, Remy wins, Zoe's wrong and Frank is absolutely screwed. The episode ends with her unconvincing statement, "What a shame." A clueless Frank doesn't pick up on it and mutters, "I want to find out who lied." Wait until he finds out it was his loyal, loving wife.
Honourable Mention -- Stamper: Lucky Stamper gets to keep track of Peter's hooker, Rachel, who we know is going to end up being exposed eventually. But for now, Stamper gets to threaten a restaurant manager for trying to sexually abuse her. Great scene. Extraneous, but great.
Best Frank Quote: "Never slap a man while he's chewing tobacco."
You can stream House Of Cards at any time on Netflix.