04/28/2013 01:30 EDT | Updated 06/28/2013 05:12 EDT

House Of Cards Season 1, Episode 12 Recap: This Is Politics

In these final episodes of the first season, House Of Cards has that feeling of last-minute panic. Everything is on the verge of crumbling and Frank's future looks bleak. Out of the blue waltzes Major Dad himself -- yes, Gerald McRaney -- and we have yet another wild card in the mix.


Contains spoilers -- do not read unless you've seen House Of Cards Season 1, Episode 12

In these final episodes of the first season, House Of Cards has that feeling of last-minute panic. Everything is on the verge of crumbling and Frank's future looks bleak. Out of the blue waltzes Major Dad himself -- yes, Gerald McRaney -- and we have yet another wild card in the mix. This is obviously not a roadblock Frank had in mind.

Once again, all the major players have choices to make, this time between emotions and political gain. Sure, we all have feelings, but at what point do we discard them in order to be truly effectual at our jobs? Do we choose one person over the other because they're a friend of ours? Do we cover the tracks of someone we love, even though their deed is totally unforgivable? It all comes down to that ultimate decision: whether the end justifies the means. And in this episode, even bit players like Christina have a powerful hand.

Claire: Ethics vs. Political Gain

In the least compelling and most predictable plotline of the episode, the right-and-honorable Gillian is having major ethical problems with the idea of Sancorp heading down to Botswana with a few cameras to shoot some PR footage. Claire, of course, owes Remy for his help in retrieving those water filters a few episodes back. Now is not a good time to renege on the deal, since Frank is in the precarious position of possibly getting the VP nod; and don't be fooled -- Claire (and CWI) has just as much to gain from Frank's hypothetical nomination as Frank himself. You heard her yourself at the breakfast table: "What are our chances?" Frank and Claire, as a team, have been working towards this end goal for some time, and there's no way she's going to stop now.

Despite the fact that Claire gave Gillian autonomy over the Botswana project, she pulls the rug out from under her and sends her on a "leave of absence" (euphemism for "fired"). In a cold, harsh, downright frightening move, Claire fires a pregnant woman in the bathroom of CWI. But I suppose this is nothing new, since Claire's been firing hard-working, ethical people since Episode 1.

Frank: Coming Clean vs. Playing Dirty

Frank smells something fishy (with the help of the ever-astute Stamper, who, at this point, is absolutely indispensable to Frank) when the President lobbies for Raymond Tusk (McRaney) for VP, a complete and total wild card known as the "backwoods billionaire." He's not embroiled in politics at all and has never held office, but he has a lot of money, speaks Mandarin and has an unbreakable love for birds and the wilderness. Frank volunteers himself to "vet" Tusk for the President, who (too) willingly agrees to send him. Another red flag there. Frank has the option of admitting that he himself wants the VP position, but instead he kind of throws Linda under the bus, and agrees with gritted teeth that Tusk is a good choice.

Seeing Frank in his pajamas at the Tusk house, rolling his eyes at the familial setting and 2 a.m. bacon feedings is priceless, but it turns out the whole thing is a ruse. Stamper discovers that the President and Tusk actually know each other quite well, and Frank is being vetted by Tusk for the position, not the other way around. In exchange for Tusk's recommendation, he needs a favor from Frank, but he won't reveal what it is until Frank agrees to do it. Of course, our Frank storms out. He's not going to make a deal until he knows what it is, and he only has a week to decide. He has a week to break Tusk -- another obstacle in his path to power. But something seems amiss here; with Linda's strange looks and the President's raised eyebrow, methinks there are some background schemes going on.

Christina: Her Job vs. Love For Peter

You have to love Christina. Even though she's a political player and has been cold (and sometimes ruthless) this season, you know underneath those gigantic doe eyes she's a cuddly ball of emotion. And with Peter dead, it's as if some vital life force has been sapped from her being. She claims she didn't attend his funeral because of the constituents of his now-leaderless district, but we all know that she didn't go because she couldn't handle it. It's interesting how a supporting cast member can suddenly have such a major role in the proceedings, but here she is.

Janine and Zoe are poking around about Peter and the shipyard, and they're growing ever more suspicious of Frank and his part in the whole thing. Christina has all the information they need, but she's holding back under indirect pressure from Frank and Stamper. She also wants to keep the memory of Peter somewhat intact, since he went out so unceremoniously. In a way, her decision is the hardest, since either choice doesn't really alleviate her pain. She can back Frank and his motivations, clam up, and go on her merry way, perhaps living with a bit of guilt, or she can tell Janine and Zoe everything, reveal that Peter was framed, and set her conscience free. (For the record, in either case, Peter comes off looking like a spineless schlub.)

Christina breaks down and weeps when she discovers a picture of Peter in his boxed-up office, and after a final confrontation by Zoe (see below), I think she spills. Frank is going to be livid.

Zoe: Loyalty To Frank vs. Her Career

This storyline has dragged all season, and now that she's no longer boinking Frank, her character is extraneous. (You can see why the Zoe character was killed off in the original British series.) Could a pesky upstart reporter really be this big a thorn in a politician's side? I feel like she hasn't established enough cred to really be in a position of power, but let's just go along with it for the sake of plot progression, shall we?

Janine fails miserably to get any Peter tidbits out of Christina, so she turns to Zoe for information. Somehow (through her "sources"), Janine has found out that Zoe was with Frank, and that he's her inside man at the White House. Zoe tries her best to deflect Janine, but ultimately fails when her boyfriend (?) Lucas lays a major guilt trip on her. Yes, he uses the "love" word. Zoe then goes on a little roadtrip to Roy's trailer park and then to the "titty bar" to talk to Echo ('memba her?), who pretty much reveals it all. (Note: not a single person is a just a minor player in this show.)

Zoe realizes that Frank is very, very dangerous, and starts to understand that he won't be giving her any more valuable information, so she turns on him and starts to go after him. In the final scene, she confronts Christina about the night Peter visited the trailer park. There's no going back now, Zoe -- you're betraying Frank, Stamper, Claire and pretty much anyone else involved. I sincerely hope Janine is better at protecting you than she is at reporting.

Best Frank Quote: "I've worked too hard to get within arm's reach of the prize only to have my hand bitten off before I seize it."

You can stream House Of Cards at any time on Netflix.

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