Contains spoilers -- do not read unless you've seen House Of Cards Season 1, Episode 8
This episode was a lot more engaging than usual, not only because it wasn't bogged down by the usual themes that can weigh heavily on House Of Cards, but it was also a nice character exploration of the two main (male) characters, Frank and Peter. We also got an interesting glimpse into Claire, who's becoming more and more adept at fooling everyone. Like Episode 3, this one goes off on a personal tangent, and whisks us away from the grey sameness of D.C. To be honest, this show needs it.
First off, Frank heads back to The Sentinel, his alma mater in South Carolina (an obvious reference to The Citadel military college in the same state). It's fitting that Frank would attend a military college, what with his rigid demeanor and 24/7 poker face. He heads back there because the school is building a library in his name, since Frank bequeathed a large sum of money (thank you, Sancorp) to the college. Is there anything in America that can't be bought? House Of Cards says no.
Out of his usual element, Frank is an entirely different person. He sings in a barbershop quartet ("The Riflemen"), he lets loose and gets drunk to the point of feeling sick, he stays up really late with his buddies and causes shenanigans, like breaking into the old library and trashing the place. Yes, back at home, Frank is someone else.
The same goes for Peter, who heads back to his hometown, Philadelphia, to attend a community meeting about the shuttered shipyard. Since he's now running for Governor of Pennsylvania, he wants to make amends with the people he screwed over. Without them, he has no vote and no chance of winning. Unlike Frank, however, Peter seems to be genuinely rattled by what he's done to his old friends, and he doesn't seem as interested in mending political fences as much as he wants to fix the personal ones.
He goes and visits his mother, a curmudgeonly old thing in a retirement home, who can barely look at her son without keeling over in disgust. The history between the two isn't explained, but it's palpable and obvious -- they do not get along. But Peter is clean and sober, probably feeling alive for the first time in a while, and wants to show everyone. He puts up with his mother's hurtful remarks and fixes her damn fluorescent light anyway. He then sternly tells at a passing janitor to fix the A/C in her room, and when he barely acknowledges Peter's request, Peter ups the aggression and demands it. Now. I like the new Peter a lot, and just hope that Frank hasn't created a monster.
Another nice touch to the episode is Peter staying at his childhood home. Nothing fancy, just a regular house in the neighborhood. Christina surprises him by showing up at his doorstep, and the two proceed to have sex on his "puberty bed." Together, this pair is a force (like Claire and Frank), and through two heartfelt speeches (one a fail, the other a success), they get through to the constituents and the union agrees to support Peter in his quest for Governor.
Speaking of couples, Claire comes along for the ride with Frank to South Carolina, because really, who is Frank without Claire? He certainly says that a lot, but barely ever does anything to support it. Even that note/flowers he sent to her a few episodes back was completely devoid of real emotion. Claire sees that Frank is just going to get drunk with his buddies, so she politely leaves the dining room and adjourns to her hotel room, but not before stopping off at the bar. (It looks like Claire has done this many times before. She moves almost like clockwork from Frank's side.)
At the bar, she has a weird and almost-sexual discussion with Remy, who once again is lurking in the corner. This dude is out for something (and in this episode he claims he still wants Claire to take that offer she declined), and you just know it's more than business. He awkwardly asks her up to his bridal suite; I can't tell whether the sexual undertones were legit, or if he was sincerely asking her to talk. Too early to tell, but I'm waiting for something explosive to happen between these two, and Frank, of course.
She rejects his offer (again, ha!) and heads up to the room to draw a bath. Then, you guessed it, she calls Adam the photographer. They talk for "over an hour," bringing up their individual desires to have children (they both don't want them, or so they say), and end the conversation like teenagers, both reluctant to hang up. Again, I'm not sure where this is going, but it will not be ending well.
Frank spends the night with his old friends trashing the old library, and then sleeps it off before his big speech about the new library. Even though he's written a speech, he discards it at the last second and just wings it. Truly, it's a beautiful, emotional speech, and if you didn't know Frank you'd think he was the sweetest, kindest, most sensitive man. But because we do know Frank, it's like watching someone else. Claire looks puzzled when he's speaking, and when he sits back down afterwards, she asks him, "Are you OK?"
She leaves him to pull himself together after the crowd dissipates, and he stands there, looking glassy-eyed at the Francis J. Underwood Library. Then he looks at the camera, his lips tighten and his political mask reappears on his face. He's as hard as nails again.
The real Frank is back, rejuvenated and strong. Brace yourself, D.C.
Best Frank Quote: "How quickly poor grades are forgotten in the shadow of power and wealth."
You can stream House Of Cards at any time on Netflix.