A Pain In The Doug
The third season of House of Cards finds President Underwood…not doing much. At least not as much as a perpetually troubled compatriot.
"You Have To Be A Little Human To Be The President"
The Scene: On the anniversary of his father's death, President Frank Underwood arrives in his hometown of Gaffney to pay his respects.
The Symbol: Frank's stream of vengeful piss.
The Meaning: Not that it needed underlining (in urine), but Frank has no intention of honoring thy father or living up the whole "presidents should be good people" thing. The past is the past.
Not Stampered Out Quite Yet
Alert Type: Doug Mortality Alert.
Issue: Speaking of Frank's past, look who it is! Everybody's favorite brooding, Tale Of Two Cities-loving chief of staff, whom many (myself included) presumed was rotting dead on the forest ground, is alive and well.
Complicating Factors: Well, not exactly "well." Thanks to Rachel's rock to the head, Doug's suffered brain damage that's mostly affected his motor skills. At a time when he should be serving as chief of staff in the Underwood administration, he's instead going through physical therapy and proving to doctors that he knows what rhinoceroses are.
Resolution: We're spending a lot of time with Doug at the beginning of this episode, so clearly he's not jumping right back into his work after therapy. Without contact from the White House, Doug's forced to learn about Frank's low approval ratings and general goings-on via MSNBC cross-talk. He looks, as he always does, slightly confused but on the verge of screaming at all times.
Spoiler: Doug's finally about to be paid a visit by an Underwood.
Feel Better! (And Keep Your Dumb Mouth Shut)
Who called the meeting? First Lady Claire Underwood
What's it about? To visit her dear friend Doug in the hospital, of course! Look how happy it makes him!
It's possible this is the first time we've seen Doug smile in the entire series.
How'd it go? Doug and Claire spend precisely nine seconds catching up before Claire reveals the real reason for her visit: making sure Doug sticks to his story when talking to the cops and doesn't reveal anything about Rachel. The official fib is that a man jumped in Doug's car while he was at a red light, knocked him out cold, and hijacked his ride. No one's been able to locate Rachel or Doug's car in six months so the cops should accept the lie without question -- as we see them do in the next scene. Once Claire is assured that Doug the loose end has been tied up, she makes her exit.
The Resurrection of Stephen Colbert
After six months, Doug is finally released from the hospital. When he arrives home, he finds his fridge fully stocked thanks to the president. We know the Underwoods care because they got him the good preserves from the grocery store.
After dismissing his simple brother as quickly as possible without coming off as rude ("Send me some pictures of the kids"), Doug gets to the business of sitting around his apartment looking mopey. His first order of business? Catching up on The Colbert Report.
When House of Cards drags in real-life TV personalities, it's never not terrible. At best it's awkward, like when Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity are both yelling at President Walker about, I don't know, unobtanium, to illustrate bipartisan criticism. At worst it's demoralizing, like when they ruined poor Morley Safer's reputation. But resuscitating Stephen Colbert, only two months after the end of The Colbert Report, to make him read your too-clever-by-half rejoinders? Inexcusable. I don't think I'm exaggerating AT ALL when I say that this has retroactively tarnished the legacy of probably smartest piece of satire of the past 25 years. Shame on you, House of Cards! I hope you feel bad about what you've done.
You Don't Orsay?
Who called the meeting? Doug.
What's it about? What's it always about with Doug? Rachel.
How'd it go? With Rachel nowhere to be found, Doug enlists the help of hacker/guinea-pig enthusiast turned FBI analyst Gavin Orsay. I know what you're all thinking: "DID HE BRING CASHEW WITH HIM???" Unfortunately, Cashew, like Rachel, is MIA. I hope he's okay. Anyway, Gavin promises that if Doug can figure out a way to spring him from his FBI gig, he'll help track down Rachel.
Get To Work And Stop Complaining
America Works ("AmWorks" for the cool kids) is Frank's nascent cornerstone jobs program, designed to create 10 million jobs in 18 months by slashing entitlement programs. If this sounds like an unusually anti-liberal, not to mention awfully ambitious, program for a Democratic place-holder president to undertake, well, it's not just you. No one in the team Frank's put together seems too excited about pissing off the elderly voting base in order to please a president with single-digit approval ratings and a fast-approaching expiration date. When Paul, the head of the America Works team, tries to tell all this to Frank, he earns a lecture about "vision" and "doing the things people won't like" for the whole class.
This is our first look at President Underwood's management style and, as if we'd expect anything else, it's brash and intimidating. Frank only has so much time to turn the country around on him, and he doesn't want to waste it arguing with bureaucrats hesitant to do his bidding. So, when Frank storms out of the room, chief of staff Remy calmly and quietly dismisses Paul from the America Works program. That's what you get when you argue with the 46th President of the United States!
Every Senior Citizen Sucking From The Government Teat = $32,781
Here's An Idea
Maybe Install A Hand Rail
Oh good, it's Doug! I was beginning to miss that guy. Since we last saw Doug, four minutes ago, he's just been chillin' in bed, waiting for the call from the president to get back to work. Well, a call eventually does come, giving Doug a reason to finally take a shower.
Be careful, though, Doug. You're not back to full strength yet and showers can be -- OH NO, DOUG!
Poor Doug. After months of physical therapy and staring up at his dark ceiling, he's finally given a reason to lift his damaged body out of bed and he goes and wrecks it some more. After crawling over to his smart-guy glasses and dialing 911, Doug hangs up and arrives at a different solution.
Oh, hey there. That's a nice spoon you've got there. Wait, what are you doing with that spoon?
STOP IT, DOUG!
Name: Robert Jacobs. Age: 70s (?). Occupation: Supreme Court Justice/Ghoulish Human Easter Bunny. Goal: After being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he's come to Frank to resign his seat on the Court so he can spend his remaining lucid years with his wife. Not that Frank gives two shits. Facing a hostile Congress, Frank has no intention of dealing with the headache of trying to push a nominee through the rigorous confirmation process. To convince Judge Jacobs to remain on the Court, Frank gets Vice President Donald Blythe, whose wife also suffered from Alzheimer's before passing six months earlier, to persuade him that remaining at work is the best thing for his ailing psyche. Jacobs agrees to mull it over with his wife. Sample Dialogue: "I'm not going to be running around the Court in my boxers anytime soon." Or will you?
"I Was Thinking I Could Help…"
Situation: Doug finally makes it out of his apartment and up to the Oval Office to see his old friend, the President of the United States, to ask for some work to do so he doesn't go crazy sitting at home watching Frank spar with Bill Maher or Chelsea Handler or whomever. He'd also like the president to know that he's sorry for not killing Rachel back in Season 1 when her storyline was still fresh in our minds.
What makes it awkward? Frank has no interest in putting his crippled buddy back to work and doesn't do a great job hiding that fact. I mean, it's the same tone Frank always uses whenever he's being falsely regretful, but he should have known that Doug, who's spent decades at his side, can read him better than anyone save Claire.
How is order restored? It's not really. Frank condescendingly tells Doug that the best way he can be of service is by sitting at home and healing. Doug swallows his bitter minor failure, but the pain of rejection is only inflamed by the entrance of Remy, who took up the position of chief of staff in Doug's absence.
Ambassador To Your Nightmares
Who called the meeting? Claire.
What's it about? Before officially beginning the confirmation process to become U.N. ambassador, Claire stops by Republican Senate Majority Leader (and probable presidential candidate) Hector Mendoza's office to schmooze him into making things a little easier on her.
How'd it go? Claire predicts all of Mendoza's criticisms and counters them with evidence of her successful past and a promise to be the gosh-darn best ambassador this country's ever seen. Mendoza placates her for now, but we'll soon see how likely it is that the prospective Republican nominee for president would help confirm the sitting Democratic First Lady for a position she may not be qualified for.
After Frank rejects Doug like a disappointing son who failed to catch the winning pass, Doug makes his way to the hospital to receive some proper medical care for his arm. They remove the wooden spoon and tape (and probably a swath of arm hair) and fit him into a proper cast. Then, the doctor offers to write him a prescription for painkillers. Doug mumbles that he's sober and not allowed to take them, but when the doctor fails to hear him, Doug changes his mind and takes Chekhov's pills home with him.
Doug's not the only one whom Frank isn't bending over backwards to help. After a meeting in the war room, Secretary of State Catherine Durant pulls Frank aside to let him know that the Republicans aren't alone in their hesitancy to name Claire ambassador. Back in the executive residence, Frank lightly suggests to Claire not to get her hopes up about her nomination. He's toooootally on board, but it's his darn critics who might keep her from getting the job. Claire has too much respect for herself to listen to Frank coddle her, so she quickly dismisses him from the guest room where she's been sleeping thanks to a cold. Sure. A cold.
Doug's out of pills ALREADY and his splitting headache is still lingering. I bet he'll just play some Sudoku or something to get over it.
Not one to wait for bad news to fall on her head, Claire wakes up Frank in the middle of the night to tell him that he will be nominating her for ambassador, goddammit, and she won't hear another word about it. Frank tries to explain that handing his own wife such a high-profile position when he's lacking the political capital to do so would only put them in a worse position. But Claire is thinking more long-term. "I've been in the passenger seat for decades. It's time for me to get behind the wheel. What if you lose reelection?" Frank's solution is rather simple: "I won't lose."
Before they can continue their spat, Meechum shows up. You stay away from them, Meechum! The Underwoods in their underthings is too much for you handle. Fortunately for all of us, Meechum just tells Frank that there's a call for him. A call from the war room. To prove his devotion to her, Frank invites Claire along to watch him blow up the world.
Oh, look, a prostitute who looks a lot like Rachel. That's straight from the Troubled White Dude Handbook, Doug. He asks her to undress and then moves to the bathroom to prepare his special surprise.
Not-Rachel is understandably shaken when weirdo Doug takes the syringe from behind his back while they're getting all up on each other. "Nothing's going through the skin," Doug whispers to her, in the least sexy manner possible. "I just want you to squirt it into my mouth."
Ummmmm. Okay. Doug, this is weird, even for you.
In the war room, Frank gives the go-ahead to launch a missile at a building in Yemen where a top terrorist official is hiding out, despite the probability of civilian casualties. This is supposed to, what, turn Claire on? Help her understand the gravity of his power? It doesn't matter to her. Walking back to their suite, Claire still insists that he nominate her. "All right," says Frank. They can destroy everyone together, like they always planned.