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Jane Davis Isn't Interested In The Underwoods' House Of Cards

She's playing a different game, and keeping her cards close to the vest.

The esteemed Sarah D. Bunting summed it up best, in her post on "Chapter 55," when she compared House Of Cards to Domino's. Try as its great ensemble and even better production value might, there's no getting around the fact that this (I guess) prestige series is a far cry from shows like The Leftovers and The Americans (this just-ended season excepted). It's the Domino's BBQ Meatlovers pizza of Best Drama Emmy contenders.

On second thought, that makes it sound over the top. And it is, in its own ways, but it's also blindly committed to its own self-seriousness and, more often than not, kind of a drag. It's confused icy and bristling with glacial and turgid. It's less dense plotting and more...cheesy crust. It's not Scandal, nor is it Homeland, and it doesn't have to be (I like cheesy crust), but calling a Domino's pizza an organic artisanal flatbread made with nitrate-free meats is fake news.

Many have expressed disappointment in the fact that this season of House Of Cards pales when held against the current political landscape, but I'm fine with it. In a way, it's a relief. This is my Domino's BBQ Meatlovers pizza, after all! (Spacey, as "Ham," seems to get it...I think.) I'm fine letting my brain atrophy as it rolls down the structured lines of Claire's wardrobe and passively wonders why she can't seem to fill a glass of water more than a third of the way before it eventually rolls back down the other side of her sleeve into a busy Plots intersection at rush hour.

Then Jane Davis entered the fray, and things started to change.

"Chapter 62" does a lot of finger-wagging and rug-pulling and chasing you down hallways with a pickaxe screaming, "Do you understand the thematic conceit?" like pretty much every other episode, but the difference is that now we're getting a clearer image of just who Jane is. Like Erika Jayne on The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, she's an enigma wrapped in a riddle, and cash. She's the Cheshire Cat the series has been pretending Frank and Claire are for five years now, even though their motivations and those of the people pursuing them have been clear from the start -- largely because they can't stop telling us. There are a ton of noteworthy moments in this particular episode that I could have focused on, but not to credit the character arguably at the center of them all would be disingenuous. The Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade is cozying up to the Underwoods and brokering deals in between recommendations of Chinese cure-alls, and she is an unparalleled delight.

Jane is distinctly refreshing in the grand scheme of the show. I would believe it if you told me this character first appeared on The Good Wife. Drolly played by Patricia Clarkson, Jane recaptures the wickedness that made the first season such a blast but has become less and less evident over the years. She does this, I might add, without sacrificing any of the dramatic stakes. In fact, Jane's approachability and endearing affect raise them, making her far more sinister and interesting than, say, Boris and Natasha Underwood, who chase the ensemble around the White House like they're in a Benny Hill sketch.

On learning that Thad Peterson's body's been recovered and dealt with, Jane says, "This would have been very embarrassing to some interests that are very important to this country...and I wouldn't want the family to see him that way." Prodding Leann for details that could help her recover and contain Aidan Macallan, she asks whether Leann calls him anything for short. When Leann pushes back, she responds with "I'm in the Hoover Building. It's the ugliest building in the city; I close my eyes as I walk in. Stop by anytime, especially if you're in the mood to talk. We could use someone who says as little as you do."

It’s a credit to Clarkson's performance that the character -- who's manipulating Frank, Claire, Durant, and playing mind games with Harvey and Usher to get closer to whatever it is she wants (jury's still out on what that actually is) -- never feels overbearing. It speaks volumes that her suggestion that Frank use an upcoming gas attack in Homs, Syria to his advantage by getting the committee investigating him off his back feels less invasive and criminal than her conversation with Claire about pursuing the presidency, which feels like a deal with the devil. For years now, we've been led to believe that the Underwoods are the slinky things with sharp claws that live in the shadows and go bump in the night, but Jane is the real "crepuscular" political animal, to use one of Thomas's favorite words.

There's a chilling, poetic duality to Jane as she flits from aloof bluntness to savvy existentialism. What's most interesting is that said duality doesn't seem to apply to partisanship, but rather, is limited to opportunity. She functions under an ethical code I'm not even sure exists. This, in my mind, is the show, and a brilliant return to form even if it that form is -- thus far -- a relative bit player in the grand scheme of things.

And then there's the finale, wherein Leann gets an email from Aidan with an audio file of his voice saying that if she's hearing the recording, he's dead. An apparent suicide...or was it? Next, we see Jane shredding files on Thad and Aidan. Surely she must know she doesn't need that file anymore. So she killed him, too? If not directly, then spooked him into it, no? Did she make him send that email? Did he send it before, just in the nick of time?

Was Jane actually prodding Leann for details into Aidan, or was Claire the ultimate target? Was it a 2-for-1? After all, that conversation about Jane's meeting with Leann is what opens the door for Jane to suggest that Claire make better use of her and decide what she wants before it's too late.

Who is Jane Davis, and why isn't this show about her?

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