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Thanks To Lazy Plotting, House Of Cards Starts To Fold In 'Chapter 58'
Stephanie Cangro ranks the rankest offenses.
House Of Cards has always been a show that's demanded our attention. For all of the fourth-wall breaks, it's always been more about what Frank is showing us than what he's actually telling us; the important bits of information are passed mostly in the silent moments -- in the glances between Frank and Claire; in Doug's resolute jaw clenches. As a result, it's always seemed more sinister than reality. That makes it a tough show to watch, since it demands that we pay attention. And that's a problem, because the closer this show gets to real life, the more tiresome it seems. (We can't say Robin Wright didn't try to warn us.)
The first five chapters of Season 5 have been bonkers thus far, on a level exceeding even that of the current presidency. Yet "Chapter 58" feels off in a way that's both uncomfortable and exasperating, as points and plotlines converge in ways that are entirely too convenient; quite frankly, it all feels a bit cheap. Let's Rankle the most ridiculous offenses, from least egregious to most.
A Republican play for the Congressional Black Caucus could be interesting, but, like everything else involving Will Conway, it's not. The whole thing goes over about as well as it would if "a Republican walks into the Congressional Black Caucus" were a writing prompt on a political junkie's fanfic board. It's unnecessarily gratuitous, and it doesn't even give us a Maxine Waters-type character to admire.
As Claire's presidential swearing in takes place alone in a hallway with just Frank, Doug, Leann, a judge, and a photographer, the solitude betrays the circumstances. In actual history, only two vice presidents -- Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller -- have served without being elected to office. But while that story might have some real-world applications, I digress; the story here is about Frank pretending to be comfortable with diminished power. Claire's ascendency is certainly a moment in their lives and, theoretically, in history, yet the portrayal of her inauguration seems so small and cold. It's a testament to Frank's fragile ego, but it also cuts to the core of Claire's character: it's understated, yet devious, and untrustworthy for its near silence. It's perfectly in line with the show itself, but given present circumstances, it feels insulting.
Petrov's Aggression (And Claire's Response To It)
Considering that this isn't the first time that the show has flirted with Russian dissidence -- Pussy Riot members were featured in Season 3 -- it's absolutely unsurprising that Russian President Petrov takes advantage of the American political disarray for Russia's benefit. But the part where Petrov tells Claire that Russians don't vacate once in office is still a little too on the nose not to warrant an eye roll. Yet, Underwoods are gonna Underwood, and Frank feels compelled to take the phone to assure Petrov that while they might be distracted, they are certainly not divided. Slighted, Claire later wavers momentarily before she reauthorizes Frank's security clearance in his new official role as "Special Advisor," as if there were any real suspense about it; we're five seasons in, and there's no way Claire's going to leave Frank now, when he finally actually needs her. Their deal was made long ago, and it feels regressive now to repeat the exploration of its boundaries.
As if the aforementioned three reasons weren't enough to justify this entire episode being written off, enter Aidan Macallan, found at last, sitting cozy in a conference room at the Kremlin. Did these writers even try to break a fresh story for the season, or did they just create a Carrie Mathison-style pinboard of old editions of The Washington Post? Is Putin paying off the writing staff as some sort of psy-op? Petrov having Macallan is too neat and tidy a wrap-up for a show that lets plots linger, and it only gets dumber from there....
And finally, coming in as the top Most Egregious Offense -- and even beating out Claire's boo Tom screwing some White House tour guide on the briefing room podium, while her husband is getting cozy with his new personal trainer -- there's Tom Hammerschmidt, sitting in Zoe Barnes's father's storage unit, poring over the late, great (?) Zoe's notes, using the ol' pencil imprint trick to discover the connection that has eluded him for three seasons:
Doug Stamper/Rachel Posner?
Because that moment is what it's come to, Zoe Barnes, back from the dead, haunting us all via handwriting, a casual reminder that we've wasted the past three and a half seasons of our lives thinking that this wouldn't all come crashing down due to the remnants of the show's quasi-manic pixie dream girl.
Bonus lazy points for the particularly well-timed Wikileak entitled "Internal police memo concluded convenience store explosion was due to a gas leak long before FBI was called in - New evidence that "attack" was trumped up." It's one thing to crib entire plotlines, but that headline is just the right amount of lazy to actually be considered trolling. For a show that often works too hard to prove that it has something real to spook about, it's a sad downfall.