House of Cards has nearly reached its halfway point now, and it fittingly seems like the story has reached critical mass. The story is beginning to zoom out in scope and almost leaves Frank playing catch up, his plans are starting to take a on a life of their own and keeping up with them is becoming increasingly difficult. Multiple times in Chapter 6 Frank directly confronts monsters he has created and tasks himself with setting things back on track, even while in direct defiance of his superiors (i.e., Mr. President).
After unforeseen delays in the education bill (which has passed its 100 day promise), we get to see Frank and Marty duking it out, in figurative terms (for now), over this giant teachers strike. The crux of this Chapter is that Frank has been challenged by the President (who is publicly responsible due to his campaign promise) with a deadline to get this costly teachers strike and P.R. nightmare behind the administration. Because of the desperate nature of being either highly praised or completely exiled, Frank resorts to equally desperate measures. His opponent Marty Spinella seems like a slimy worm at first, but then you remember he is the head of an enormous teachers lobby, so he pretty much is. But for all Marty’s unlikable qualities, he is just playing hardball, as opposed to Frank, who enjoys adding the adjective dirty in front of his hardball.
This chapter does some things right and others not quite as well. For example, the back and forth between Frank and Marty is expertly done, but Claire and Chloe are more or less meandering in this episode. Claire really has no story path of her own. She plays pawn to Frank in the most underhanded ploy they have yet tried (I meant what I said when I said he was desperate). So in an effort to make her have some sort of thread they take her to the most unusual scene. It involves their former bodyguard confessing some unusual feelings on his own deathbed. Though the scene plays out in fine fashion, once over it seems to have had no consequence. Not just that, but it barely even gets a passing mention later on, nor does it feel like it will in future episodes. What happens is not something that would cause any friction between characters, and it had no real conclusion either. I imagine that the creative staff behind the show might have been able to make it more impactful if they had thought about it a little longer, but instead it comes across as cold and pointless. I have droned on enough about this scene, but it just seems to stand out like a sore thumb on an otherwise exceptional episode.
On a more positive note, Peter Russo has accepted Franks help in reforming his life, and ultimately becoming the Democratic nominee for the Pennsylvania governorship. Each and every scene that he has a presence in automatically draws you in. Because of this, it’s easy to see what kind of stakes they are in for and that straightforwardness makes for more of a feeling of “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
That feeling of anticipation just is not quite as present in some of the other story threads. Of course, Peter does seem to be the main objective in the long run, at this point in time, so I suppose it has the most commitment of time from the writers on the show. As Frank has molded Rep. Russo into something more in his own image (and to his own specifications), you can see his demeanor changing from a good-intentioned, self-pitying drunk to a much more confident and decisive person. One of my favorite moments during this stage of the show is a great line by Frank in regards to Peter’s new persona, “Peter, I feel like I’ve met the real you, for the first time, just now,”.
House of Cards has very good way of making the bad guys be charming and the (mostly) good guys annoying schmucks. This combination, when pulled off successfully, makes for the kind of internal struggle in the viewers mind that makes a show compelling. Of course the idea of mixing a characters motives and character qualities to make them something of an enigma is nothing new. But what else is human nature if not an enigma? The point is, though this is common practice, it is not always pulled off correctly, and that is what separates the wheat from the chaff in dramas.
Chapter 6 ends in a exciting climax that seems to usher in a new phase of the show. Going forward, House of Cards will start to shift focus away from the education bill story-line and start moving on to the bigger picture, and hopefully more Peter Russo.