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Entries in house of cards (4)


In Which Catherine Durant Remains A Beautiful Human Being

This review contains mild spoilers for only the first six episodes in House of Cards' fourth season.

The Only Thing That Would Make Francis Underwood Happy


House of Cards
creator Beau Willimon

Ronald Reagan's first wife was Jane Wyman. She was a better actor than he was by leaps and bounds; she was a more natural Republican, too. She starred in this one Douglas Sirk movie I can never forget. She wanted to be with her gardener. I mean, he wasn't just a gardener, he had like a degree in horticulture. Also he looked like Rock Hudson.

Her family really pressured her that this man wasn't good enough for her. (The same thing happened to Claire Underwood on House of Cards, which is why I'm explaining this Douglas Sirk yarn to you now.) So she breaks it off with Rock, and she is real sad about how things went down. Her kids want to cheer her up, so they wheel this television into her room. And she says, "I had Rock Hudson, and you made me send him away. Now you're giving me an RCA?"

Fortunately it is not too late: she can always go back to him. House of Cards would have been a great project for Douglas Sirk. It is so obvious that the fourth season of this Netflix series is being masterminded by a scriptwriter, because this show would be no different in its substance if it were staged as a radio play. Budgets have clearly been scaled back; even the cast seems incredibly small. Most scenes are rendered in an utterly drab fashion, shot in low light in order to accentuate the clandestine nature of events.

Once again Robin Wright herself directs quite a few episodes. She has a great eye for the pulse of a crowd, the way that individuals form groups. She works to contrast that with the private exchanges involved in the feud between herself and domineering husband Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) that came to a breaking point at the end of the last season. The Underwood character has been pushed to its limits and there is really no hope of redemption at this point without making him seem weak, so House of Cards focuses on Wright's First Lady+ character almost exclusively.

Accompanying these two mainstays is one debut of any significance, which makes the show feel a little repetitive of past seasons at times. The inclusion of Neve Campbell in House of Cards as the Underwoods' campaign manager LeAnn is a welcome sight on its own. Campbell is a reserved performer who can play several emotions required of this role quite easily: secrecy, confusion, and an understated sex appeal that could explode at any moment. She introduces the Underwoods to a data scientist named Aidan (Damian Young) in the most underwhelming subplot of its time.

Claire uses LeAnn as a tool to further her own ends, and this season of House of Cards is mostly about how she makes everyone else do her bidding. Dressed in a vanilla blouse for a good 96% of her scenes , Claire is not given the chance to prove she is a human being, which is just as well. Her relationship with her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) the only attempt to make her slightly more sympathetic, but we are not really fooled – their debates are something like witnessing a fight between two kaijus.

The first half of this season concerns how the Underwoods dispose of their chief rival to the Democratic nomination, Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). Last season Dunbar was the principled opposition with a commanding lead. Watching Francis and Claire transform her from political Supreme Court justice to convention afterthought is as satisfying as it is unlikely, and Beau Willimon imbues her with none of the charisma or craftiness she had when she debuted on the scene. She sort of fades away here for no real reason.

In her place is Underwood's opponent in the general election, the Republican governor of New York (?) Rob Conway (Joel Kinnaman) and his wife Hannah (Dominique McEligott). I will have more to say about them at a later date, but I am not happy.

House of Cards has already had so many eventful moments that it would not even shock us now to watch President Underwood commit mass murder. He cannot feasibly silence his enemies that way now – they have grown too numerous, and in the case of Claire she knows him too completely for that. The show tries to make Francis as canny as he was in the past, but it is much less interesting watching Underwood try to be a good president, since we could not believe that he did all these awful things to fail at his job.

In order to prove that he needs her on board, Claire leaks a photo of Francis' father posing next to the leader of the KKK, and the next day he addresses a black church on the subject. Thereafter it is painful to watch the producers position young black men and women in the audience of Francis' rallies and speeches. Francis Underwood's relationship with actual African-Americans is confined to a throwaway scene between Francis and a member of the White House staff.

Frank's relationship with a Texas congresswoman Doris Jones (Cicely Tyson) from Claire's district and her daughter never really gets more in depth than a minute-long meal. Claire plans to supplant Jones' daughter as her successor, and the congresswoman agrees to the insult in order to fund an abortion clinic in her area. The latter comes to pass but not the former, although we never see Tyson or her daughter again. House of Cards' African-American characters are alternately humbled, angry or reduced. They never get any kind of satisfying revenge or action — instead they recede into the flow of events with a frown on their faces.

House of Cards' major black protagonist throughout has been Remy Danton. He is maybe the best performer on the entire show, but he does not get more than a few token scenes here — in one, all that happens is that he cannot find any gas for his car. "You don't care about money," someone says to him at one point, an allegation that seems hollow given Danton's background on the series. Danton tries to protect his girlfriend Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) from Francis but he never gets a scene with either of the Underwoods – he has to deal exclusively with the woman who replaced him. 

Beau Willimon is fantastic when it comes to pushing the breakneck speed and chaos of a presidential election forward, and that momentum sustains House of Cards even when its developments appear asinine or unlikely. There is no great showpiece episode or storyline, nothing that will make anyone's jaw drop ensconsced in this set of scripts, but Willimon is a good enough writer to pull off the demands of a serial with smoke and mirrors.

After completing this iteration of House of Cards there is an empty feeling. The world of politics, Mr. Willimon suggests, is an empty, turgid place with no consequences for the citizens or the people perpetuating the crimes. I do not believe that this is really how things are in Washington, but Willimon's exaggeration of the malicious tendencies of certain elements in our political class remains instructive. The tone in this House of Cards marks a more serious shift; there is a lessening of the vicarious thrill we might have shared in the Underwoods' tactics, which seamlessly blend into the general malaise. There is no such thing as too many cautionary tales.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He would like to dedicate this essay and all further essais to the memory of Nancy Reagan.

"All the Ways" - Wet (mp3)

"Small and Silver" - Wet (mp3)


In Which We Jenga For Days In The Dark Recesses Of Our House Of Cards

Spoilers for the third season of the Netflix series House of Cards appear in the following essai.

Douglas Stamper's Romper Room


Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) saw that movie where Jennifer Aniston complains a lot about being in pain and took it to heart. Lynne calls Doug Stamper 'Stampsies', and every time he does something that requires a questionable amount of moral integrity, such as squirt whiskey into his mouth with a syringe or pitch a crying fit in the oval office, she cries out, "Oh Stampsies, what will you do next?!"

This season of House of Cards oscillates from utterly boring to bald-head-to-the-wall fascinating in mere seconds, which makes it a difficult show to review in my inimitable style. The point of this constant temperature change is to echo the real pace of politics, which most of the time consists of sleepy policy proposals and pseudo-scandals about Hillary Clinton chucking her hard drives into the Chesapeake Bay or you know, lying about the murders of American ambassadors.

It's disgusting that Jon Stewart could give a shit whether or not he is lied to. All politicians lie, he moans between clips of the man he is dangerously obsessed with, Bill O'Reilly. You can judge someone pretty much completely by the types of people they take seriously. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) doesn't take anyone seriously except his wife - and that abiding belief is erased by the events of House of Cards' third season.

At times in his rise to power, Underwood had various crises of faith and through her officious and cold decision-making, Claire Underwood (the stunning yet vaguely asexual version of Robin Wright) pulled her husband past the crisis. That he is unable to save her the way she has done for him is the through-line here.

To obtain the presidency, Frank had to do a lot of messed-up, implausible shit. Now that he is the president, he has to do a lot of moaning, spinning around in a chair, and gripping the throats of women with his non-masturbating hand. Frank is no longer the asynchronous terror he once was, and this season of House of Cards has been accused of being dull, watered-down, and excessively foreign policy focused.

The last charge comes with a new antagonist, Russian president Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Featuring the real-life situation of the suddenly disappeared Russian president in the real world hews a bit too close to home, making us realize there are tyrants far worse than Frank Underwood. That an aging and more sympathetic Frank comes across like a weak baby in comparison to the strong Russian president is an easy irony, but it doesn't really help the narrative of the show. House of Cards has not lost the breakneck pace or compelling, theater-esque characterization that propelled it to success, but this season does seem to be missing a lot.

Spacey has aged precipitously since the last Cards ended with the Underwoods' ascent to the Oval Office. His virility has dissipated more quickly than any of us could imagined. I know the feeling: I lived it. At one point in my life I had hair, and then I didn't. (Likewise, Putin has returned from his sabbatical, where he received medical treatment to restore his low testosterone, but he will never really be as threatening to the West again.)

In order to sell the public on his brilliant American Works program that would employ every person currently sitting around during the day watching House of Cards on Netflix, Frank hires a novelist (Paul Sparks) with whom he has a weird, ambiguously sexual relationship after admiring a video game review the man wrote about iOS smash Monument Valley.

This entire threadline is setup for what will surely be played out in the show's fourth season, reminding us how much we lost, character-wise, from the first two. Peter Russo was a gentleman and a scholar; Zoe was a witch but at least she was our witch; Christina had a certain something I once saw in a young Courteney Cox before her smile became frightening; Claire's ex-boyfriend who she reverse cowboyed was a terrible photographer, but at least he provided something in the way of relief. It can't be all-Underwood, all-the-time. That's the mistake the Democratic Party made before the 2000 election.

Even in this season characters which might have been further fleshed out or reappropriated - like Benito Martinez's savvy and handsome Hector Mendoza or Derek Cecil's disturbingly manipulative Seth Grayson - don't get much in the way of screen time. If you measure it out, more than half the show's scenes feature Claire flipping her hair or being subtly disgusted by her husband's misogyny. A hammer can only pound a nail so many times. Ask Lynne.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.


In Which We Choose A Woman And A President



Choosing someone can be so difficult. Can you really expect a man from Iowa to really know what exactly is good for him? President Obama has not been to Iowa since the primaries for several reasons: he feels awkward around the Bachelor, Chris Soules, and he despises the smell of cowshit.

Given that he owns 800 acres, you think he could get the people of Arlington a fucking grocery.

Obama has privately expressed a determination to stay out of the 2016 presidential race. There is a not-so-quiet movement coming from some Republicans and Democrats to ensure Hillary Clinton never attains the presidency. They have trouble agreeing on what exactly is going to drive her out of Iowa, with some even resorting to the guy who was the corrupt Baltimore mayor in The Wire. Matt Drudge appears to be in love with this man:

Hillary cannot believe she is getting railroaded by Tommy Carcetti

If this seems like a stretch, maybe it's time to consider that no one actually wants to be the president. If you value your own time or ypur own family, the presidency is not really for you. There is a WH staffer who specifically updates the president on his daughters' moods and suggests how much child support he will be expected to pay once Michelle leaves him for Peabo Bryson.

If we are going to elect another unknown as president, I would prefer it be someone who is not negatively represented on The Wire, like Omar Little, or Heather Dunbar.

I actually hissed when I saw her as a brunette.

Frank Underwood wanted to be president more than anything in the world, although it is not completely clear why. Once in office, all he does is have intimate chats with his biographer and lash out at his wife for not finding a two-state solution as efficiently as he would like.

The new season of House of Cards makes you realize how difficult it is to go on living after you have seemingly gotten what you wanted. Most people don't want power or happiness; they just couldn't think of anything else they did want.

Maybe don't give someone a speech before they propose to you? It's rude.

Having a blonde Midwestern wife seems like a lot of work, maybe just as much work as occupying the Oval Office. Chris Soules chose the disturbingly vocal Whitney Bischoff as his bride-to-be. Before he proposed to her in one of his many barns (he owns 8 farms!), she interrupted his proposal with a gushing soliloquy about how she had the best time with him. She even talked through their first wintercourse, informing him of the entire plot of Hart of Dixie from beginning to end.

If he dumped her in a barn, she probably would have murdered him and his parents. He made the right call.

Whitney was a pill to be honest. Right before they had sex for the first time (Reality Steve reported that it would be missionary style, as God intended), she uttered the famous words, "Check, please!" Whitney, who will be giving up her job as a Chicago fertility nurse to produce "lots of babies" for the man she calls Ka-Ryse, has a very large sexual appetite. Her main drawback was her limited vocabulary, which began and ended with the word Amazing. Her kisses were somewhat subpar as well.

Everyone wants the smell of hay permanently ensconsed in her nostrils.

hris struggled with his choice of woman just like we struggle with our choice for president. The other woman involved treated Chris like he was a slightly overbearing uncle, and yet he still found himself deliberating over his final decision. The producers of The Bachelor couldn't choose either: instead of selecting one mediocre woman that Chris dumped to be the Bachelorette, they went with two.

The concept of two presidents isn't the worst idea I have ever heard. I guess we already had that, considering I made plenty of George W. Bush's decisions, including what cereal he would have for breakfast and what game modes he would play in Call of Duty: Black Ops.

If Becca said, "I'm just not there yet" one more time, I was going to key her asexual Lexus

The two women going on The Bachelorette that Chris perhaps unwisely parted ways with were Britt Nilsson and Kaitlyn Bristowe. The former basically did not shower her entire time on the show and wept through the entire hour of The Women Tell All. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn's accent ultimately doomed her to third place in the competition, as did coming on too strong in Bali. She should never have told him how cute she found the local monkeys; on a subliminal level a man wonders if she sees him the same way.

Who we choose says a lot about us. The important part of electing Barack Obama seemed to be how often and how effusively we could compliment ourselves for voting for him, and perhaps also saying that we voted against that Alaskan woman. An unattractive accent is everything.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can visit our mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

"Break the Fall" - Laura Welsh (mp3)

"Unravel" - Laura Welsh (mp3)