House of Cards opens with Kevin Spacey’s declaration that he has “no patience for useless things” while, uh, euthanizing a (thankfully off-screen) dog struck in a hit-and-run. I’m resisting a “cold open”/”cold-blooded” pun.
People have been telling me to watch this Netflix original series since it became available almost a year ago. And now, finally, I’m going for it. Obviously, this first recap will be heavy with exposition, so please bear with me. Just for this one, I’m also noting actors for main or recurring characters (per Wikipedia, obvs).
House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Spacey) arrives at a pre-inauguration party with his wife Claire (Robin Wright
Penn, forever to me that skank Jenny in Forrest Gump). Speaking to the camera, as he did in his opening monologue, he promises a guided tour of DC. We see President-Elect Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), Vice President-Elect Jim Matthews (Dan Ziskie), and Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) while learning that Frank all-but-ensured the President’s victory. Ah, the sweet smell of patronage.
Then we get a long credit sequence to which I honestly paid zero attention.
On the way home from the party, Claire tells Frank he needs a haircut. This might be a metaphor. The exchange also reminds me of Macbeth, which should explain any instances of my calling Claire “Lady Underwood.” I immediately get the feeling she might be even more manipulative than even he is.
In the next scene, Stalker Girl from season 1 of AHS (Kate Mara, whatever) shows up as an obviously edgy young journalist named Zoe Barnes. I am skeptical as to whether I will care about her. She begs Washington Herald editor Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) for a blogging gig about what’s really going on in DC (specifically in the men’s rooms). He shoots her down.
We then meet Representative Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), who’s busy evading campaign promises made to a donor. He takes a call from the President-Elect, but loljk, it’s his girlfriend offering a bit of phone sex.
Frank meets Vasquez to share his Middle East policy proposal with Walker, only to find out he ain’t getting his promised Secretary of State position. Instead, it’s going to Colorado Senator Michael Kern. Walker didn’t even show up to break the news: They want him to influence education debate in Congress, rather than serve in the cabinet. Is this how it works? You screw people over and expect their help? Ooooookay, that can’t end badly.
Next, we visit Lady Underwood at work. She discusses hiring new employees for the environmental foundation she seems to run. She gets Frank’s voicemail: “I feel like an idiot leaving messages like this. Call me back.”
Zoe rolls up on the desk of the Herald‘s Chief Political Correspondent, Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer, Dr. Efficiency from Grey’s season 9/Romney press mistress Taylor from The Newsroom). Zoe tries to get Janine to throw her a bone [insert Congressional sex scandal joke here], but apparently Janine has already heard about Zoe’s aspirations and also shoots her down.
(Aside: I make a lot of automatic mental associations when I first see actors, so you can expect me to do that whenever I recognize someone, even though half the time it’s probably not his/her most famous role.)
Frank returns home. Lady Underwood has found out about the position. She’s upset he’s excluded her, not that he didn’t get position. He seems defeated, so she asks why he’s not angry. He apologizes, and she responds, “My husband doesn’t apologize, even to me,” as she walks away. Once she leaves the room, Frank knocks over a table.
Later that night, Frank’s not in bed. Claire finds him smoking downstairs. She joins him and he promises lots of late nights scheming and I find myself thinking that they’re kind of hot together. Frank tells us viewers at home that he loves her “more than sharks love blood.”
In the morning, he marches into his office with a plan to spin this setback into an advantage: He will somehow get his own choice for Secretary of State into office. In the cafeteria, he spots Kern (Kevin Kilner, the dead dad from A Cinderella Story), who gives him a flippant nod. Frank tells us he will throw Kern to the dogs. And suddenly we’re in church for a sermon on humility. LOL.
Russo’s in mid-coitus with the phone sex staffer. After finishing, he immediately rolls out of bed to grab a bottle of wine. The girl, with impressive passive-aggression, comments on his preference for younger women and the likelihood he’ll dump her for “some slut straight out of Vassar.” It’s at this point that I realize the writers are beautiful people. Apparently the two have been together for six months. They exchange “I love yous.” I don’t care.
The Underwoods saunter into the National Center for Performing Arts. They’re clearly the topic of a lot of muttering, so Frank steps outside to “pretend to use his cell phone”. Zoe walks past him and into the building, and I assume our heroes’ paths are fixin to cross. (They don’t.) At home after the performance, Frank is playing a first-person shooter while listening to classical music, which is a little bit perfect. Zoe leaves the date whom she used to get her into the show. His blue balls are sad and she seems vaguely more interesting. I think she’s planning to seduce Frank. (She doesn’t.)
Frank begins his new duties as the President’s bitch when the Chief of Staff asks him to get the Walker’s pet education bill to the floor in the next 100 days. He sneers as she leaves, thinking she’s adequately pacified him with event tickets. “What am I,” Frank muses, “a whore in post-war Berlin, salivating over stockings and free chocolate?”
In a meeting with his Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), Frank vets candidates for Secretary of State, opting to pursue Cathy Durant (Jayned Atkinson), the one who will piss the Walker administration off most. Meanwhile, Claire is firing people and digging wells in Africa to revitalize her charity.
Zoe, being creepy as fuck, shows up at Frank’s house. Is she trying to blackmail him with a photo of him checking her out? That’s just silly. She wants him as a source for hot gossip from the Hill. He calls her out for her fluff pieces; she tells him she’s being underestimated, as is he. Claire walks in as Zoe’s leaving and comments on her push-up bra.
Doug Stamper meets with a city councilman to discuss a possible run for Mayor of DC. How this ties into Frank’s plans is not yet clear. That night, Russo is pulled over while driving drunk. His girlfriend picks him up and she’s not happy. I grow more curious as to how he’s relevant.
Frank gets the precious education bill – and promptly shreds it in front of its author, Rep. Donald Blythe, both literally and figuratively. Having sent Blythe to further develop it, Frank moves on to his meeting with Cathy Durant. From there, he meets up with Zoe to drop hints about education policy before slipping her the half-shredded bill.
Finally, Frank and Russo are in the same room. Russo thought no one knew about his DUI, but, of course, Frank does. And so, Frank demands absolute loyalty. Meanwhile, Zoe brings the bill draft to her bosses. Janine is assigned to assist Zoe.
After bitterly attending the inauguration, Frank bitterly attends the after party. Luckily, tomorrow is a new day, and we see everyone’s reactions to the story about the education bill. Frank is pleased, Blythe and Vasquez both freak out, Zoe seems… conflicted? It’s 7:30 in the morning and Frank is enjoying a rack of ribs. In a great addition, the hit-and-run driver who killed the dog in the beginning is arrested. And Frank orders seconds.
The pilot is a solid set-up for the season, mostly because we have all the players but no idea what’s coming next. I’ve decided to just accept the fact that Frank and his South Carolina accent speak to the camera for no apparent reason, although I hope he’s delusional and thinks he’s on a reality show or something. And so, we wait for next time…
Best line: “He will confront that brutal, inescapable truth: ‘My God. All I ever amounted to was chitlins.'” – Frank, on how deeply he wants to ruin President-Elect Walker