Recap: ‘House of Cards’ S3E3 “Chapter 29”
As House of Cards Season 3 really kicks of, we are pulled into a world of politics that Frank Underwood has as of yet not dipped his toe: foreign policy. In Episode 3, “Chapter 29”, Frank must navigate these icy, turbulent waters while also attempting to make headway on his pet project, AmWorks, and as we could expect from the political atmosphere of the previous episode, no one seems to be on Frank’s side. As if things weren’t going well for the Underwoods already, the introduction of one of Frank’s most formidable opponents to date becomes one more thorn in the power couple’s side, and it appears that Frank has finally met his match.
Local political gains are somewhat put to the side for Frank (Kevin Spacey) this episode as he and the White House prepare for the arrival of Russian President Victor Petrov (Lars Mikklesen). Along with his arrival comes Frank’s hope that he can put his plan for a foothold in the Middle East successfully into motion, but much to his irritation, Petrov is against it right from the word “no”. With the introduction of House of Cards’ version of Putin, Frank is presented with a powerful entity who can play the political game just as well as he can, and it makes his blood boil. Meanwhile, he also finds himself hitting the Congressional brick wall that is Bob Birch (Larry Pine) who refuses to even hold a discussion with the president about putting AmWorks up for debate. He seals his own fate, however, as he sides steps Frank on his way to the state dinner and is exiled to the dining outskirts away from the president as Frank continues to ruffle the feathers of the Republican Congress.
The state dinner is where the political gaming truly begins as Frank looks to turn Petrov around, or at least get him to dictate his terms for the resolution. Tensions are already set on high with the arrival of Russian gay rights activists Pussy Riot, attending on Petrov’s insistence as a false good will gesture. Bringing a very real world issue to the House of Cards table, Pussy Riot state their opinions loud and clear before storming out, overshadowing the whole summit by making DC headlines.
As for Claire (Robin Wright), she has taken up her seat as US Ambassador, but it is clear that she cannot escape her title of First Lady nor gain respect from her colleagues, including Kathy Durant (Jayne Atkinson). As their efforts to secure grounds for a resolution for America to put troops into the Jordan Valley fall on reluctant ears on all fronts, Claire must put her role of Ambassador aside for the state dinner and put on a charm offensive for Petrov, who sees right through her. He uses her as a negotiating tactic, kissing her suddenly in front of everyone to put Frank on edge, but all he does is awaken the beast.
Here is where Frank and Claire go to work, he on Petrov, and she to gain the trust of Kathy Durant. Over a few scotches and an impromptu game of beer pong, Claire woos Kathy into coming up with a different tract to get the resolution going, though Frank refuses to think on it. His discussions with Petrov are less fruitful, as Petrov wants the impossible in exchange for an American presence in the Middle East. In a fantastic scene, the two exchange challenging blows over Cuban cigars, each of them showing their hands and not budging a bit. The next morning, though Frank is willing to negotiate, Petrov refuses, and Spacey gives a fantastic performance, sitting quiet in his resolve before basically telling Petrov to get out. In a final show of defiance from a president not seeking another term, Frank speaks alone at the press conference concluding the summit, supporting Pussy Riot for standing up to Petrov, something he resolves that he must do as well, and he entertains Kathy and Claire’s alternative solution.
Another hard-hitting episode of House of Cards, “Chapter 29” brings into play someone who is finally worthy to stand against Frank Underwood. Petrov is everything we could have hoped for, and he makes Raymond Tusk look as ineffective against Frank as Russo. A matter of greater power comes greater adversaries, Petrov has the right amount of political savvy, sickly slickness, and power to cause Frank a lot of headaches, something that seems to be much more of a theme with Season 3 as Frank and Claire are clearly stumbling with a long way to fall.
These two powerful men are the focus of “Chapter 29”, and they each have their own political game to play, and they play it well. Every piece of this episode displays them playing off of each other, from Spacey and Mikklesen’s outstanding chilling performances to the blocking of their first meeting in the Oval Office with physical obstacles always standing between them. It is great to finally see Frank become involved with world leaders, adding to the wider scope of the show, but especially to watch him have to deal with someone as ruthless as he is. The fact that Petrov is divorced does not go unnoticed as it is mentioned several times, bringing into stark perspective the separation of Claire and Frank; first the bedrooms, and now she must be in New York most times.
The performances by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright continue to be the cornerstone of House of Cards, Spacey giving a brilliant performance in “Chapter 29” as he is finally pitted against a man that has him on the ropes. As the season goes on, Spacey is bringing in more and more of the emotional, physical, and mental toll that such power and responsibility take on a person, no matter how ruthless they are, and Frank appears more tired when he can relax, and it gives the illusion of some sense of humanity without making Frank appear weakened. If there was anyone who could stand up to Frank as president, House of Cards found him in Lars Mikkelsen, and he brings an incredibly sleazy yet powerful side to President Petrov who can give as good as Frank does. His dynamic with Spacey is indicative of two men having a slow duel, firstly learning each other’s techniques, fishing for weak points, and eventually working their way towards striking and striking hard. Mikkelsen is the perfect opponent for Spacey, and he gives a great performance.
Wright’s Claire is put way outside of her element this week with her new ambassadorship, and we are seeing a floundering side of her that we have never really been able to explore before. As he attempts to make a name for herself politically, Claire has already turned to her husband like a child with a wound for a parent to soothe once, and no doubt she will do it again. This aspect of her dealing with her newfound political power paints a new avenue of their relationship that will either make or break them. Wright does an excellent job of keeping Claire strong and stunning, her grace undeniable especially in that incredible gown, but she is also working in her character’s weak points without making her too much so, a delicate balance that Wright does really well.
Something that House of Cards has always done well and has used to brilliant effect here is mixing reality into their fiction, and with a show that deals with the ins and outs of the American political theatre it’s hard not to. “Chapter 29” gave no illusions about the tensions that currently exist between the US and Russia caused by far more than the issue of gay rights, a war that is even still being waged in the land of the free, but it is in the delicate balance that the writers walk between what we know and the world of the show that makes their use of these current political tides effective. It is interesting to see Frank Underwood take on someone like Putin on both the issue of Middle Eastern aggression and gay rights, and hopefully the drama that started in this episode will shape the course of the rest of the season, but whether it will be to Frank’s benefit or not will remain to be seen.
Michael Kelly’s Doug Stamper continues in his pathetic pining for his old job as Frank’s underling, and with Seth (Derek Cecil) checking up on him like a nanny, Doug is taken a step too far in this episode. When he receives a too good to be true job offer from a junior congressman, Doug confronts Seth, assuming the offer really came from the president to placate him, but Doug only tells Seth that he doesn’t need “training wheels.” Jaded and looking for a powerful position that will surely be outside of Frank’s sphere of influence is definitely not where the president wants Doug to be, but his reluctance to accept Doug back into the fold continues the trend of things not going quite right for Frank this time around. Meanwhile, Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) continues to look for Rachel for Doug, but uses his skills as a bargaining chip from the former chief of staff when the FBI threatens Orsay’s outlaw friends and, by association, himself.
As with all things drama, slowly, slowly the pieces are being put into place, and unfortunately things are still not looking good for Frank and Claire. He continues to look ineffective as a president as he makes a formidable enemy and makes promises that as of now he cannot keep to the American people. As his wife fumbles in her position as ambassador like a fish out of water, no doubt she will continue to turn to her husband for help when she proves just as ineffective. “Chapter 29” was a great departure from the norm for House of Cards as foreign powers come more strongly into play, but the dynamic of political power plays is still very much at work, and it makes for some great television.(4 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Netflix)