Recap: ‘House of Cards’ S3E4 “Chapter 30”
Last episode, foreign policy was the name of the game for House of Cards, introducing us and Frank Underwood to the much bigger world he must now hold a strong presence in. “Chapter 30” begins to pull us further into the new feel for the show with an episode all about mistakes, both foreign and state-side. As Frank is put into two very awkward positions, we see that his usual tricks of the trade are becoming not only futile but also a possible primer for his downfall. If President Petrov is his worthy adversary abroad, Frank has now come up against an equally worthy opponent in his inevitable bit for the 2016 election win.
As “Chapter 30” begins, Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) stands before the US Supreme Court and discusses the grey side of waging war while Frank (Kevin Spacey) attends the Arlington burial of three US soldiers. It is quite a somber, symbolic, resonant note, one that is retained throughout the rest of the episode. While Heather gives a brilliantly poignant speech about prosecuting presidents for the wrongs of war, “but not the presidency”, Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) plays her part as messenger and tells Frank that the DNC could be looking to recruit the Solicitor General as their 2016 candidate.
Desperate to find a way to take Heather off the candidacy table, Frank approaches her with the offer of a lifetime: to take the ailing Justice Jacobs’ place (Jonathan Hogan) on the court. It is a position she humbly accepts with supreme grace, but now Frank must get Jacobs out of the way having already convinced him to remain on the bench until his Alzheimers made it impossible. Unfortunately for Frank, Jacobs has had a change of heart about retirement, and in an incredibly un-Frank like move, the president only hints at what would happen should the news of the justice’s disease leak without the usual Underwood bite, and no worse mistake could have been made. In the end, Frank must watch as Heather Dunbar announces her presidential candidacy, as she already knew about Jacobs’ illness and the president’s threat, vowing to clean the stink from the Oval Office.
In a move we saw coming from the moment Heather announces her candidacy, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) steps out of his depressive state and covertly approaches Heather for a spot on her team. It’s good to see Doug move forward and away from the pathetic existence he felt exiled to, but whether he is attempting to work with Heather to get back at Frank for sidelining him and then patronizing him with babysitter Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), or using his position to gain access to Dunbar’s campaign in order to implode it from within is another story. Knowing Doug, he’ll having something up his sleeve, and with the search for Rachel coming to a halt until Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) can gain more information from Rachel’s ex-girlfriend Lisa (Kate Lyn Sheil), Doug certainly needs something to do that actually makes him interesting in this season.
Claire (Robin Wright) is having about as much luck with her peace keeping resolution (i.e. Korean War) as Frank is at keeping his cool, and the shadow of the politically ruthless Petrov hangs over the vote. Claire battles for Russian Ambassador Alexi Moryakov (Alexander Sokovikov) to get Petrov to come around, but the Russian President has a message of his own for the US. In a bold, calculating move, Petrov arrests gay rights activist Michael Corrigan (Christain Camargo), the man responsible for the Pussy Riot protest last episode. With an American citizen now rotting in a Russian jail, Claire has an even more delicate situation on her hands, but the Russians refuse to release him. As news of Corrigan’s arrest reaches public knowledge, pushy reporter Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan Marnó) uses the opportunity to question Frank to the point of badgering about his own stance on gay rights, and Seth rescinds her credentials for abusing her position.
Matters only grow worse for Frank as he invites the maimed victim of the aforementioned drone strike, Kaseem Mahmoud (Waleed Zuaiter) to the Residence for a formal presidential apology. However, Mahmoud is less than forgiving, and Zuaiter gives a stunning, emotional performance as he accuses Frank of wanting forgiveness that he will never get. We are given a heartbreaking look into the truth about drone strikes from both sides – one where the mark was killed and the strike is justified, and the one where innocent civilians who are never given a face and a name get caught in the crosshairs by unfortunate chance. It is a fantastic scene, and brings out a different side of Frank, one that actually feels guilt and vulnerability.
“Chapter 30” is very much a turning point in this season of House of Cards, and what is made very clear for Frank is that he needs to continue to play his game no matter the set backs. The journey that he goes on in “Chapter 30” is one we’ve never seen him walk before, and for the first time in the whole series we see him really lose to the point that he starts doubting himself, something Claire will not indulge. Kevin Spacey does a brilliant job as always in this episode as he brings this newly revealed, vulnerable side of Frank to bear and in direct contention with the Frank Underwood we know and love to hate. Though he begins the episode in a weakened state and becomes weaker by the frame, Spacey brings him back in full Underwood glory in the episode’s final scene when Frank seeks out spiritual guidance about justice which ends with him shattering a crucifix and taking Jesus’ ear, proclaiming that he’s “got God’s ear now” while walking out with that purposeful stride we are used to seeing.
Another great factor besides a multifaceted Frank is the strong female character that becomes his local adversary. Though we can see her most likely falling by the end of this season because of her very noble approach to her goals as president, Heather Dunbar is a spitfire who proves that she is unafraid of her ruthless president. Not only that, but she can see right through him, her intuition into his game shown brilliantly by Marvel as she questions how he lives with himself by “rationalizing the obscene into the palatable.” It’s fantastic to see Frank pushed to his limit by two people who can see him for what he actually is, and it gives him something to strive for and a proper battle to gain what he wants, far more than any fight Raymond Tusk gave him. Elizabeth Marvel is a fantastic addition to the House of Cards main cast, and she can hold her own against Spacey’s incredible talent.
What “Chapter 30” does extremely well is set up conflict for the second piece of Season 3 while also tying up loose character threads in order to move the series forward. Not only is Doug putting himself back into the fray, but this weaker, ineffective Frank Underwood needed a kick in the teeth to snap him out of it. With a true fight ahead of him for a presidency that is truly all his own and God’s ear, Frank exits “Chapter 30” no longer wallowing in self doubt and guilt, and the next couple episodes will surely see him come out swinging.(4.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Netflix)