House of Cards S02E01: H-welcome Back, Kittens!

Happy Tuesday, everyone! At last, our favorite show about evildoers is back! Room symmetry is back! Perfectly cut suits are back! Monochromatic color schemes are back! Sorry for the slight delay in getting this to you, the “clamoring” “masses.” Let’s not waste another moment!

The season opens exactly where the last one left off, with Frank and Claire in the middle of their (first of many?) couples run. Claire signals Frank for a brief break; they catch their breath, then nod adorably at each other and continue on, in pointedly perfect sync; they are a team.

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A wordless, perfect cold open. Credits, I have missed thee.

Doug and Meechum are outside the Underwoods’ townhouse, pacing/casually chatting about Frank’s upcoming birthday. Don’t remember anyone mentioning that little tidbit last-season-slash-earlier-that-day, but OK! Rolling with it!

Doe-eyed Meechum got Frank silver cufflinks and is trying to get Doug’s advice on it. I don’t know if Meechum is SUPPOSED to be an utterly oblivious and naive character, but that’s exactly how he is coming across. Doug is his usual affable self. Hahaha, no, he’s not. He is as impassive and stony faced as ever. He is all, “We don’t talk about birthdays,” in the same tone you or I might say, “We don’t talk about fight club,” so I don’t know, seems a bit OVERLY dramatic?

The lovebirds get home. Doug pulls Frank aside and tells him they have a problem, that Zoe and Janine have been sniffing around both Rachel and Christina. Frank’s South Carolinian accent sounds very cute on the name “Ms. Skorsky.” At least, I think it does? I don’t know what a South Carolina accent is supposed to sound like. Can anyone attest to how good a job Kevin Spacey is doing of this?

Doug repeatedly assures a skeptical Frank that Rachel is “under control.” He seems a little more invested in Rachel’s well being than someone in the position of Top Goon for Francis Underwood should be, but I could be reading into it? This show, more than any other, seems to cause me to make wild guesses and entertain all manner of conspiracy theories to the point where I’m not completely sure what’s real even after the writers have ostensibly revealed it. Anyway. Frank will “handle” Zoe, sounding menacing even whilst wearing a track suit and doing his post-run stretches.

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America’s favorite platonic couple is finally alone in their home. Frank is about to settle into his and Claire’s evening ritual, but uh-oh! The cigarette box is empty! (Just like their souls!) Claire has gotten rid of them because Frank will be “one year older on Tuesday” and nobody wants a VP who smokes. That’s two references to Frank’s birthday in less than five minutes. Hahaha, I’m onto you, show! Stop pretending like you didn’t just decide to make it be Frank’s birthday.

In another part of town, a mid-coital Zoe is troubled by the latest insights into Frank’s involvement in Peter Russo’s death. She tells Lucas to “just finish,” hahaha! Lucas, ever the gentleman, is like, “Not without you!” or some such bullshit. Whatever. Scene over. Next!

Frank’s office, daytime: A severe-looking white woman whom at this point I am not-quite-sure is a new character (she is) gazes admiringly at some wall photos of, like, Johnson and someone named Richard Russell, who Wikipedia my vast historical memory tells me was a two-time presidential candidate and big-time opposer of the civil rights movement. “Not everyone can be on the right side of history,” the woman, named Jackie, jokes. Hah! These guys! Politicians, they are just like us! They make light of America’s sordid past just like us!

We learn that even though she is not strictly speaking qualified, Jackie is Frank’s choice to replace him as House Majority h-Whip, once he lays the groundwork to pit the more obvious candidates, Webb and Buchwilder, against each other. Jackie is essentially the Dark Horse contender of the upcoming race, if you will. She is surprised to be considered but you can tell she is just chomping at the bit.

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We check in briefly with Lucas and Zoe, who wants to drop in on Rachel’s workplace and try badgering her into talking. Unbeknownst to her, though, Doug has already badgered Rachel into going home and staying hidden until he can figure out where to put her. Then he orders shepherd’s pie and Brussels sprouts to go. Douglas Stamper: Irish food enthusiast. So multifaceted, that guy.

Frank gets back to his office and immediately orders his assistant to throw away all the birthday cards. Again, seems a little dramatic. We get it, Frank; it’s your birthday and you think very little of it.

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Then Doug gives Frank a burner phone and tells him he found Rachel a new place in Joppa, Maryland, because they want to disappear her but not too hard. Except when he goes to pick her up, this happens:

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Ahhh! I hate it when TV people start waving knives around! It’s all very ominous, trust me. Doug easily disarms Rachel, though, and whisper-shouts at her to stop being silly and pack her bags. I again see a mix of menace and sexual tension in their interaction. Is that weird?

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Later the two of them have a picnic on the floor of her even-darker new apartment. In conclusion: poor Rachel.

Meanwhile, the best crack team in the history of journalism decides to divide and conquer. Zoe will meet with Underwood and Lucas will meet with his police contact at what looks to be a Pier 1 factory outlet.

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In the envelope is the report on Peter Russo’s suicide, which says that Peter’s body was found in the passenger seat of his car. Lucas finds this odd, no doy, and passes the info onto Zoe, who confronts Frank about it. Frank very coolly spins a story about Peter being found half out of the car, presumably having changed his mind about killing himself. Zoe keeps probing him, but Frank stubbornly refuses to confess to murdering Russo, again, no doy. Instead he  distracts her by offering exclusive inside scoop straight from the Oval Office from his new position as Veep. Oh, Zoe. She has always been overly confident about her grasp on this particular relationship, and now the stakes are higher than ever, so of course she is intrigued.

Later that night, Francis and Claire have a cryptic conversation about their future and Frank says he’s “ready.” The next morning he and Freddy have another cryptic conversation over ribs, wherein Freddy tells Frank about slow-bleeding vs. the humane way to slaughter a pig. I continue to not see the episode’s climax coming.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about Claire, who has been on her own attack mission this episode, systematically destroying Gillian Cole’s defenses in order to make her drop her lawsuit. First we see that she was responsible for Gillian’s baby daddy’s wife showing up at Gillian’s house and shaming her in front of her neighbors. Then, we see Claire meeting with a doctor about possible fertility treatments. At first it looks legit (and maybe partly it was?) but later we realize she was just trying to get the scoop on a special pregnancy drug that Gillian needs.

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By the time Gillian finally shows up at Claire’s office, Claire has already forged Gillian’s signature on some forms and discontinued her medical insurance, including the Very Important pregnancy drug. She reveals to Gillian EVERY FUCKED UP THING she’s done to her over the past few days, then threatens to “let her child wither and die inside her if that’s what’s required.” OR! Gillian can just drop her suit, take over CWI and the two of them will go their separate ways. And it’s sort of implied that Gillian agrees? Like, seriously, Gillian? You don’t want to just put that drug on a credit card for a few months??

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What is it with ladies being so easily seduced by stuff in this episode?

Which brings us back to Zoe and Frank and what turns out to be their last-ever meeting to discuss the terms of their “fresh start,” as Frank puts it. These terms pretty much entirely consist of Zoe destroying every shred of evidence that links the two of them. Smart. Very good journalism. Then The Thing happens. We all know what Thing I’m talking about.

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And that’s literally all she wrote. I won’t say much more about it than maybe just don’t go near the train tracks in a surveillance blind spot with a man you already suspect of murder.

Back home, Francis is greeted by Claire and a beautiful small cake. She comforts him wordlessly. It’s kind of touching.

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Someone tells Lucas about Zoe’s death and his reaction is very sad. Janine is smartly fixing to get the fuck out of town. Lucas tries to convince her to stay and help him bring down Underwood, but she is not having any of that nonsense. She received naked photos of Zoe in the mail–the ones from Frank’s phone, natch–a clear threat.

The next morning: Zoe is on the news. Her death has been ruled an accident. Claire coolly applies her makeup. At this point, she is practically Patty Hewes from Damages with an even smaller capacity for remorse.

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Frank meets with Jackie again; will she or won’t she work with him and run for h-whip? She wants to know why her. She appears smarter and h-wilier than Russo but seems far too susceptible to flattery. Frank blows some smoke up her ass and she visibly preens. This fucking guy! He also assures her that he hasn’t been able to find any dirt on her, which I’m pretty sure is complete bullshit.

On the ride home, Meechum decides to go ahead and present Frank with his birthday present. Awww! Meechum! I worry about your tender heart! You better accept that gift graciously, Frank! He does. Whew!

Just as I had practically forgotten he did that sort of thing, Frank finally–FINALLY–breaks the fourth wall for the first time this season and treats us to one of his signature soliloquies, asking us not to spare a moment’s sympathy for Zoe Barnes. A few feline metaphors later, Frank assures us he hasn’t forgotten us and he h-welcomes us back to his world–and it IS his world–as the camera pans away from him and onto Meechum’s cufflinks; they bear Frank’s initials, as we all know, making for a very clever, very double entendre-y final shot. The end.

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***

What did everybody think? Did the episode make you feel all the feelings? Will you miss Zoe? Did you already finish the season and are wondering why on earth someone would undertake the task of writing weekly recaps on a show that most of us will have forgotten two weeks from now? I wonder that too, though I’ve only seen five episodes so far. No spoilers, please!

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About Commentatrix

First-wave millennial.
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7 Responses to House of Cards S02E01: H-welcome Back, Kittens!

  1. collin0truckasaurus says:

    Hey Everyone! I have been very busy and haven’t been here much, but I very much like this recap. Super Brag Time ™: I already finished the 2nd season of House of Cards. I’m exhausted today because we stayed up late watching it. So let’s keep doing this! Great recap!!! Great episode!!! Great murder!!!

    • Commentatrix says:

      But, like, can you imagine these happening another 6-12 weeks from now? Everyone will be like, “Francis who?” Maybe I could do them two at a time from here on?

      • collin0truckasaurus says:

        There’s no standard for when we can expect people to have watched! It’s chaos!!! It’s unruly!!!

  2. flanny says:

    I only just started this show this weekend, because I knew this recapping was happening. So I watched the first ep of season 2 and then started on season 1 and WHOA. I will also say that I would be terrible at holding secret meetings in a subway station because I have difficulty drowning out the white noise. Kevin Spacey would practically have to scream at me before I’d be like, “Oh, delete your MESSAGES! Gotcha! I thought you said something else, LOL!”

  3. Liz says:

    Thank you so much for answering the most burning question on my mind since I’ve started watching House of Cards: how to spell Meechum’s name. ( At first I was like–Mitchum? like the deodorant?)

    RIP in Zoe. She wasn’t one of my faves, but I didn’t expect to see her go so quickly or so brutally! Now I feel guilty for not liking her more. Sigh. Francis and Claire…iIn episode one they’ve murdered a young woman, threatened to allow a BABY to wither and die, and I’m still rooting for them! They are evil evil beautifully dressed villains, but I find it fascinating to watch them wield their cold and calculating machinations on everyone. It makes me feel confused and like I should be wearing a gray shift dress while I type this, but it is what it is! The heart wants what it wants!

  4. taoreader says:

    When Freddy gives Frank that hitting-the-pig-on-the head speech, Mr. Taoreader said, “Oh, that means he’s gonna kill Zoe.” I was like “Shut up! No way!” Then I was like “Oh.”

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