Things that are challenging: Recapping a “House of Cards” episode where the main issue is that it’s too hot outside. Cry me a river – or maybe don’t, because your tears will freeze since it is SO COLD here in D.C. Honestly, I have been so busy keeping track of this show’s complex storylines that I was surprised to find out it’s summer in “HOC” land. Is that a new thing?
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In Frank Underwood’s Washington, it is indeed quite hot and that’s a problem. Tusk barks at him in the opening scene: “We have an energy crisis, Frank!” And then: “If samarium prices don’t decline, the market will have no choice but to compensate. That’s bad for everyone who owns an air conditioner.” What’s that now? To Wikipedia we go!
According to Wikipedia, “Samarium is a chemical element with symbol Sm and atomic number 62. It is a moderately hard silvery metal that readily oxidizes in air.” Thanks Internet, that clears up nothing. Lack of chemical science knowledge aside, this is all happening so Frank and Tusk can bicker about who the president likes more, and why.
When Frank tells Tusk to take his fancy samarium theories to the president, Tusk snaps, “Well, the president hasn’t placed much value on my advice lately.” Maybe that’s because you talk obsessively about bird hunting and no one cares? Oh, no, it’s because Frank has been trying to drive a wedge between you and the president all season.
What happens next is the usual: Frank devises an unnecessarily complicated plan that’s all a ruse to undermine Tusk. The president questions the plan. Frank convinces him. The president pretends to be unconvinced for two seconds and then folds. Tusk and Frank fight. Frank swears they’re all on the same side. Viewers mull using “House of Cards” as a very effective sleep aid.
This time, Frank’s plan is this: China has samarium, which the U.S. desperately needs; but as energy prices rise, they’re hanging on to it for leverage. So, the U.S. should purchase samarium through a third party, cut China out of the equation, forcing them to raise their prices worldwide or lower them to keep direct flow with the United States. At the same time, America will stockpile samarium and then sell it off at a discount to nuclear energy plants. “A subsidy for nuclear power?” asks one woman incredulously. Frank admits it doesn’t look great, but at this point, it’s a national energy crisis and they can’t worry about what looks bad to the public. Right, because the public will definitely understand any of that nonsense.
Next, Frank has a secret conversation with lobbyist Remy Danton, his former colleague and all around … good guy? Bad guy? We have no idea, but him and Frank always seem one sharp exchange away from becoming mortal nemeses. Remy is the go-between for Frank and Tusk. Remy tells him Tusk hates the “samarium subsidy” idea, because this trade war is preventing Tusk’s rare earth refinery from being approved in Beijing. Frank, full of smarm, tells him that Tusk’s co-venture with Feng (remember that from last episode?) is not a priority. Remy gets real: Why is Frank trying to do battle with Tusk? Frank says a lot of vague things like, “Stubbornness is a far more costly than obedience” and “You’re on the wrong side, Remy.”
Then Frank and Tusk have a secret meeting, where Frank says if Tusk doesn’t shape up and have his nuclear provider energy companies join with everyone else on this whole “samarium subsidy” plan, Frank will start a FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) investigation on Tusk, forcing him to reveal his finances, which a billionaire like Tusk does not want. Tusk finally (FINALLY) sees that behind every complex Frank Underwood scheme is really his intense, burning anger at Tusk recommending the president pass over Frank for secretary of state last season. Frank denies this and says he’s just trying to protect the president from being strong-armed by Tusk.
But the whole samarium-whatever plot is sort of worth it because it boils over at the most fake green-screened baseball stadium we’ve ever seen, supposedly Camden Yards, as Frank preps to throw out the first pitch at the Orioles game. It has an emotional backstory: The unstoppable Frank Underwood was once humiliated throwing out the first pitch at a minor league game when the ball slipped from his hand, went straight up in the air and fell on his head – we will never forgive the “House of Cards” producers for not recreating a YouTube moment flashback of this. “Comic relief pitcher?” offers Meechum, who’s playing catch with Frank in the backyard for practice. Frank rolls his eyes, while Claire reminds Frank that the other game wasn’t even on TV. “Good luck!” she sing-songs. We love this scene for trying to show that “House of Cards” has a sense of humor. Added bonus: no one mentions the word samarium.
Oh great, back to samarium: Just as Frank is standing on the mound to deliver his Pitch of Redemption, all the lights go out in the stadium. Super Bowl Blackout 2.0! Frank is hustled out of the stadium and heads back to the White House, where the president is frantically working the phones, fuming that several of Tusk’s energy plants have gone haywire and caused the blackout. Did Tusk do this on purpose to prove a point to the president?
Well, no – Tusk is as flustered as they are. But Frank gets in the president’s head and says that Tusk is trying to manipulate him because of the samarium subsidy and also the threat of a FERC investigation.
Frank tells the president there’s one option: Turn your back on Tusk and take his nuclear plants away from him. The next day at Freddy’s BBQ, Tusk and Frank have another clandestine meeting. Tusk is furious that the president wants to take one of his plants away – Frank says, easy, just agree to the samarium subsidy and you’ll be all good. Tusk glowers at him, furious that the president and Frank appear to be best friends now. Frank offers this: “You may have all the money, Raymond. I have all the men with guns.”
And THANK EVERYTHING on Earth, hopefully that’s the last we’ll hear of samarium. But Tusk isn’t the only one who sees no way out in this episode. Poor Lucas is stuck in jail, and even his own lawyer doesn’t believe his crazy story that he tried to hack into the AT&T data center to find phone records that prove Vice President Frank Underwood was having an affair with, and murdered, Zoe Barnes. The prosecutor offers a plea deal of 20 years (10 years for breaking into the data center, 10 more for stealing the password from the Herald newsroom to give to Hacker Gavin) and eligibility for parole in seven.
Yeah, things aren’t looking good for Lucas: The prosecutor has evidence of everything. The lawyer practically begs him to take the plea, but Lucas is desperate for a trial so he can air his charges against Frank in public. So he says to his lawyer: Bring me Tom Hammerschmidt.
Really, that guy? Tom “The Hammer” Hammerschmidt, the former editor of the Herald who got fired for calling Zoe Barnes a four-letter word? Well, he’s still sort of a reporter, and Lucas’s last hope. Lucas convinces Tom to look into his story (that Underwood murdered Rep. Peter Russo and Zoe) and write an article about it: That way, with the claims against the vice president public, the case would be forced to go to trial. Tom warns Lucas that he’ll treat it like any story, but he’ll try to investigate.
That results in one very awkward interview with Frank, who agrees to a meeting with Tom simply so he’ll stop calling the press office and asking if he could get a comment about claims that the VP murdered two people. After all, Tom might be a disgraced former journalist, but he does have that keen reporter sense that something is up, and Frank can’t having him asking too many questions.
Tom flat out asks Frank: Did you kill Peter Russo? Did you kill Zoe Barnes? Frank tears into him, saying any story Tom writes will make Lucas look like even more of a lunatic. “Tom, you’re embarrassing yourself,” Frank says sadly. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t demean myself by taking any of this seriously.” (Through all of this, careful viewers will note, Frank never actually answers the question.)
Well Lucas, nice knowing you, but we think it’s time to pack up this storyline and send it off into the sunset. Even beleaguered Janine Skorsky, still living with her mom in Ithaca, takes a break from her new English professor gig to visit Lucas in jail and urge him to take the plea. (It also helps that the FBI shows up at her mom’s house threatening to arrest Janine as an accomplice to cyber-terrorism if she doesn’t sign a statement saying Lucas is crazy.) Tom shows Lucas his article; even in a toned-down version, Lucas’s claims sound insane. “He’s going to get away with it, isn’t he?” Lucas asks Janine, rhetorically. Janine says: Yes, yes he is. Lucas takes the plea.
Elsewhere, Stamper is still acting creepy with Rachel, the former prostitute who is now the only link left to Russo’s death. Stamper uses that as an excuse to go check up on her in Joppa, Md., where she’s doing quite nicely with her new pal, Lisa, volunteering at church. Stamper tells her not to go to church because anyone could recognize her; Rachel asks if this is all because Stamper wants to get her into bed. The answer is probably somewhere in between, and they sort of make out. Gross.
Speaking of bed, that’s where Majority Whip Jackie Sharp and Remy end up together after bonding in the classic way: Complaining about their boss over a few drinks. Jackie offers to play wingman for Remy when he starts flirting with their cute waitress, which is a sure passive-aggressive sign that she likes him. Naturally, they hook up, and have this morning-after dialogue:
Jackie: “I’m surprised you didn’t go for the waitress.”
Remy: “You’re much sexier.”
Jackie: “Yeah, okay.”
Remy: “She works for tips. You run Congress.”
Jackie: “Only half of it.”
Remy: “That’s half more than she does.”
Jackie: “So it’s not my body?”
Remy: “Those legs don’t hurt.”
So it’s not exactly Aaron Sorkin’s political rom-com banter, but it’s…something.
Finally, we end this episode very disappointed in Claire Underwood because she goes after Christina (Russo’s former girlfriend/staffer), who now works in the White House. Christina, as far as we can see, hasn’t done anything wrong except have terrible taste in men. But she’s also young and pretty and works in the same office as Frank, so maybe that’s why Claire’s mad. Anyway, Claire “casually” drops into conversation with President Walker’s wife, Tricia, that she doesn’t have much respect for Christina – after all, she slept with her former boss, Russo. Claire’s warm smile says, “Hey, maybe she won’t do it again!” while her eyes say, “She’s totally going after your husband, lady.”
Claire then tricks Christina into going up to Tricia Walker and saying how much she enjoys her new job at the White House. Christina worries it would be presumptuous, but Claire urges her on. So we’re forced to watch as Christina approaches the first lady and gushes about how she loves working for the president and how she would happy to help him any way to make his life easier. “Truly, anything,” Christina urges, while the first lady looks like she wants to set Christina on fire. Not cool, Claire.
Three Things to Say in Conversation to Make It Seem Like You Watched This Episode
“Is Lucas really done for good?”
“That Jackie and Remy thing is just going to end badly.”