“House of Cards” recap (2.1): Find the Links

Are you ready for intrigue and mayhem? You know you are. Spiritual uplift and life-changing glimpses of the pure joy that sparks the human spirit are all very well and good, but every now and then we need to see human beings clawing for power and occasionally doing things so appalling that we must squeeze the hands of our viewing mates for reassurance and then look at them with a tiny sliver of suspicion for the rest of the night.

And that is when we reach for House of Cards.

You ready to get nuts? Let’s get nuts.

It’s a dark, crickety night in D.C. You can practically feel the humidity squicking up the back of your neck. Two joggers approach: Or at least they could be joggers. They look like innocent joggers, but they could also be fleeing a murder scene, which pretty well sums up this show. It’s the Underwoods, our favorite Washington power couple. I cannot wait to see what these two crazeballs have been up to.

I love it that this season got released on Valentine’s Day, because the Underwoods were made for each other. Or possibly they carved each other into compatible interlocking forms with dragonbone knives and no anesthesia. Either way, it’s a lasting bond.

hoc_2.1.1Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix

Oh, lord, I forgot that this show films everything in Murky. House of Cards should have a dark-off with Pretty Little Liars.

It’s night, as usual, and two of Underwood’s flunkies are discussing Congressman (and new Vice Presidential nominee) Frank Underwood’s upcoming birthday. Meechum, the driver, the one who has the bigger crush, says he got Underwood cuff links, but Frank’s right-hand man, Doug Stamper, tells Meechum to be cool and return them.

I hope you finished Season One immediately before starting to watch Season Two, because the show is about to name-check every single character without explanation, which is mind-blowing but also how real people talk, so point to you, show. But for real, Netflix, send out a handy chart next season.

Underwood walks up and learns that they’ve found Rachel. (No, you don’t have to look her up. Rachel is the mostly-ex-prostitute who can tie Underwood to the murder of poor doomed Congressman Russo from last season.) There’s some mild concern about Underwood’s former media mouthpiece/lover Zoe, but really not a ton. Ouch.

Doug and Underwood go inside, into a room that is hilariously full of lights that do not cast any actual light into the room itself. Each fixture is apparently tasked with casting a little pattern backwards onto the wall that suggests the possibility of light, but that’s it.

Doug says Rachel is safely at home, which is not so much a red flag that Rachel is about to become a major problem this season as a big red banner with bells and sirens on it unfurling across the horizon.

Doug also reveals that Slugline reporters Janine and Zoe have been asking questions. Underwood says he’ll handle Zoe. Uh-oh.

Underwood moves into another room—this one completely dark—to have a think and a smoke, and Claire appears with the water he needs to announce that she’s taken away the tobacco he wants. She explains that he’s another year older on Tuesday and we can’t have a Vice President who smokes. Claire out. Goddamn, the way this woman can use her quiet power to make Frank Underwood use a rowing machine or give up smoking with just a few words.

I know people love to compare Claire to Lady Macbeth, but I submit to you that Claire Underwood is actually Grendel’s mother from Beowulf. You think you have a handle on what kind of evil you’re dealing with and what straightforward things you need to do to fight it and then suddenly what the FUCK is in the back of that cave?! Robin Wright is everything in this show, layers and swirling depths of calculation and darkness. It’s a sure bet Claire picked all those wall sconces.

We cut to some doggy-style sex that is boring Zoe senseless. She says the three little words that every lover yearns to hear: “Are you finished?” Lucas tries to reassure her that she’s safe and he’s nothing like Underwood while she turns on the shower and tries to Silkwood the disappointment off her. It’s kind of a great moment, encapsulating both Zoe’s damage and distrust after Underwood, but also the fact that she’s maybe grown accustomed to some better sexing.

Underwood slithers into his office to meet with Congresswoman Jackie Sharp. He suggests that she could succeed him as Whip, even though she’s a junior Congresswoman. Jackie is sharp not only in name and she knows who’s really next in line here — and that the two senior candidates will draw votes from each other. Underwood also offers her the computer files full of dirt he has on the two top names. Oh, and also a file with the dirt he has on her. Jackie clicks on a file and her eyes grow wide.

hoc_2.1.2Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix

Lucas drives while Zoe texts Janine and notes that the strip club isn’t open yet. Lucas is going to track down Kapeniak (the conspiracy theory blogger) and Zoe decides to go see Rachel at home and get in her face. Neither of these plans rank highly on the Not Getting Your Life Ruined guidelines in the House of Cards universe.

Underwood takes a meeting with President Walker to discuss possibilities for his replacement as Whip. (For readers in other countries: The Whip is tasked with making sure his or her party has the votes lined up to pass important legislation. Whips have been unofficially understood to use cajoling and threats, which is why Frank Underwood was so invaluable at the job.)

The President and his advisors suggest the two senior members in the caucus, the same ones Underwood is planning to trash. Underwood blandly supports each, then suggests letting the caucus itself decide and keeping the President and veep out of it. Frank likes himself a clean pair of gloves.

At her dank, woody restaurant, poor Rachel walks up to Doug’s table and realizes that her plan to go straight is about to burn harder than a grease fire in the back kitchen. Doug tells her to quit and get packed because she’s about to get found again. She gets one suitcase, he gets the shepherd’s pie to go. Surprisingly, Rachel does not just whack him in the trachea with her tray, but since that probably keeps her alive for a little while longer, it’s probably a good call. That fucker had better tip.

In Claire’s Office of Well Manicured Evil, we learn that Gillian Cole won’t listen to reason and wants to go to trial. (Gillian got fired last season after demanding that Claire’s Clean Water Initiative stick to doing real good instead of taking gobs of money from giant corporations and adopting a more bendy definition of “good.”) Claire’s lawyer wants to talk Gillian down into a settlement, but Claire is all “How soon can we get a trial? Like ten minutes? HOW SOON?” Turns out six months. Claire thinks that sounds just fine and sends the lawyer away to agree to a trial and then cut off all communications. RUN, GILLIAN, RUN.

Claire’s assistant walks in with a list of every single doctor who served in East Africa during the last three years, plus some information on contacting an HMO. RUN, DOCTORS, RUN.

Zoe hits the restaurant too late and ask for Rachel, who left so fast the door to the kitchen is still swinging back and forth. The restaurant manager does not give a rat what happened to the 15th flaky waitress he’s had to deal with this month alone, but Zoe lies that Rachel texted her that she’s maybe suicidal and has a history of mental illness. The manager notes that he doesn’t even have real contact info beyond a P.O. box, but he’ll see what he can do.

Frank arrives in the office to hear that the influx of birthday cheer has started. Frank’s assistant Nancy knows the drill: Expensive gifts go to the conference room, cheap gifts go to the interns, cards go straight in the trash.

Balloons get tied to homing pigeons from overseas, cake gets put on the chairs of recalcitrant Senators, Facebook greetings are called up onto cheap laptops and then sledgehammered. Singing telegrams are impaled on stakes outside the Capitol.

Doug says he’s moving Rachel to Maryland, just north of Baltimore. Jesus, Doug, have you not heard of Alaska or Morocco or Gary, Indiana? Doug says sure they want her to disappear, but, hey, clean gloves, Frank. Doug gives Frank a prepaid burner phone and says “Happy birthday.” Nancy rushes in, grabs the phone, and hurls it into a passing circus train. That was close. Doug says he’s also on the case with Christina Gallagher, poor Peter Russo’s ex-assistant/girlfriend. Say what you will about Doug being evil: His time-management skills are amazing.