“House of Cards” recap (2.4): Claire Strikes

In the Halls of Power, lobbyist Remy Danton is waiting outside Jackie Sharp’s Majority Whip office. He notes that it’s weird to not see Frank’s name up there, and Frank tries to brush him off with “To improve is to change.” Remy finishes the quote with “To perfect is to change often.” He tries to old-boy Frank by noting that the quote was engraved on the parting-gift watch Frank gave him, for brushoff number two. Finally Remy comes through and tells Frank he got him two more votes. Frank says that’s a pretty spindly little olive branch.

The branch is being extended, along with Remy’s services, by Raymond Tusk, who has finally noticed that the government shutting down won’t do much for his reopening dealings with China. They have two hours and 49 minutes to get their House votes lined up for their big budget compromise/screw your retirement bill. C’mon, show, give us a countdown clock.

Frank tells Remy to do what Jackie Sharp says. Remy says she won’t like having him around; Frank can’t blame her. Ouch.

24Hoc1Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Claire selects an outfit while her publicist Connor gives her a rundown of the joint interview she and Frank will be doing with the apparently very influential Ashley. First the softball stuff, then questions about Frank and Claire’s transition to the Vice Presidency. …And then questions about why the Underwoods don’t have kids, which was supposed to be off the table, but somehow it’s back on. Connor assures Claire that it will be quick and painless. She’s not worried; she’s dealt with that question before.

Jackie works the vote board. They’re 15 short, but Remy notes they have relationships with most of the holdouts. Remy agrees to go with Jackie to tag-team people and whip up votes. Jackie was an opponent of Remy’s on the Watershed Act and she’s not thrilled with being paired up.

Frank, meanwhile, will be using Sharp’s office to sway Donald Blythe, who has a powerful voting bwww. He has 2 hours and 17 minutes. Frank tells us that normally he just needs time and patience to sway Blythe, but he doesn’t have either of those today.

Blythe opens by saying he’s not getting swayed and he doesn’t want any of Frank’s caffeinated drinks. What a treat to be around. On the other hand, Blythe has a point: He says that Frank is fundamentally deceptive. DING DING DING! Blythe is officially ahead of 85% of the characters on this show. Blythe is still pissed over Frank eviscerating the teacher’s union for last season’s education bill. And Frank is going to cut education funding again with this one. Blythe has 28 votes — enough to sink Frank’s bill.

Blythe has no interest in Frank’s apologies. Frank says Blythe, in his stubbornness, is no better than the Tea Party. Blythe notes that the part where he’s right seems like a pretty good dividing line.

Lucas and Hieronymous “The Parrot” Bosch are in a room full of computer monitors. They’re talking about how to get into the servers at the data centers of, I’m guessing, Zoe’s phone company. Lucas agrees to take a tour, get inside a cage, and slide a thumb drive into a server. Piece of cake!

24HoC2Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Whoa. The unluckiest intern in all of D.C. just opened a letter full of white powder. She’s ordered to stay right there while everyone else immediately strides into an office and shuts the door, leaving her completely alone. Props to the actress playing the intern, who has the perfect look on her face.

Donald Blythe and Frank are still arguing when he gets the call and the sirens start up: There’s possible anthrax in the mail and he and Blythe are locked in together: Quarantined. Frank throws open the door to try to get to his vote and is stopped by one of the many men who are tromping around in looking like Boba Fett in hazmat suits and running just a few little tests. The closest Boba Fett tells Frank to get back into the office and close the door. Frank calls Claire to let her know he’s trapped for a bit.

Claire won’t tell Connor about the quarantine yet, even though they have their big interview lined up. They want to keep the press in the dark for a bit. Frank tells her the vote looks shaky. He says if they’re lucky, the white powder will turn out to be anthrax after all and he won’t live to see his bill fail. Claire makes her perturbed dragon face and indicates that she does not care for such jokes.. She wishes Frank luck by crossing her heels.

Jackie and Remy aren’t doing so well either. Last season’s education bill burned some bridges, and their fellow Democrats are worried that they’re losing touch with their core values. Oh, and P.S. screwing with people’s retirements tends to piss off voters. Remy says he’s paid off the AARP, but the nervous congressnellies stay nervous. Frank texts in to say he’s trapped. Jackie points out that theoretical pain later is still better than services being cut off right the hell now in a government shutdown. Remy and Jackie take time to confer. Jackie asks Remy to keep in touch with Frank while she pummels the nervous nellies into submission. Remy tells her to relax and listen more, to do more hand-holding. That’s not quite Jackie’s style. Wonder how many poppies she’ll add this week.

Remy springs for caviar for the table — not that he should, but, whoops, there some is, just in case the congressnellies want to dip in — because you catch more flies with caviar than with vinegar. OK, it’s an imperfect metaphor. And it’s not one Jackie is fond of.

24HoC3Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix.

The Boba Fetts run more field tests. Blythe seems to have a difficult wife who isn’t handling news of the quarantine well, and Frank takes a keen interest. Oh, dear: It’s not that Blythe has a difficult wife, it’s that his wife is having difficulties. She’s only lucid about half the time and fading quickly. Blythe confesses to Frank that he’s looking forward to her not being lucid so that at least she won’t realize what’s happening to her.

Frank joins every evil marketer in the world and realizes he needs to appeal to the heart, not the brain. Suddenly he’s softer, and asks about Alzheimer’s research. As Blythe and Frank become more companionable with their talk, Blythe loosens up and tells Frank to get on with whipping up votes.

Frank lies that the Whip stuff is Jackie’s job now; he just spoke to Blythe personally as a courtesy. Frank also lies that he admires Blythe’s convictions and calls him a rare breed. Blythe is immune to his flattery and says it won’t soften his resolve. Frank, playing the long game, says that’s exactly why Blythe deserves such compliments.

Sharp tells the congressnellies that they can show the American people and the Republicans that they’re capable of more than stagnation if they all stick together now, and that’s worth something. Now who can she count on to do that? The congressnellies think about it as they try not to let caviar spill down their chins.

Some test results go to a Boba Fett, who nods.

Frank is super pissed that he’s still stuck with a door between him and his vote. A Boba Fett says that one field test is negative and one inconclusive, so they need to take the samples to the lab. Wow, this Boba Fett has one hell of a mellifluous voice. I hope all the clones got that. Anyway, lead Boba Fett musically tells us that the testing will take another four hours. Frank has been drinking coffee, so I hope the Whip’s office has either a loo or a suitable ice bucket in it.

Frank is still focusing on his vote, because he’s been through more anthrax scares than most people have had caviar brunches and he’s over it. Boba Fett croons that the vote is delayed and Frank takes an aside to tell us that “good things happen to good people.” (But they seem to happen more often to Frank.) Oh, and P.S. WiFi, cell phones, and land lines are going to be blocked, because terrorists.

Blythe starts to freak because he needs to call his wife, who is already not doing well with this quarantine news. Boba Fett says he’ll have someone notify her, but that won’t cut it because a stranger’s voice will only make her upset. (Are you sure, Blythe? Even honey-voiced Boba Fett? Because I’m trying to figure out how to get him to call me and read me Goodnight Moon every bedtime.) Frank, either feeling some genuine compassion or, more likely, seeing an opportunity, snaps “Figure it out, or I’ll get the White House involved.” Boba says he’ll find a way.

Claire has to tape her interview with Frank in 25 minutes, but Frank is in quarantine for another four hours, and nope, no phones.

Ashley’s producer wants to go through with the interview and for Claire to do it on her own. An exclusive with the Vice President’s wife while the Vice President is in quarantine sounds like ghoulish cable news gold. Frank also wants Claire to do the interview solo — they shout through the door at Boba Fett’s walkie talkie. Donald shouts to his wife through the door too. Mrs. Blythe takes a turn and doesn’t recognize her husband’s voice this way. He asks the policeman with the other walkie talkie to stay with her. Oh, man, Blythe has an awful row to hoe. Frank offers him a comforting pat on the shoulder and a drink. Blythe accepts.

Claire, wearing an AMAZING DRESS, says she’ll do the interview alone. Ashley’s producer isn’t buying — they want Frank, and they want to talk about the quarantine. Connor plays hardball and is like “OK, then you get bupkus” and tells them to pack up and leave. The producer folds like she’s made of paper accordions.

Back in Frank’s office, Donald Blythe starts to open up about how painful his wife’s decline is. 30 years of marriage and now his wife doesn’t recognize him. After a token, he accepts what looks like bourbon, neat.