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

Ashley, taking her life into her hands, brings up children and Claire rattles off her practiced pat answer. …And Ashley, who has done her homework, says that Claire has given that exact same answer before in previous interviews. Claire says that’s because it’s true, duh, and Ashley keeps pushing, pointing out that career and timing are sometimes very convenient answers. This would be some great journalistic pressure on Ashley’s part if the decision not to have children was anyone else’s fucking business.

Ashley throws some Lady Macbeth shade at Claire, asking if she really has no maternal instincts. (Again, this is both totally realistic and completely infuriating. When do childless men in the public eye EVER get asked this?)

Claire mulls over how manual strangulation often involves a telltale crushing of the hyoid bone as she says no, no maternal instincts, and then Ashley flat-out asks her if there are any medical issues. What the hell? Ashley keeps pushing, saying that it is unusual, even now, for a politician not to have children. Ugh.

Ashley reveals that during Frank’s second Congressional campaign, a pro-family opponent made accusations. And she implies that in order to keep Frank’s career on track, Claire terminated a pregnancy. Ashley asks if Claire has ever been pregnant. Connor is so fired. (Speaking of fired, how is there not an executive producer not screaming into Ashley’s earpiece to shut the hell up because Twitter is exploding and there’s already a petition to get her canned?)

Claire says that yes, she was pregnant, before the campaign. And that it was not a miscarriage. Ashley asks if Claire terminated the pregnancy. Claire points out that if she said yes, her husband’s career would be in jeopardy, and that her faith would be questioned and that her life would be threatened, which are all true. But Claire says she won’t be ashamed; yes, she had an abortion. Ashley pulls back with a look on her face that suggests that she expected to gain Serious Journalist Points for making Claire bob and weave, but didn’t expect to actually get an answer, and clearly hadn’t thought through the potential consequences of what she’s actually done here.

Claire asks to be excused for a moment. Frank pulls back from watching. Blythe hands him a drink and says, “That took a lot of guts.” Yes.

Claire and Connor confer, Connor pretty much peeing himself as they talk. He wants her to stop the interview, but Claire says she won’t — it will look like she’s ashamed, and she isn’t. Oh, and she hasn’t had one abortion, she’s has three. Two as a teenager, and one while married to Frank, when the pill failed her. Connor begs her to keep the tally to one and not say anything about her real reasons for having them. He urges Claire to withdraw from the interview, but nothing doing. Claire, scales freshly oiled and fangs honed, heads in.

24HoC6Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Back at the interview, Claire truthfully says she was raped in college, then skilfully blends in lies about her reasons for getting an abortion. Frank, Blythe, and Connor all watch from front row seats in Oh-My-Godville. Ashley asks if Claire ever told anyone, and Claire gives what were probably her real reasons for not reporting it — how bad campuses are at handling assaults, and how she didn’t want to be known as the girl who got raped.

…And then Claire drops one more little pearl of truth and says that she saw her assailant again for the first time just a few months ago. Holy. Shit.

Frank stands to get a better view of Claire’s wings coming out because it’s so majestic the way they do that, unfurling to blot out the sun like thunderclouds.

Claire says that Frank pinned stars on her assailant. And, if you will recall, the only other general who got a medal that night was a woman. She’s left an easy trail to his identity.

Whoa! And there’s the shortcut! Claire gives his name, General Dalton McGinnis. She reveals that Frank has always known about the attack, but not the assailant’s name. Frank looks down at his chessboard, recalculating the moves now that his queen has just fireballed herself straight into the center.

In the next moment, Frank and Blythe get the all-clear. Turns out the “anthrax” was flour and talcum powder, with residual pesticide in the flour giving a false positive. (Ick. Could you go back to that part about residual pesticide in the flour again, Mr. Fett?)

Frank yells to Nancy that he’s on his way down. She’s on it. Frank tells Blythe he’ll get his funding no matter how the vote goes. Good, says Blythe, because he’s still voting against. Blythe compliments the bravery of Frank’s wife, and Frank returns the compliment. And then Frank is running toward the floor. Jackie stops him. She’s only gotten four votes and they have 45 minutes left. Jackie yells for every ream of paper Nancy has.

Frank goes to Claire, because whatever is going on in their marriage, they are a team, and a dragon knows when to fly to his mate.

Claire, outside, tells Connor that she hates lying. Connor asks if McGinnis really attacked her, and Claire says yes. In that case, Connor says, he couldn’t care less about her lying about the abortion part. I think I’m with Connor on this one. Twenty minutes to go with the interview. Ashley’s producer comes out — there’s a Marine private on the phone who says McGinnis raped her two years ago, but she won’t give her name. Claire gets on the phone.

We see just the outline of Claire picked out in light as she talks to the frightened private, offering her the protection of the Vice President’s office. Private Megan Hennessey gives Claire her name.

Oh, snap, Jackie Sharp is good. Really good. She slams into the Democratic cloakroom with carts and boxes of printouts. She has the names of everyone in America who will lose home care services if the government shuts down. …And the ones who will lose welfare benefits, and the ones who will go on furlough and the ones who will lose student loans, transportation services, post-combat counseling…

Blythe says he can’t vote for the package. And Jackie says agrees that he shouldn’t. But she does ask him to get four of his people to do it instead. And then she asks him to work with her afterwards, because she’s not Frank Underwood. I still haven’t figured out Congresswoman Sharp, but damn, do I like her character more every episode. Complex, interesting, and really freaking smart.

Back in the final moments of the interview, Claire is looking just a tiny bit rattled. Is that calculated or not? We’ll never know.

Private Hennessey, on the phone, says she knows of at least two other women McGinnis raped that year alone. Frank comes into the room. Connor asks him if he wants to join, but Frank knows not to interrupt a master at work.

In his office, General McGinnis watches the interview as his phone rings and rings. The phone finally stops, but his subordinate comes in to let him know that his wife is on the phone. Yes, I’ll bet she is.

Ashley leans forward to tell Claire that this interview will make waves like Claire never imagined. Please. If it’s beyond Claire’s imagination, you do not want to see it. Claire looks at Frank, who nods at her, proud steam rising from his nostrils.

24HoC7Photo by Nathaniel Bell. Image courtesy of Netflix.

In a dark and deserted parking lot, Bosch the Parrot gets into a car and wonders where his old contact Carter is. His new boss is… Oh, man, the White House FBI liaison, Agent Green. Bosch can’t understand why they’re even bothering to set up such a small-timer like Lucas, especially since he can’t write code and is incapable of real cyberterrorism.

Bosch — whose real name is Gavin — asks when he can stop being an informant. Looks like never, unless he’s willing to rat out his hacker friends or spend a lot of time in jail. Oh, poor Lucas.

Frank and Claire share a vapor cigarette in the darkness where it’s cosy, basking in the near-defeats that they turned into swooping triumphs. Claire wishes they had the real thing, and Frank gets up and pulls a real tobacco cigarette out from its hiding place under a lamp. Claire isn’t even mad. She asks Frank to sing to her, and he starts to sing “Polly, Pretty Polly,” which is an interesting choice. It’s also known as “The Gosport Tragedy” and “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter.”

The lyrics start out sweet, and those are the only parts we hear:

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind
Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind
Let me set beside you and tell you my mind

Well my mind is to marry and never to part
My mind is to marry and never to part
The first time I saw you it wounded my heart

…But then things in the song get cray. We start to fade out on the Underwoods as the song’s narrator invites Polly to go out for a walk with him, and we fade out completely before we get to this part of the lyrics:

Oh Willie, Little Willie, I’m afraid of your ways
Willie, Little Willie, I’m afraid of your ways
The way you’ve been rambling you’ll lead me astray

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right
Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right
I dug on your grave the biggest part of last night

Well she went a little farther and what did she spy
She went a little farther and what did she spy
A new dug grave with a spade lying by

Oh she knelt down before him a pleading for her life
She knelt down before him a pleading for her life
Let me be a single girl if I can’t be your wife

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be
Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be
Your past reputation’s been trouble to me

And then Polly’s suitor murders her, with several charming regional variations as to exactly how long he torments her before the actual killing part of this heartwarming folk song.

And then in many, if not most, versions, William, the attacker, signs onto a ship after the murder. But Polly’s ghost is waiting for him there. And she catches him in the ship’s rigging and claws him right the fuck to pieces.

Of course this is the song Claire wants to hear, all about the patience of waiting until it’s finally time to claw. Of course, of course this is what the Underwoods use for a tender, stress-relieving lullaby. Sleep well, you crazebuckets.

You sleep well too. I’ll see you next week.