“House of Cards” recap (2.13): Tumbling Down, Clawing Up

Linda Vasquez is sweating it out, testifying before the Judiciary Committee about whether the President was taking medication and also whether he was being generally sort of a weirdo. And was his instructing the White House counsel to coach a witness deliberate wrongdoing or the result of drugs or what? And, say, why did Vasquez resign, anyway? She’s being diplomatic and evasive… ooh, except when it comes to Frank, whom she hates pretty hard. She says she resigned because of Frank. And only Frank.

Frank talks about the Judiciary Committee with Morley Safer. Morley has been scripted some entertainingly tough questions—I wonder if that was a writing choice, or if he was canny enough to insist on that. (Think about that next time, Chris Hayes.) Frank pretends to be offended at the movement for impeachment among his fellow Democrats, especially Jackie Sharp, with whom he plotted out that movement just last episode. And, as always, Frank pretends to be helping the President. Morley calls Frank out on his rift with Walker and on how Frank could, duh, benefit from and impeachment. Frank keeps up his Rah Rah Mr. President act.

Vasquez confers with the President, who knows Frank is lying his ass off and whose approval numbers are at 24%. Walker wants to offer Frank’s head up instead of his own. Ooh, he’s learning from the Underwoods! If only it were happening at a faster pace. Walker wants to use Tusk’s testimony: He’s supposed to spill everything, spike Frank, and say that Walker knew nothing. Tusk will collect a pardon and all will be right with the world. Vasquez is concerned about coaching another witness, since that is just what got them in trouble, but Walker says it’s not coaching, it’s the truth. If Linda will run the errand with Tusk, she’ll get her old Chief of Staff job back. Walker, meanwhile, will keep the appearance of clean hands by taking off to Camp David.

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Frank knows the President can’t ask him to resign, but wants to force him out. So he deduces that Walker will go straight back to Tusk. And also deduces that Tusk will happily incriminate himself if he knows there’s a pardon in the pipeline. Doug thinks Tusk is a hand grenade, and Frank agrees. So it’s time to pull the pin and throw Tusk at the President before the President can throw him at Frank. They have 40 hours. Yep, it’s getting cray.

Frank and Claire are asleep in Murky Towers and a phone wakes them. They have a charming little moment where neither of them can figure out whose it is. It’s Seth for Claire. Next thing you know, Meechum is saying the plane will be ready in 30 minutes. (Poor Meechum. I wonder if he spends every night wondering if this is the one when he’ll be allowed back into bed to cuddle. Sort of like the family dog that got to leap up into bed that one night of the scary thunderstorm, plus everyone was drunk.) Claire is so nervous she doesn’t know where her phone is when it’s right in her hand. Was the emergency she’s heading for just a panic attack? Or something worse?

Jackie Sharp points out that impeachment is their party’s only chance to maintain their House majority. She’s talking to Donald Blythe, who got locked in with Frank all those months ago. Jackie has 12 votes to whip up—no, wait, 11! Blythe is, surprisingly, already on board. He wasn’t kidding about working with her as long as she doesn’t become Frank Underwood. I believe that Jackie won’t become another Frank. I think she may become something just as ferocious and even more complicated. I’m eager to see what it is.

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Vasquez is coaching Tusk on his testimony. He doesn’t want to go to jail, and thinks some assurances about a pardon would be nice. And how exactly is he meant to trust Garrett Walker again? Linda asks Tusk for one simple thing: Tell the truth and take out Frank. And good things will come. In the middle of all this, there’s a knock at the door and Tusk gets a lovely package. At least he tips. It’s a piece of fruit and a single ticket to Madame Butterfly. Tusk lies that it’s a care package from his wife.

Megan’s mom warns Claire that they had to put Megan on a heavy dose of lithium. It was either that or commit her. Claire looks around at Megan’s flowery childhood room with the incongruous military photos on the walls. Megan looks terrible—washed out and grey, like so many people who have dealt with the Underwoods and had their life forces drained away. Claire moves to touch her hair, but Megan is aware enough to tell her to stop.

Claire knows that they found Megan in the lake. Claire says she cares and Megan calls bullshit: You don’t use someone you care about. Megan lists all the horrible names she gets called now that she’s gone public about her assault — “liar,” “bitch,” “traitor” and “slut,” with the attacks coming from all sides, in the mail and online. Megan blames Claire, saying she wishes she’d never called her. She takes a pill, saying the first face she thinks of when she takes one is General McGinnis. And the next face is Claire’s. Megan blames Claire. And all she can say in return is “I’m sorry you felt used.” And then she’s back into hollow phrases about the political landscape shifting. But Megan isn’t listening anymore.

Tricia calls Claire—she got Claire’s text about Megan, and poor, used, frightened Tricia does care. Claire says Megan is in bad shape and Tricia tries to figure out what she can do from her bunkered-up position. Next Tricia asks about Claire, and says she herself is holding up, in spite of the phalanx of lawyers and the hell her family is going through. Guileless Tricia manages to throw an accidental dart by saying she took some inspiration from Claire’s television interview where she admitted to the abortion, saying the truth is a powerful thing. Ouch. Claire apologizes to Tricia. She feels “partly responsible” for her family’s trials, since she suggested counseling and all, and lies that she never would have said anything had she known what would happen. Tricia is happy with their fake marriage counseling, though and thinks Claire was kind to go see Megan. She says Claire is a good person. (No. No, she is not.) Tricia hangs up and Claire’s dragon armor clanks to the ground in great, rusty chunks. Human Claire, the one who sees a world in which she could have real friends like Tricia and wouldn’t drive young women who have survived a pain she knows all too well to attempt suicide, breaks down and cries in the Murky Towers stairwell. She gives herself, all alone, less than 30 seconds for the human pain to spill out.

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And then it is over. She wipes her eyes and stretches and sprouts a new, stronger set of scales and claws, glistening and diamond-tipped, and the Claire we know is back.