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House of Cards Review: "Chapter 21" (Episode 2.08)

February 24, 2014  |  4:08pm
<em>House of Cards</em> Review: "Chapter 21" (Episode 2.08)

One element of House of Cards worth keeping an eye on since its very beginning has been the way its characters treat lying. Frank, of course, is the show’s master of lies, but not everyone can see this, and many characters are surprised to find out he’s been telling them one thing while doing something else behind their backs. Still, they tend to come back to him and trust him in the future, even when he lies repeatedly. One explanation for this could be lazy writing, but another, more valid one would be that Frank’s lying and manipulating is essentially normalized. Everyone at this level of government is used to it, so if he lies to get his way, it’s no big deal, as everyone else is playing the same game.

In “Chapter 21” we saw several big lies get exposed while, at the same time, others were fostered and created. The biggest of these came when Linda Vasquez confronted Frank about the way he has been telling her she has his full support, while in fact he’s been going around her back to the president and telling him just the opposite. By the end of the episode, Linda has resigned over this, and the main thing we take away from this exchange is that she can simply no longer take this level of duplicity. She wants things organized and straightforward, but that’s not how the government is being run, and she ultimately doesn’t have it in her to keep playing this game (don’t ask me why she gave Frank the medal, though, as that just seemed insane).

This had important dramatic implications for the rest of the show, but a more telling thematic moment was when President Walker confronted Frank about whether or not he’d continued negotiating with Feng and asked Frank continually whether or not what he’s doing is illegal. Rather than stopping Frank, though, either by putting an end to the negotiations or just going against his advice, Walker asks what the consequences of this are. He accepts the lie, i.e. the means, because the ends are exactly what he wants. This is why Frank’s lying, and the lying of so many others in the world of House of Cards, is accepted time and time again. As far as the show’s characters are concerned, lies are the grease that keeps the wheels of politics turning.

The other big lie that gets revealed in “Chapter 21” is between Seth and Remy. Here, Remy asks his employee straight-up whether or not he’s now working for Frank and is unwilling to accept Seth’s obvious lie as an answer. This information is mostly key because of the way it tells the audience that Seth is, surprisingly, trustworthy (at least to Frank). The other part of this is that Seth is no longer privy to Remy’s plans, meaning his usefulness to Frank is conversely much more limited. When Remy releases Adam’s photo of Claire to the press, it’s a real surprise, as was Tusk’s appearance at Lanagin’s house earlier.

As all of this occurred, “Chapter 21” also moved forward with two more personal subplots that frankly don’t seem that relevant to the rest of the show, at least not yet. Rachel’s new relationship with Lisa would be more interesting if it didn’t seem so blatantly exploitative. The shots of Rachel in her bra (or to be more accurate, just Rachel’s bra, given the way James Foley continually removed her head from these shots) walking to and from the door were the most over-the-top cheesecake footage the show has had, which is saying something considering that almost every woman on the show has had at least a few scenes put out there just for titillation. The Walkers’ couples counseling through a minister recommended by Claire also seems odd, as why the audience is supposed to be concerned with the bland melodrama of their marriage is beyond me.

But then, their marriage is demanded by the public, regardless of how bad it is. It’s one of many lies that need to be upheld if Walker is to get re-elected, and essentially the biggest fib being told in the show is that the politicians in D.C. have anyone’s best interest at heart. In House of Cards, it’s not whether or not you lie that’s important; it’s only a question of whether you get caught—which is to say that it’s exactly like the real world.

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