The clue, from the very first episode of House of Cards, that the show was going to be about family came from the fact that the Walkers had none. No parents that we’ve ever seen, no siblings, and most importantly, no children. The Underwoods have only ever had each other, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t forged various familial relationships throughout the years. Most of these, though, have been temporary, not to mention incestuous. If the Underwoods are the American political family, they’re like those in Game of Thrones, but even more secretive.
“Chapter 24” brought the familial aspects of the show to the forefront, incest and all. Last season it was of course Zoe Barnes who ended up as Frank’s surrogate daughter, as he went down on her while she spoke with her biological father on the phone. In season two, though, it’s mostly been about the competition between Doug and Seth, who Frank refers to as if they’re his children fighting for his affection. During all of this, though, the man who has given Frank and his wife presents, who drank with them and literally played catch with Frank in his backyard, has been his bodyguard, Meechum. When the threesome between him and the Underwoods begins, it’s both exciting and inevitable. If Meechum is to be the Underwoods’ true son, he needs to consummate it, and so he does. I was surprised the show was willing to go this far, but thrilled it didn’t chicken out.
This episode wasn’t just about Meechum, though; family was all over this episode. Frank’s relationship with Walker has long been siblinglike (both struggling to get out from the influence of their father, Raymond Tusk), but more importantly there’s Frank’s prodigal son: Remy. Remy’s attraction to Jackie has brought him back to consorting with the Underwoods, and he doesn’t like it, so he goes and investigates her past by interviewing her own surrogate father. He tells Remy how Jackie was willing to betray him, and Remy confronts her with this information. The end result is a falling out with Tusk and an attempt by him to rekindle his relationship with Frank.
As counterpoint to the licentiousness of the Underwoods, we have the Walkers. The hypocrisy and ridiculousness of the American public has it that if the president and first lady are less than thrilled about each other 24/7, this cannot become public or their next election is in jeopardy. They’ve been going to secret counseling sessions because, aside from the necessary secrecy, this is the right thing for them to do. However, the fact that they need counseling is an even bigger scandal than being paid off by foreign powers, and Frank knows this. He can have all the threesomes he wants, so long as they’re not public. The knowledge that the Walkers have problems, caused naturally by the intense stress of the presidency, is soon to be their undoing. Whether Claire knew this when she started causing friction between them is hard to judge, but for thematic reasons that’s not important.
“Chapter 24” was the most exciting episode of the show in a long while, as the stresses of the system have heightened to the point where the government as it stands can no longer sustain itself—status quo is no longer an option, and everything is spinning out of the characters’ control. We know pretty well that Frank will find a way not to be crushed, but even for him it feels like consequences are imminent, and that makes for exciting television. When House of Cards is working well, all of its disparate elements make sense of themselves when the time comes, and that’s what happened here, making those duller set-up episodes worthwhile because the explosions they led to are this exciting. What’s more, it looks like the acceleration to the end of the season is only beginning.