House of Cards Series 3 Review: Chapter 38

Series 3 Episode 12 - "Betrayal doesn't come cheap"

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Jonathan is watching and reviewing every episode of House of Cards series three in one epic binge. Follow his progress here.

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Claire is no longer ambassador or even First Lady. She’s a “campaign asset,” in the words of one journalist, useful for “waving her pom poms” on Frank’s campaign trail.

Even as this third series struggled to find a new angle on Frank –he has seemed oddly sluggish since gaining the White House, like a sated lion– Claire has come into her own. Robin Wright has brought complexity and vulnerability to the modern day Lady Macbeth. It’s really her show now, much as Tom Yates’ propaganda novel has morphed into a portrait of the Underwood marriage and Claire in particular. 

Claire isn’t at dismissive of the first chapter as Francis, who defaults to his ‘crush/blackmail/destroy’ methods. Perhaps Claire likes being seen in her own right, as a human rather than a polling plus point. Perhaps she bristles at being called the “unsplittable atom of American politics.” Perhaps she loves adjectives. Whatever the reason, the book gives strength to something that has been building for a long time. 

(For his part Yates huffs out of the office and lectures his girlfriend about the craft of writing, a tantrum that is repeated at least twice a week in the Radio Times office.)

There’s another book about Claire that is potentially more damaging: the doctor’s journal that proved she had an abortion during Frank’s first campaign, rather than following her rape as she claimed. Doug Stamper had kept the evidence and now Hannah Dunbar is desperate enough to buy it. Even after the evidence is destroyed and Stamper is brought back into the fold, its yet another reminder that Claire is not in control. Yates, Dunbar and Stamper all use Claire’s vulnerability against her, but Frank is cruel in a way that cuts deeper.

House of Cards is a cynical show but unlike the British original it has a heart. If you look closely enough, there has been a tenderness to this series. It’s about love and the limits of love. Jackie and Remy love each other more than cynical political exigency and useful marriages. Doug loves Frank more than $2 million, and Frank loves Claire enough to slit the throat of anyone who threatens her. But crucially, he doesn’t love her enough not to hurt her. And maybe that isn’t love at all.

As Claire says, of all their sin, maybe the biggest lie the Underwoods have told has been to each other.


The Quotable Underwood:

Meechum: “Too bad about the book.”

Yates: “You don’t mean that.”

Meechum: “No I don’t.”

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Stamper: “Betrayal doesn’t come cheap.”