House of Cards (2015) S03E04 Recap/Review

Caution: major spoilers for this episode follow, as well as possible spoilers from episodes prior.


Episode four of this political drama opens on a Supreme Court hearing, the same hearing that the President was ignoring earlier in the season in his jumbled attempt to get his America Works project off the ground. The hearing surrounds a drone strike that apparently killed innocent civilians.


While this is going on, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is attending the funeral of three soldiers. In the Supreme Court hearing, we hear that he has given authorization to the Solicitor General Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) to effectively put full responsibility on the government for the attack that caused innocent deaths, arguing that the strike killed its criminal target and was legal and justified. The cross-cutting with the funeral tells us that Dunbar may be a strong political candidate in the upcoming election. Underwood immediately begins thinking of a way to take her down.


We then see Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in a U.N. meeting discussing the proposal that was set up in the previous episode that the President claims would help instigate peace in the Middle East. The continuation of the unstable U.S.-Russian relationship that was the central conflict of S03E03 plays out in this scene, as the Russian ambassador votes against the proposal, disallowing its passage. Claire quickly goes on the offensive, trying to rally other nations together to trump Russia’s veto, which is more powerful because Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council.


Frank Underwood’s plan for cutting Dunbar off is to promote her. He informs her that one of the Supreme Court justices has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and that he will have to retire. Frank offers her the seat, and she accepts.


We cut to everyone’s favorite computer hacker Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson), who is again utilizing his hack-coworkers-computers-while-they-pee technique. Only this time he runs into a bandwidth problem. We’ve all been there: not a high enough clearance level to use your computer at maximum capacity. Anyway, he ends up diverting the disaster of being found out just as his coworker returns to his desk. Whew, *wipes brow*.


The next scene is phenomenally tense (a definitely more effective tense than the previous scene). Frank brings in the survivor of the drone strike, who was left family-less and legless. The man, Mr. Mahmoud, argues that the Pentagon lies about its drone strike statistics and tells the President that he came to the meeting with the intention to kill him. It’s the first powerful scene of this episode, and the interaction, with its eloquent Qur’an quotations, is gripping.


Gavin meets with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), telling him that he needs more information on Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) if he’s going to find her. He suggests infiltrating the life of Rachel’s friend in order to get closer, warning Stamper that if they don’t do something more drastic, then they will never find Rachel.


Frank brings in the ailing Supreme Court justice to tell him the good news about finding his replacement. But, alas, Frank’s initial assurance that he should stay on the bench as long as he was healthy re-invigorated the justice. He tells Frank that he doesn’t need to step down until the election season begins, at the very least. Frank, at first furious, breaks the fourth wall (you know, just to clear his head), before bursting into one of his patented impassioned speeches. It’s another great scene. Spacey is best when his character is in these situations (and when the writing gives him a strong enough jumping off point).


Claire’s fight gets more complicated when an American gay right’s activist is arrested while in Russia. The Russian U.N. ambassador makes it clear that they are more than willing to co-operate if the Jordan Valley proposal is dropped. This also puts extra heat on Frank, who is grilled at a press conference by House of Cards resident reporter Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan Marno) in her attempt to gain leverage and get an inside scoop on AmWorks. It doesn’t end well for her.


Oh, Dunbar, you’ve done it again. Giving a speech on the steps of the Supreme Court House, Heather Dunbar uses an anti-political corruption platform to announce her candidacy for President. Turns out, she knew the whole time about Frank’s plot to sideline her.


Meanwhile, Gavin travels to find Rachel’s friend Lisa, who is speaking at a sobriety group meeting. They converse: she is quick to bring up Rachel, but she is also quick to leave.


In a more important meanwhile, Doug Stamper calls Dunbar (from across the hall) to tell her that he wants in on her campaign. The true motivation of this act is the real question. Stamper’s loyalty to Frank Underwood has been the staple of his character for the past two seasons. However, being essentially cut off from the White House, he may be genuine in his move to change sides. What a beautiful scene this is, with ominous shots of Stamper’s cane as he waddles past the Presidential hopeful. Doug Stamper’s storyline is by far the most intriguing one that this season has to offer (so far).


The episode ends with a strange interaction between Frank and a rather depressing Bishop in a church. They discuss sins and power, and then Frank spits in Jesus’ face, who subsequently tries to crush him. Oh, the symbolism!


The Post-Script

For one reason or another, episode four feels a lot more like the House of Cards we’ve come to love than the previous two episodes. There is more savagery in Frank Underwood’s chess moves. The minor characters are far more fun to watch. And Doug Stamper is slowly moving into the forefront of the series in a very sinister (yet welcomed) way. This was a great episode, overall, despite minor dragging spots.


As always, thanks for reading!


Have you watched House of Cards season three? If so, what did you think? Do you want a season four? Let me know in the comments!


–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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