'House of Cards,' episodes 3 and 4: Are you all in?

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Netflix’s new political thriller House of Cards is designed for binge-viewing, which makes it great for consumers who enjoy watching TV at their own pace — and less great for writers accustomed to dissecting shows hour by hour and week by week. By now, some of you have likely watched House‘s whole 13-episode first season already; others are halfway done, or a few episodes in, or waiting to blow through the entire thing in one marathon viewing session. So what’s a recapper to do?

Since Ken Tucker already covered the first two episodes of the series in his initial review, we’re going to dive right in and discuss its next two installments here. (We’ll tackle 5 and 6 next Wednesday.) If nothing else, this pair of episodes does seem a good place to pause and take stock of the series thus far — especially given the second hour’s doozy of an ending. This should go without saying, but just to be safe: spoilers follow, y’all.

Naturally, Kevin Spacey’s ruthless congressman Frank Underwood spends these two episodes getting himself in and out of sticky situations. Only one of those situations involves a “Peachoid” water tower accidentally designed to resemble a giant butt, a regional curiosity I was tickled to learn actually exists. In episode 3, Frank travels back home to sunny Gaffney, S.C. — where everything is “just a little bit sicker” — to squash a pesky county administrator who’s trying to use a local tragedy as fodder for an Underwood takedown.

Of course, the plan doesn’t end up working — Frank’s political acumen and a stirring, completely insincere sermon are enough to smooth things over, and the Whip ends up getting back to D.C. in time to keep his education bill from tanking. And then he spends episode 4 playing an elaborate game of congressional chess, manipulating everyone from the Speaker of the House on down just because he can. Everything’s comin’ up white tulips!

Meanwhile, hungry reporter Zoe (Kate Mara) is riding high on the news that the Washington Herald‘s owner loves her work — even if the junior staffer won’t reveal her secret source. The paper’s editor, Tom, isn’t quite as taken with Zoe — especially after she bashes the paper’s outmoded ideas on Starting Point. (And blows Frank a kiss. Eww.) He tries to reign her in by first treating her like a petulant child (“No TV for a month”), then offering to promote her to White House Correspondent.

Alas: Zoe, like so many ambitious millennial sharks before her, doesn’t want to spend her days parroting canned statements from the press secretary. She turns down the job and walks away from the paper for good… but only after engaging in a suggestive late-night phone call with Frank. Thought it’d take more than four episodes for House of Cards‘s central platonic relationship to turn sexual? Think again.

Some new developments with Frank’s cold Lady Macbeth help to soften the blow of his imminent adultery. See, Claire’s (Robin Wright) got a piece on the side as well: Adam Galloway (Ben Daniels), handsome globetrotting photographer and Mrs. Underwood’s apparent ex-boyfriend. After Adam comes back to town, Claire agrees to meet him in a hotel room… and before long, they’re rubbing faces like a pair of lions in heat. Soon, though, she stops in medias makeout and tells Adam that the two of them “can’t start this again.” Let’s see how long that resolve lasts once she learns about her husband’s own extracurricular activities.

Which leads us to the end of episode 4. Zoe drunk dials Frank, who soon asks for her address. And while he’s obviously horrified at her tiny, messy apartment, he doesn’t flinch as she stares at him. “Are you cared for?” he asks in a tone that’s both paternal and predatory. “Do you have a man who cares for you? An older man?” Zoe establishes that she doesn’t, but she has been with older men before (of course) — and when Frank says, “Then you know they hurt you,” she replies, “You can’t hurt me.” He asks Zoe to take off her heels, and she obeys. He tosses down  his briefcase. Scene. While I do think their relationship is more interesting if they don’t sleep together, I can’t deny that that closer was magnetic.

Also, Rep. Peter Russo does a bunch of drugs, then promises to stop doing so many drugs, then does even more drugs and loses his girlfriend/employee Christina. Progress!

How far into House of Cards are you? And what do/did you think of the series at the 1/3 mark?

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Read more:
23 TV Shows We’re Tuning In For
‘House of Cards’ review: Netflix gives Kevin Spacey and David Fincher a finely nasty showcase
Netflix touts binge viewing: Is waiting better?

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