'House of Cards,' episodes 7 and 8: The rise of Peter Russo

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Image Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

First and foremost, EW.com would like to congratulate our fictional, unnamed head editor — a man who apparently will be hired by Washington, D.C.’s most prestigious fake newspaper sometime this spring. (House of Cards tells the future, y’all.) Even if snooty political reporter Janine doesn’t think a stint at this website qualifies one to run the Washington Herald, we believe that experiences gained here would absolutely translate to an imaginary newsroom.

Anyway: House of Cards loses a bit of steam in this pair of episodes, which find Peter Russo throwing himself into his new campaign and Frank wistfully visiting his alma mater. This slight slow-down wouldn’t be so obvious in a show that aired once a week; episodes that forgo plot for character development certainly have their place, as anyone who’s enjoyed Breaking Bad‘s “Fly” or Mad Men‘s “The Suitcase” would know. But in a show designed to be watched all at once — or as close to “all at once” as possible — storyline naturally takes precedence over anything else. House of Cards only really works if it can hook its viewers so thoroughly that they simply can’t wait to watch its next installment, and by that criteria, chapters 7 and 8 fall short.

Still, there’s plenty of good stuff here — thanks mostly to Russo, who’s transforming quickly from ambivalent, underachieving congressman to smooth gubernatorial candidate.  As Chapter 7 opens, he’s reluctantly attending AA meetings and dragging his feet on trying to win over his district’s shipbuilders, who lost their jobs thanks to Frank’s machinations in Chapter 4. Nobody but Frank truly seems to believe that Russo has what it takes to be a viable choice for governor — even after Doug successfully finds and pays off the prostitute who was in Peter’s car when he got pulled over in Chapter 1. (At least that’s one problem taken care of.)

But when Frank convinces Christina — she of the enormous anime eyes and perpetually forgiving nature — to come on board as Peter’s deputy campaign manager, everything changes. Their reunion gives Russo the strength to declare that he’s all in, as long as his kids are kept out of the limelight — and a fair but sympathetic Slugline profile, written by the EW-hating Janine, may be just what voters need to get on Peter’s side. It may be Janine’s ticket to a job at the hot political site as well.

Russo travels home to Philly in Chapter 8 to address those angry shipbuilders. Their support is vital to his campaign, but it seems at first that it’ll be impossible for Peter to soothe their rage. Then he gets into a fist fight with Paul, the leader of the shipbuilders’ union… and suddenly the working stiff is on Russo’s side. The turnaround’s quick enough to give a man whiplash, but no matter — now Peter’s got real momentum. And he even manages to assert some Underwoodian dominance over an orderly at the hospital where his mother’s being treated before he leaves the Keystone State.

Speaking of Frank: Excluding a graphic, disturbing sex scene at the episode’s conclusion — note: if you’re on the phone with your dad when your married lover starts pulling down your underwear, hang up, for the love of God — the Majority Whip stays mostly on the sidelines in Chapter 7. He returns with a vengeance in the next installment, as he and Claire head to South Carolina to visit Frank’s college stomping grounds, a fictionalized version of The Citadel called The Sentinel.

A surprise reunion with his old a cappella group leads Frank to indulge in a night of drinking, pushup contests, and carousing in the military college’s creepy, abandoned old library (which has been replaced with a new building that bears Frank’s name). The whole storyline serves to deepen Frank’s character, proving that before he became the snake we know and love, he was just a carefree a good ol’ boy who (maybe definitely) nursed feelings for his male best friend. It also puts Underwood in a vulnerable spot for the first time. But this new, softer Frank isn’t here to stay — by the time he leaves S.C., he’s ditched his nostalgic, rose-colored glasses for the laser-sharp gaze he wears like a mask in Washington. Guess you really can’t go home again.

Also: Claire knows origami now. Clearly, that’s going to become super important in Chapter 9.

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Read more:
‘House of Cards,’ episodes 5 and 6: Strikes, ‘Slugline,’ and the worst bath ever
‘House of Cards,’ episodes 3 and 4: Are you all in?
‘House of Cards’ review: Netflix gives Kevin Spacey and David Fincher a finely nasty showcase

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