The previous episode of House Of Cards was a brilliant hour of television, showing the series at its riveting best. What followed then was the series not at its worst, but definitely its most confusing, with an episode that featured a kinky Chinese billionaire, a contingent of Civil War re-enactors and an endangered guinea pig. And I thought this was a series about politics.
First then, to the aforementioned guinea pig, Cashew, and the inevitable end to Lukas’ plan to bring Frank down. It’s been hard to take this storyline seriously, mostly because it’s hard to see why Lukas cares so much – sure he might have loved Zoe, but it doesn’t feel like he loved her enough to risk life in prison, but also because his plan is so obviously set up to fail. Scenes in the Bond villain-like hacker lair have felt like they’re almost from another series; when an FBI agent threatened Gavin’s beloved guinea pig, it was hard to remember that this is supposed to be a Serious Show. Threatening a guinea pig seems like a massive step down for a series which excels at having characters brilliantly manipulate each other – it’d be like having Frank kick the President’s puppy (although I wouldn’t put that past him).
Frank meanwhile, was at a Civil War re-enactment which lead to a frankly odd encounter where he was ‘introduced’ to his great-great-great grandfather – a re-enactor who stuck too rigidly to his character. His main reason for attending though was to meet in secret with Xander Feng, a Chinese billionaire, and the historic setting gave both a chance to reveal that they had ancestors who died in battle. The point was, I think, to draw parallels between the way wars were fought then – muskets and rocks, and now – money and words. I say think because nothing in their conversations was entirely clear and though House Of Cards often contains complicated, political storylines, you can usually understand the importance of what they’re doing. Here, all I could discern was that it somehow involved Tusk, a WTO lawsuit against the Chinese and a bridge. But it was hard to care when things were so convoluted that it was difficult to see what either Frank or Feng were trying to do.
Feng has possibly been introduced as a new antagonist for Frank, though he currently seems a little cartoonish in his villainy – everything possible is done to set him up as a thoroughly unlikable guy. His most effective scene however, was his confrontation with Doug, where he taunted the recovering alcoholic by literally waving a very fine cocktail in his face; it was a horrible moment and would have been more than enough on its own to pit us against him. Seeing his penchant for auto-erotic asphyxiation just seemed like overkill in comparison.
Though not the greatest of episodes, it did perhaps sow the seeds for those still to come. With the introduction of Feng we also have a new foil to replace Lukas and one who, more importantly, we might actually be able to take seriously as a threat. Let’s hope he just stays away from small animals.