House of Cards Recap: Chapter 17, Ain't No Party Like A Bioterrorism-Quarantine Party

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ep171Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
I'm watching the entire second season of Netflix's original political melodrama House of Cards instead of spending my weekend interacting with actual humans, and posting one recap per day. Catch the recap for chapter 16 here.

Cyber-hijinks aside, the last episode was a bit of a snooze, no? What this one needs is a fat envelope of white powder — not to keep a Capitol Hill dance party going until the wee hours of the morning, but to ensure our government is on its toes with the threat of domestic terrorism. Lucky for us, just such an envelope happens to arrive at Jackie Sharp's office.

That's not before Frank shows up with Remy Danton, who's now working for Raymond Tusk. Eager to get the president to return his focus to the China situation, Tusk decides to help Frank get his entitlement bill through the House and avoid a government shutdown, but that requires votes. That means Frank must meet with Donald Blythe, the congressman he screwed over last season in order to take control of an education bill. Donald doesn't drink coffee or take any BS, but he does happen to control a coalition that Frank needs to support the bill.

When a hapless aide rips open the envelope of disappointingly not-anthrax, Frank gets quarantined in Jackie's office with Donald. Frank is terrifyingly good at sniffing out weaknesses, and he locks on to Donald's: his ailing wife, Marjory, whose Alzheimer's has left her with dementia and blissfully unaware that she's actually married to him. They get a little drunk, and Frank starts pressing Donald on Alzheimer's research funding, subtly offering to get some appropriations going in that direction if, you know, wink-nudge. Donald might avoid caffeine, but he's not an idiot, and he calls Frank out on his scheming.

Having avoided the quarantine by leaving the Hill a few minutes earlier, Jackie's out with Remy, sucking down caviar and whipping votes for the entitlement bill. She's definitely not just a Frank clone, though. Her tactics for wooing her party members include telling them that Long Island wine tastes like piss — don't eff with my Duck Walk, Jackie — but, somehow, that works. The tension between her and Remy is mounting, too. As Jackie barks at two senior congressmen, you can almost hear Remy's erection stirring.

By the time the quarantine is lifted, Donald still won't budge on the vote, but he's earned Frank's respect. Enter Jackie, proverbial whip in hand. She carts in reams of paper allegedly containing the names of all of the people who will lose benefits if the government shuts down as a result of the bill not being passed. (A little white lie, but that's how anything gets done in this town.) Donald reluctantly agrees to get a few of his coalition members to vote in favor of the bill.
ep172Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Elsewhere, HEROnymous and Cashew have laid out the plan for Lucas: He must infiltrate a fortified data center and abandon all sense of journalistic ethics in the hope of finding highly circumstantial evidence tying Frank to Zoe. Sounds solid. When Lucas tells HEROnymous he has to bolt to cover the bioterrorism scare, HEROnymous slaps him in the face. Classic McPoyle move.

It's also a classic hacker-movie scene. HEROnymous gives Lucas a tiny gadget — in reality, it's just the male prong of a standard thumb drive from OfficeMax — which must be secretly plugged into one of the data centers's massive servers. We learn, however, that HEROnymous (and, by extension, Cashew) are actually FBI plants, avoiding jail time by entrapping would-be cyber-criminals. Goddamn you, Cashew. We thought we could trust you.

Back at the Underwoods' house, Claire and her new communications director, the too-handsome Connor Ellis, prepare for a live interview with the world's most aggressive journalist, CNN's Ashleigh Banfield. When she sits down, Ashleigh softballs her first couple of questions before quickly launching all her salvos, accusing Claire of being a spoiled rich girl whose daddy's money got her husband elected and whose marriage is a sham carefully calculated to further her and Frank's respective quests for political domination. (True, but still.) Then, Claire recalls her most vivid childhood memory, which was of her father taking her to Dealey Plaza and describing JFK's assassination.

Ashleigh then grills Claire on why she doesn't have any children, and the claws really come out: "Never felt the pressure? No maternal instinct?" (Can you imagine Jill Biden being spoken to like this?) When Ashleigh asks her point-blank if she's ever been pregnant, Claire admits that she had an abortion.

While that would amount to a political murder-suicide for most couples on Capitol Hill, Claire manages to spin it: She was raped. (Ashleigh is skeptical! "Uh, you've never spoken publicly about this before." Jesus, lady.) Claire fingers General Dalton McGuinness, the guy Frank reluctantly pinned stars on, as the culprit. This could've quickly gone sour, but an anonymous soldier calls in and informs them that McGuinness is something of a serial rapist, shoring up Claire's accusation.

Okay, discussion time: Is Claire immoral for exploiting the circumstances of her rape and fudging the facts behind it? Absolutely! But, she's also a multitasker. She gets her revenge on McGuiness, makes Ashleigh look like an asshole, and gets the public's ear not only for herself but for the ongoing (and very real) problem of sexual assaults in the military. So, Claire's in the clear — for now.