Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Instead of spending my weekend interacting with actual humans, I'm watching the entire second season of Netflix's original political melodrama House of Cards and posting one recap per day. Catch the recap for chapter 21 here.
I could go for some ribs right about now.
Maybe it's odd to still have an appetite after this episode, which parabolically throws Freddy the barbecue man through the air, fleshing out his history and dismantling his hoped-for future in about 48 minutes. After all, Freddy's always been likable, but I can't shake the feeling that he fills some kind of meta-magical negro role, counterbalancing Frank's deceitfulness with a sort of folksy authenticity. Until this episode, we've been given none of Freddy's backstory; he simply existed to run the down-home rib shack Frank visits in between political maneuverings. It is literally Frank's moral center, where he goes to recharge and receive sage advice in metaphor (e.g., "That's why God gave us reflexes: So we can move the f**k outta the way when a fridge come outta nowhere.") In the first season, Frank even half-jokingly tells Zoe that he was at Freddy's, "on the other side of the tracks, trying to find the meaning of life."
It seems like this episode is meant to correct that imbalance by giving Freddy his own moment in the spotlight. Life is good, and business is booming, thanks to a recent newspaper profile. He's on his way to a lucrative franchise deal and has a good chunk of change coming to him.
When one of his partners shows him a mock-up of one of the new rib joints, Freddy's surprised at its intentional decrepitude. (He understands the stereotype he plays both in his business and in the show at large: "You want them white folks to feel like they slummin'?" he asks. "And, I get to play the n**ger.") Even so, he signs the contract — not out of greed, but for his estranged son, Darnell. Freddy visits him and his grandson in their tenement building and offers to pay for a new apartment with his coming paycheck.
Things aren't so good for the Underwoods. The gang's gathered to deal with the fallout from Tusk leaking a photo of Claire asleep in Adam Galloway's bed. "Claire must be the surgeon," confides Frank. "Only she can stop the bleeding."
At her request, Adam holds a press conference with his gorgeous Colombian fiancée and denies that he shot the photograph. Claire, however, is scheming: She and Frank counter by saying that Adam did in fact take the photo, discrediting him in the process.
Later, Remy meets with Adam at his gallerist's and threatens his fiancée's father, who is imprisoned as a dissident in Bogotá. He's up for the death penalty, and Remy claims to have the judge in his pocket. (Reality check: Remy would have a man executed if he can't cause a minor embarrassment to the Vice President and his wife?) In response, Adam releases another picture of Claire — this time, a sexy shower shot.
Team Underwood is back on the offensive. Seth recruits a young woman to pose for photos designed to look like the shower picture, giving a highly flimsy rebuttal to Candy Crowley on State of the Union: If we can fake these photos, what's to say Adam didn't fake them, too?
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Meanwhile, Intrepid Reporter Ayla Sayyad visits Tusk, and she's starting to connect the dots between him and Feng and the White House. Tusk points out her Iranian origins and her Jewish ethnicity and makes veiled threats with an old vase. It's a bizarre moment of weakness for him. After Ayla leaves, Tusk calls up Remy: "Hit 'em again."
All that Remy has left, however, is to leak a story about Freddy's checkered past: As a teenager, Freddy was in a gang and robbed a liquor store, and during the subsequent police chase, he accidentally mowed down a couple of old people. Apparently, this is enough to embarrass Frank. (Reality check number two: It must be one hell of a slow news day to print a story about how the owner of a rib shack that the Vice President happens to frequent did time in prison more than two decades prior.) Freddy's son doesn't make things any easier when he pulls a gun on a photographer.
Frank pays a final visit to Freddy and explains how he must offer him up as a sacrificial lamb — instead of defending Freddy and his son, he needs to cut him off. At the same time, Freddy's franchise deal and upfront money have fallen through due to a morality clause in his contract. In order pay his son's bond, he decides to sell his storefront, and he's left with nothing.
As he heads back home, Frank looks wistful, but not repentant. "The road to power is paved with hypocrisy — and casualties. Never regret."
Adam, too, is a casualty. He comes over to the Underwoods' full of pride and spite, but there won't be any negotiation. Claire puts it plainly that he has no other option: Adam will recant and say that the whole scandal was part of a publicity stunt to raise the value of his work. And, if he refuses? "I will bury you," she says.
Tusk presses Remy to go forward with their plan, but Remy tells him that the State Department is now involved. With Adam's prospective father-in-law no longer in play as a pawn, Tusk snaps the neck of one of his birds in frustration.
The episode opened with a shot of Freddy, smiling as he walked toward his restaurant. It closes that circle at the end, zooming in on Freddy, now emptied of everything he had, walking away.
Will I miss him? Probably not, just as I don't particularly miss Gillian or Christina or any of the other minor characters who have been painted with just enough backstory to give them depth, but who are ultimately disposable and, at this point, unrelated to the grand narrative. The show is just as ruthless as Frank: It has no time for useless things.