If you didn’t know, House of Cards has been an obsession of mine over the past year. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the philosophy I’ve taken to be SGA President, but you can’t beat this story of unbridled ambition. Here are my ten favorite moments from the first two seasons, in chronological order because I just couldn’t pick a favorite.
WARNING: Spoiler alerts ahead!
1. Frank’s Opening Monologue (Season 1, Chapter 1).
The first scene of House of Cards is one of my personal favorite openings to a series. That first monologue immediately breaks the fourth wall, one of the signature characteristics of this show, and it also is incredible foreshadowing of the ruthlessness that dominates Frank’s journey.
“There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”
2. The Eulogy (Season 1, Chapter 3).
There’s trouble down home in South Carolina, thanks to an unfortunately-shaped water tower. Frank heads to Gaffney and delivers a moving eulogy, making us pause and consider whether he really is as manipulative and awful as we realize (newsflash: the story about his father was a lie; he is as evil as we realized).
“Truth be told, I never really knew him or what his dreams were. He was quiet, timid, almost invisible.
My mother didn’t think much of him. My mother’s mother hated him. The man never scratched the surface of life. Maybe it’s best he died so young.”
3. The Coward’s Way Out (Season 1, Chapter 5)
Peter Russo’s made a big mistake. Choosing to shut down the shipyard’s due to Frank’s pressuring has left him feeling worthless. He breaks down at Frank’s door, and then gets settled in for a bath. Frank tells him that he is the only person that believes in him, but that maybe he made the wrong choice. He offers him a razor and some chilling advice.
“I’m the only person that believes in you, Peter. But maybe that’s one too many. The hot water will open up your capillaries. The aspirin you just took will make your blood thinner. It’s up to you, Peter.
Oh, and if you do decide to take the coward’s way out, cut along the tracks, not across them. That’s a rookie mistake.”
4. Doug’s AA Meeting (Season 1, Chapter 7).
Doug is probably my favorite character in House of Cards, and his introduction at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting reveals just how strong his mindset and character is. Without him, Frank would be nothing. I LOVE DOUG. HE’S NOT DEAD OKAY?
“I’m Doug and I’m an alcoholic. One of the things I do for a living, is count. I count votes: yays, nays, neutrals, abstaining; I’m good at it. But the most important count I do has nothing to do with work. It’s the number of days since April 4th, 1999; as of this morning that’s 5185. The bigger that number gets, the more it frightens me, because I know all takes is one drink to go back to zero.
Most people see fear as a weakness. It can be. Sometimes for my job, I have to put fear in other people. I know that’s not right. But if I’m honest – like the Four Steps asks us to be – I have to be ruthless. Because failure’s not an option.
The same goes for my sobriety. I have to be ruthless with myself. I have to use my fear. It makes me stronger. Like everyone in this room, I can’t control who I am. But I can control the zero.
F**k the zero.”
5. Claire’s confrontation with Zoe (Season 1, Chapter 10).
Poor Zoe. She’s been seduced by Frank and quite enjoying her rising status as a primary Washington media player. However, she becomes increasingly aware that Frank is dangerous. Still, she has no idea that Claire is going to waltz in and, instead of being angry at her, makes her realize just how twisted this power couple is.
“It’s such a shame, how naive you are… I’ve known everything from the beginning Zoe, my husband and I tell each other everything. Don’t you believe me? Is there a spider I can trap? I’m not here to punish you or tell you to stop, I just thought I should open those big, bright eyes…. Maybe you’re not that naive, a lesser woman wouldn’t have opened the door.”
6. “Do you think I had forgotten you?” (Season 2, Chapter 14).
7. Claire’s shocking revelation (Season 2, Chapter 17).
While Frank is stuck in the White House due to an anthrax threat, Claire must do an interview as the new Madame VP. She gets herself into a hole when asked about children, which leads her to confess she had an abortion. After some quick thinking, she pins it on General Dan McGinnis, who did rape her, but didn’t get her pregnant. Another example of the ruthless pragmatism that defines the Underwoods.
“Did you speak to him?”
“Briefly. Francis pinned stars on him.”
8. Ending things with Freddy (Season 2, Chapter 22).
Freddy is one of the most underrated characters in the show. He is Frank’s refuge from things that he’s dealing with. This episode shows that Freddy is dealing with a lot more than BBQ, however, and when things get tough, Frank is forced to distance himself from one of his only friends if he wants the power that he seeks.
“You was a good customer, that’s it. You ain’t gotta pretend to be my friend.”
9. Frank’s Underwood typewriter (Season 2, Chapter 26).
It looks like this is the end for Frank. Things are blowing up with back-channeling, Walker doesn’t trust him at all, and he has put everything he has on the line. This final letter, written on his father’s typewriter, is a last-ditch effort, and a brilliant one.
“Dear Mr. President,
I’m writing you on an Underwood Portable my father gave me when I left for the Sentinel. It was the words my father said when he gave it to me that have resonated even more than this 70 year old machine. ‘This Underwood built an empire,’ he said, ‘now you go and build one of your own.’ Those words have been a large part of what has motivated my life. I’ve only written one other letter with these keys. It did not fail me then… I hope it will not fail me now.
You said I wanted to diminish you. The truth is I don’t. You said I wanted to challenge you in 2016. The truth is I don’t. You said I wanted the presidency for myself… The truth is, I do.
What politician hasn’t dreamed of what it would be like to take the oath of the highest office of our land? I’ve stared at your desk in the Oval and coveted it. The power, the prestige; those things have a strong pull on someone like me – who came from a small South Carolina town, with nothing.
But since you assumed office my only aim has been to fight, for you and alongside you. Whether that be in congress or as now, the battle over impeachment.
Maybe one day I’ll have my chance to serve as President, but not while you are the nation’s leader. And in you sir I see a brave man, a just man, a President whom I would follow anywhere no matter how strong the wind blows against us.
I want to tell you something I have never told anyone. When I was 13 I walked in on my father in the barn. There was a shotgun in his mouth. He waved me over, ‘come here, Francis,’ he said, ‘pull the trigger for me.’ Because he didn’t have the courage to do it himself. I said ‘no, pap’ and walked out, knowing he would never find that courage.
The next 7 years were hell for my father but even more hell for my mother and me. He made all of us miserable; drinking, despair, violence… My only regret in life is that I didn’t pull that trigger. He would’ve been better off in the grave and we would have been better off without him.
I’m not going to put you in the same position as my father put me in. You will find enclosed on a separate sheet, a confession to the crimes you have been accused of. They’re false words, but my signature will make them true. Use them if you must.
If you truly believe that I have only served myself, then I have forever lost your trust. All I can do now is give you my freedom to save your own. I said I would take the fall for you, and now I give you the means to make that happen. I am pulling the trigger myself.
We all must make sacrifices to achieve our dreams, but sometimes we must sacrifice ourselves for the greater good. It is my honor to make such a sacrifice now.
Your loyal friend, Still in my heart, if not in yours…
10. Frank becoming President (Season 2, Chapter 26).
Who didn’t see it coming? Frank, through manipulation, cunning, ruthlessness, and unquenchable ambition, is sworn in as President, with not a vote cast in his name. Walking around the Oval Office, he takes it all in. This was the climb, and he has reached the pinnacle.