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This conversation will cover the first four episodes of the new season. Obviously, there will be spoilers.

Nikki: So far this season is all about CLAIRE. I’ve always found her fascinating, but just felt so frustrated on her behalf for most of season 3, because she clearly didn’t have enough to do or an obvious path to the kind of influence she wanted — she was stuck, at the mercy of that weird uneven plot with Russia (who CAAARES), constrained rather than freed by the power of the White House. It didn’t feel like her and Frank against the world anymore. When she left him at the end of last season that felt inevitable, and I was eager to watch them duke it out in season 4 because the show, for better or worse, has set up each Underwood as the only rival worthy of the other. In past seasons, Frank so easily outflanked and outmaneuvered the hapless adversaries whose loyalty or jobs or power he wanted — yes, he had to scheme and kill and cover things up, but often the people he was up against never fully realized what he was doing until it was too late — which is honestly one of the show’s weaknesses! But it also means the only person who could possibly fight Frank and beat him is, and always has been, Claire.

As hard as I root for Claire, I have to admit I was pleased that her plot of pushing Doris Jones (THE FLAWLESS CICELY TYSON)’s daughter Celia aside didn’t work out for her, even if it meant Frank temporarily seized the upper hand with that back-stabbing drop-in at the State of the Union. (I appreciated how fast Celia and Doris froze Frank out, too, when that KKK photo of his dad turned up.) I’m still waiting to see if the show lets any nonwhite characters really drive the plot, but it’s hard when so much of the power and agency and ruthless machinations are reserved for the Underwoods. A part of me was really glad that Claire didn’t succeed in leap-frogging over Celia for that House seat she wanted. (But did she ever really want it, or was it mostly to gain Frank’s attention and angle for the veep spot?)

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I have always thought of Claire as kind of a closed book, and she’s such a glorious and compelling one I don’t mind, but the scenes with her mother in Texas have me rethinking her a little bit! It’s not particularly subtle, having her walk into that huge bereft house and pluck dust-cloths off the furniture of a bitter, dying woman still in residence. Ellen Burstyn is a marvelous icy terror of a mother, and it wasn’t exactly a shock to discover that Claire’s mom is like that, but I found their scenes together surprisingly…affecting? The hesitant hug! Elizabeth ripping off her wig and shouting “I AM THE MOTHER” when Claire threatens her! I don’t think she could possibly hate Frank so much, either, if she didn’t also love her daughter in some terrible, consuming but largely unexpressed way. And the show has given us so little in terms of Claire’s interior life and history that anything at all feels like a lot.

Nicole: Absolutely. I think that one of the things I’ve always loved about Claire’s treatment by the show is their lack of interest in “humanizing” her: she never eats, we’ve seen her take off her heels…once, Frank is the one who gets emo over his old college boyfriend and military reenactor nonsense and briefly loses momentum. Claire is always moving forward, like a shark. So I found it VERY unsettling to see her hesitate in her family home, wondering if she should open her mother’s door, etc.

The way Claire fights Frank is also unique in the history of their externally-facing skirmishes. She leaves her fingerprints all over it, purposefully. Claire doesn’t want to defeat Frank, Claire wants Frank to know she CAN defeat him, and drops those earrings on top of his history like “this is the tiniest, tiniest crumb of what we know about each other, don’t think I can’t or won’t take you right to the edge.”

Can we talk about Meechum, for a minute? I loved that sweet, lonely, handsome goober so much, and there are so FEW moments of genuine emotion that escape the Underwoods in this series. Frank tracing the outline of his hand on the wall? I knew in that moment that Meechum wasn’t making it through the season. Also, my heart BROKE for him when Frank asked if he was the leak, because how DARE you sir!?

RIP, Meechum. You were too precious for this sinful earth.

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Nikki: Poor Meechum, we hardly knew ye. He was so unquestioningly loyal, which really makes you wonder what the hell happened in his poor puppy-dog life that the Underwoods would look like salvation. Like you, I get and actually appreciate the show not attempting to “humanize” Claire, but I sometimes wish we got more back story on the Underwoods’ pawns, since they are the closest thing this show has to real humans. I would have liked to know more about Meechum before he snuffed it. When Frank traced Meechum’s hand on the wall I actually said, out loud, “Sorry you’re about to be killed.” There was nothing left for Meechum to do but die, unfortunately, kind of like Lucas once he realized no one was ever going to believe him.

In Lucas’s case, we knew he was doomed the moment he was released from prison; it was just a question of when and how. But I still don’t know if I buy the idea that Lucas of all people would turn homicidal after one failed meeting with Frank’s Democratic opposition. And are we supposed to believe that he wouldn’t even try pitching his expose on the Underwoods somewhere first? What happened to “Slugline”??

What did you think of the assassination attempt? The show telegraphed that shooting for a while before Lucas actually pulled the trigger. All I could think was HOW HAS NO ONE EVER SHOT FRANK BEFORE. What did you think of Claire’s reaction? Do you think it was just too neat of a way to end or at least delay the standoff between them, and sink Heather Dunbar’s chances in the bargain?

Nicole: Oh, let me go back to your point about Lucas! I definitely think he would have dumped everything via Tumblr and started tweeting accusations before going homicidal. He was a NEWSPAPERMAN. Obviously he was circling the drain in terms of his ability to go on in the face of constant defeat, but it didn’t ring true to me, no.

Every show about the Presidency breaks out an assassination attempt in the first few seasons. Can I say that before I saw Lucas’ face, I thought Claire might have paid someone off to do it? It WAS pat and convenient and allowed the show to back down from Underwood v Underwood, but, well, I guess it worked!

To chime in about people of color on the show, something I was saying on Twitter the other day was that I DO so prefer how their storylines are handled on House of Cards over The West Wing. Cicely Tyson and her daughter don’t admire Frank Underwood, they want to know what they can get from him. Remy too! On TWW, black characters in particular were there to make the white characters seem progressive and anti-racist, whereas in HoC, they’ve got their own agendas. They’re playing the game.

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I do wish we had a better grasp of Remy and Jackie as a couple. We get the occasional hotel room clinch, but not whatever drives that relationship. Why do they never team up? But I think this goes back to your theory that the Underwoods suck all the oxygen out of the room.

See you on Wednesday to talk episodes 5-8! Toasties, tell us your 1-4 observations!

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Nicole Cliffe is an editor of The Toast and Nicole Chung is the managing editor. Together they are the Nicollective.

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