13 House of Cards Chess Boards

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Netflix’s Valentine’s gift to us this year is none other than the premiere of the second season of House of Cards, an Emmy-nominated political drama that has kept us on the edge of our seats for hours of binge-watching at a time. We joke about Frank Underwood’s Southern accent and colorful metaphors, but his scheming still brings a sense of foreboding and dread to the viewer. Frank and his wife Claire Underwood view democracy as a game, and no one plays it better than they do. To put it lightly, the show is complicated, and episode-by-episode recaps are hard to come by, if they exist at all. To get you ready for tomorrow, we put together a visual guide of each episode, laid out like a chessboard, with a recap below. The pieces show Frank Underwood’s systematic takedown of everyone who stands in his way, as well as the remaining players left in the game. Which moves will he make next? Watch the premiere with us on Feb. 14, 12:01 PST.

The Who’s-who:



Chapter One: The election was a success. Frank Underwood has played the right people and is sure to be the next Secretary of State. But he’s turned down without any real explanation. Furious, he vows to seek revenge on those who betrayed him. He meets a young journalist named Zoe Barnes, and they agree to work together—he strategically leaks information to his advantage, and she breaks the stories. The first rung Underwood must climb on his ladder of revenge is Donald Blythe’s education bill. Zoe leaks a draft of the bill, and the media has a field day over the proposals. Pennsylvania Congressman Peter Russo is pulled over with a prostitute, but Underwood convinces the police commissioner to let him go. Russo now owes Underwood a favor, a debt far more valuable to him than money. The president nominates Michael Kern for the position of Secretary of State.


Chapter Two: Remy Danton, a lobbyist for energy giant Sancorp, yanks a major donation to the nonprofit CWI, managed by Claire Underwood, and Claire is forced to fire half of her staff. Underwood’s assistant, Doug Stamper, finds an editorial piece from the paper Michael Kern edited in college. The piece trashes Israel—a pretty controversial opinion for the incoming Secretary of State to have. The editorial was actually penned by Roy Kapeniak, but Underwood forces Russo to go directly to Kapeniak and convince him to say that Kern was its sole author. After being perceived as hostile to Israel, Kern’s nomination is withdrawn and Catherine Durant is tapped to take his place. Underwood spearheads the education bill, handed over to him by a humiliated Donald Blythe.


Chapter Three: Back in Underwood’s home state of South Carolina, a teenage girl is driving by a suggestive peach-shaped water tower and crashes while texting her boyfriend. Underwood commissioned the water tower, and his constituents blame him. He has to leave union negotiations over the education bill to deal with the problems at home.


Chapter Four: Remy Danton and Sancorp tempt the CWI with a large donation, but Underwood pressures Claire to turn it down (he doesn’t like to owe favors). Underwood spreads a rumor that David Rasmussen (the House majority leader) is running against Bob Birch as the Speaker of the House, a claim Rasmussen hastily denies. Underwood sets up a coup to back Rasmussen, led by Terry Womack and the black caucus. To secure Womack’s loyalty in this scheme, he makes a deal to keep an Air Force base in his district open and forces Russo to let a shipyard close back home in Pennsylvania. Birch and Underwood oust Rasmussen and replace him with Womack as the majority leader. Zoe gets fired from the Washington Herald and moves to a more cutting-edge publication, Slugline.com.


Chapter Five: Back in education bill negotiations, Marty Spinella, the teachers’ union lobbyist, threatens to walk away from negotiations because Underwood removed collective bargaining from the bill, a key provision for the teachers. Spinella warns of a teachers’ strike over the issue. Meanwhile, Jim Matthews, former governor of Pennsylvania and current VP, has left a vacant seat in his home state. The DNC is trying to figure out who to replace him with, and Underwood volunteers a cleaned up Peter Russo. Meanwhile, the CWI’s fundraising gala is blocked because the hotel workers are in unions controlled by Marty Spinella, so the Underwoods decide to host the gala on the front steps. They raise nearly all of the money Claire previously turned down from Sancorp.


Chapter Six: The teachers’ strike organized by Marty Spinella is in full swing and children are out of school. The president gives Underwood one more week to fix the strike, and Underwood knows the bill won’t get past Republicans in the house with collective bargaining included. Claire invites Meetchum, the Underwoods’ bodyguard, into their home for coffee. While he’s inside, Doug Stamper throws a brick through the window (but we don’t know it’s him). This becomes a media story, with the theme of “disorganized labor” including angry teachers out of school. Spinella and Underwood debate on CNN. Underwood embarrasses himself and loses miserably (while also becoming a meme). Peter Russo agrees to run for governor, with a platform anchored by a watershed bill led by the CWI that will replace some of the jobs lost by the shipyard closing. Underwood and Stamper listen to the police scanner until they find a child killed outside of school and blame Spinella. Underwood and Spinella meet alone in an office on the hill; Underwood provokes Spinella until he punches him in the face. Arrested for attacking a congressman or ending the strike? Underwood wins this round.


Chapter Seven: The education bill is signed into law, a landmark victory for Underwood. He now has the full faith of the White House. There’s trouble in Peter Russo’s campaign: he can’t handle his past, and the prostitute he was pulled over with is demanding more money for her silence. Russo is planning to drop out when they bring in his girlfriend, Christina Gallagher, to be by his side. Janine Scorsky at The Herald writes a profile on Russo as he runs for governor. Underwood and Stamper hide the prostitute at another staffer’s house until the election is over.


Chapter Eight: The Underwoods attend the inauguration of a library in Frank’s honor back at The Citadel, his alma mater. Remy is upset that Claire turned down his donation and thinks the watershed will negatively affect drilling and therefore Sancorp. Russo is out campaigning; he gets reamed at the town hall meeting and scrambles to come eye-to-eye with his constituents. After laying on a thick coat of tough Philly charm, he gets the endorsement of local figures, and the gubernatorial race is back on.


Chapter Nine: Zoe and Frank end their “arrangement” after Janine tells Zoe that sleeping with people to get stories doesn’t work out in the long run. The CWI’s water filters are stuck in Sudan, and Catherine Durant won’t lift a finger to help Claire (but Sancorp will). In exchange, Remy wants her to kill the watershed bill. She convinces two members of Congress not to back the bill, behind Frank’s back, and the bill dies. Russo and Underwood are upset and want to know who lied.


Chapter Ten: Zoe informs Underwood that Claire was the catalyst in the watershed bill failing. Underwood yells at Claire, and she yells right back that they haven’t been on the same page in months, and that she had to put her organization’s priorities first. She leaves to go stay with her old fling, Adam Galloway, for the week. Russo lashes out at Underwood because the bill failed. Underwood and Stamper plan to use the now ex-prostitute they’ve been rehabilitating to get Russo drunk and cause him to throw the governor’s race.


Chapter Eleven: Russo drunkenly botches a live radio interview and promptly drops out, relapsing completely. In his place, Underwood recommends to the president that Matthews reclaims his seat as governor of Pennsylvania and they replace him as vice-president. Underwood admits to Linda, the chief of staff, that he wants the VP for himself, and she agrees to help him. Underwood picks up a drunk Russo from the police station, drives him home, and then leaves him in the garage with the engine running. The death is ruled as a suicide.


Chapter Twelve:The president and Linda are interviewing candidates for the vice-presidency, while Janine and Zoe are digging into Underwood’s decisions. The president offers Raymund Tusk, a billionaire nuclear energy tycoon, the vice-presidency, and Underwood is livid. Underwood goes to vet Tusk, and in time he discovers that Tusk is actually vetting him. Tusk agrees to recommend Underwood if he’s allowed any favor in the future, and Underwood vehemently denies him. Janine and Zoe are getting closer to the truth.


Chapter Thirteen: Underwood and Stamper scheme to bring down Tusk’s fortune instead, using Sancorp. Tusk realizes what he’s doing and buys enough stock in Sancorp that they can’t cause any trouble. Doug finds out that Zoe and Janine know everything but aren’t aware that they’re correct yet. Tusk finds Underwood’s energy admirable and agrees to recommend him for the vice-presidency. At this point, we’re only waiting for Matthews to win.

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