All Commentary
Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Live Blog: House of Cards Season 5, Episode 2

There is something about Frank Underwood’s maniacal laugh that can send chills down a viewer’s spine.


There is something about Frank Underwood’s maniacal laugh that can send chills down a viewer’s spine. While there are surely some politicians who make the wrong choice for what they believe to be the right reasons, Frank Underwood has never been that human. His every word and every handshake is a calculated effort meant to meet very specific ends that serve him and him alone.

“No one else tells any American when to shake in their boots.”

This characterization of Frank Underwood is re-examined and reinforced in the second episode of the fifth and latest season.

Fear is Un-American

“No one else tells any American when to shake in their boots,” President Underwood declares in an emergency governor’s meeting as he issues an executive order for enhanced border restrictions.

Justifying his use of executive authority Frank echoes the sentiment expressed by George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 when he claimed that the Constitution is, “just a piece of paper,” rather than a binding limit to authority as the Founders had so fervently hoped.

Stating that his authority to rule by executive order was granted to him “by our Constitution and the laws of our land including section blah blah of the blah blah act of title blah blah.”

“We are engaged in the battle of our time.”

Breaking the fourth wall (a signature element of the show), Frank explains exactly what his true motives are: using the fear he just describes as “un-American” to get the governors on his side. Since the country is feeling vulnerable after the televised beheading of an American on American soil, the president is attempting to have each state set up safe space voting centers for Election Day to ensure that all voters feel that democracy is sufficiently protected. Just like every other action taken by Frank Underwood, this one is meant to directly and favorably impact his own reelection campaign.

Border Restrictions

“We are engaged in the battle of our time,” President Underwood says as he defends his decision to close and secure American borders.

“The past doesn’t disappear on command Francis, even for presidents.”

In the real political world, there has been much debate over how to handle the threat of ISIS in America. Donald Trump stirred controversy by proposing heightened border security and restricting who is allowed to enter the country. There is no doubt that this plotline was intended to represent this debate in the real word.

As many of the governors protest President Underwood’s call for heightened border security, however, Frank realizes his only way to win over these state leaders is to create a crisis that leaves them no choice but to capitulate to his whims.

Never Allow Yourself to be Overcome with Smoke

Near the end of the episode, Frank shows the viewers how to properly start a fire, clearly symbolic of the chaos brewing at the hands of the executive office.

The first thing the fictional president tells us is to make sure the damper is open, after all, you should “never allow yourself to be overcome with smoke.”

As the headlines and the First Lady keep reminding him that, “the past doesn’t disappear on command Francis, even for presidents,” the fictional commander in chief knows that it is time to really kindle the fire.

Since the show has touched on government surveillance in the past, it was interesting to see it briefly touch on the importance of the smartphone app Signal, when there is sensitive information needing to be transmitted.

Ironically enough, whereas most people who send texts or make phone calls via Signal do so to avoid interception from state agencies like the NSA, in this episode the private texts are being sent from the NSA’s headquarters.

Fearing that public opinion is not shifting in his favor, President Underwood plans a false-flag cyber attack on all forms of communication and transportation in order to press upon the country the severity of the ICO threat.

State-Sponsored Terrorism

As the attack unfolds and transportation infrastructure and telecommunications service begins to be disrupted, the president has the choice to remedy the problem quickly, or hold out and risk exposure to maximize the greatest amount of fear possible. In true Frank Underwood-style, he chooses the latter.

Proving just what an evil political genius Underwood is, the brilliance of his plan is revealed when the governor from Ohio, previously opposed to his executive order, calls the president from a payphone, to tell him he has his full support. Again, fear is a powerful incentive.

As the episode comes to a close, the fearless president addresses the nation saying, “Events like these underscore the urgency of my request to Congress for a declaration of war.”


  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.