An Analysis Of The “House Of Cards” Cryptic Teaser Trailer

Netflix has released a cryptic “House of Cards” season 3 trailer, featuring President and Mrs. Underwood as they come together from separate places in the early hours of the morning. Here’s a shot-by-shot synopsis of the 2:36 trailer, titled “The Full Quartet”:

  • We see Frank taking putting out a cigarette in order to take a call from Claire;
  • An assistant clearing away the ashtray as Frank exits, the camera lingers on the assistant walking away;
  • We hear the sound of a plane engine as the shot transitions;
  • Claire taking a call on a corded phone while an assistant delivers what a tray with glasses and a pitcher of water;
  • It is revealed that Claire is on a jet. The assistant sets the tray on a conference table in the jet and pours the water into the glasses. There is a large digital clock in the background;
  • Claire’s call dialogue: “Mmhmm? Yes, I think so. Yes, of course. No, I’ll wait til I get back. All right, I’ll see you soon”;
  • The camera pans across the digital clock. It reads: “22:59 LOCAL; 04:59 ZULU/UTC; 23:59 PRESIDENT.” When Claire hangs up the phone, the camera lands on the President’s time zone, and the numbers switch to read “00:00”;
  • A snare drum beats a march, and we are transported to the interior of the White House, a hallway lined with Presidential portraits; we see Reagan’s portrait on the left and Kennedy’s on the right; at the end of the hallway there is an indistinct portrait, but the man pictured is positioned as Ulysses S. Grant is in his portrait. The hall is decorated with vases of white flowers;
  • We cut to a shot of a couch in the hallway, underneath Kennedy’s portrait. There are tables with vases of white roses or tulips on either side, and we hear Claire’s footsteps echoing down the hallway as the music crescendos;
  • Cut to an American flag hanging on a pole. Claire and a man (presumably a bodyguard?) pass, and the shot lingers on the flag swaying in the wind they create as they walk by;
  • Claire ascends a marble staircase, and we see her pass a portrait of George Washington in the reflection of a mirror. As she continues to ascend, the camera pans up and reveals a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. We hear a door open and close;
  • Cut to a shot of Frank sitting on a couch with one leg crossed over the other. We hear the door open and close again. Claire approaches the couch, sits down, smooths her skirt, removes her Louboutins, and rubs her right ankle;
  • Frank asks, “Are you hungry?” Claire responds, “Starving.” Without speaking, Frank uncrosses his leg, stands, and walks out of frame, and Claire quickly follows, leaving her shoes on the floor in front of the couch. The camera pans in on the shoes, then the “House of Cards” logo and season 3 release date are displayed.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

So: Claire is arriving in Washington D.C. from the Midwest time zone (Zulu/UTC is the same as Greenwich mean time, so I’m not sure if it’s significant). It’s midnight, Eastern time. The clock resetting to zero over the word “PRESIDENT” would seem to mean that Frank is in “the zero hour,” meaning that a strike is about to begin, or a crucial decision must be made. Perhaps Claire — who is an hour behind him (“LOCAL”), is not susceptible to the same danger — and her being behind him is echoed at the end of the trailer, when she follows him out of frame.

Perhaps the portraits have some insight: The couch under Kennedy’s portrait is the same design as the couch on which Claire and Frank sit in another room of the White House. In Kennedy’s portrait, he is portrayed as being in deep thought, with downcast eyes; it bears noting, as well, that his portrait was painted posthumously. But the shot preceding that put what looks to be Ulysses S. Grant’s portrait center-frame: Grant led the Union Army in the Civil War, oversaw reconstruction, instituted the Gold Standard, notably defeated the Ku Klux Klan in the South, and enfranchised southern Blacks — but in his second term, he saw setbacks as conservative southern Whites instituted terror campaigns against their Black neighbors. He and his cabinet were also subjected to federal corruption investigations, which seems apropos in the context of Frank Underwood. So: Is Frank’s corruption finally catching up with him?

It’s interesting that we see so little of Frank, and so much of Claire. I think the image of her causing the American flag to sway might carry some symbolism: She is making the country move. When she ascends the staircase, the portraits of Washington and Lincoln are only made distinguishable after she has passed them, or perhaps eclipsed them. Is Claire becoming the Underwood who holds more power? Is Frank, symbolized by Reagan, Kennedy, and Grant, becoming less foundational to the presidency than Claire, who’s symbolized by Washington and Lincoln? It seems to be a play on the trope that “behind every great man is a great woman.”

But then, what about the shoes? Gosh, I do not know enough about the symbolism of feet or shoes to decipher what seems to be this crucial closing shot. Maybe it’s just a reiteration of Claire’s influence: High heels are distinctly feminine, distinctly associated with women, so maybe it’s just meant to cement the idea in our minds that Claire is going to play a much larger role in Frank’s career than she has in the last two seasons. The whole trailer makes Frank look like a shut-in and Claire look ambitious — she’s on Air Force One, she calls him. And she’s able to undress only around Frank, to leave her feet naked, to be who she is.

Welp, that’s my postulation about the general direction in which the season is going to head. I still don’t know about the title — “The Full Quartet” — and I had thought that there were only four characters shown in the trailer, but there are, in fact, five. So who knows? If you have any clue, discuss it in the comments!

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