House of Cards Season 3, Episode 12 Recap: The Marriage Plot

Trouble in paradise. Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix
House of Cards
Episode Title
Chapter 38
Editor’s Rating

As Dunbar takes the lead, the Underwood campaign wants Claire front and center. She demurs, essentially pointing out again and again that she is not the candidate. But Frank says she’s twice as popular as he is, so, “Let’s give the people what they want.” He does not seem particularly concerned with what Claire wants. He trots her out at events, where she waves like a queen and smiles like she really wants to be there. Girl even drops a few “y’alls,” in case you forgot, as I did, that she’s from Texas.

How much should Claire sacrifice for Frank? How much is she willing to give up? How much should he even ask of her? This is a marriage that is supposed to be an equal partnership — Claire is probably the only person on Earth Frank actually considers to be his equal — and they talk the talk of partners who see each other as peers. And yet, isn’t it always the way — when push comes to Metro tracks, it is Claire’s ambition that is sacrificed on the altar of Frank’s ascent. Claire is the one who makes the rounds, charming crowds who love her more than her husband, in order for someone else to get elected president; Claire is the one who lost her ambassadorship; Claire is the one who, all those years ago, got an abortion while Frank was running for office (did she think it would derail his campaign? Did she just not want kids then or ever?). Frank thinks his job offers the illusion of freedom, but Claire doesn’t even get to pick the color of her own hair.

Heather meets with Robert, who tells her he needs to step down from the bench. He asks her, one more time, to replace him on the Supreme Court. His reasons are the same as Frank’s were: “His motivations were atrocious, but his logic was sound.” “Your mind seems sharp as ever, Robert,” Heather says, except that Robert can’t remember her name. It’s such a sad little moment. She can’t drop out, she says, because she wants this too much. More than she thought she would. “I was blind to this, until now, what I am meant to be. And I am meant to be president of the United States.”

Here we must dispense with Tom. Dumb, naïve, ridiculous Tom. Are we supposed to believe that he would believe Frank would green-light this book? I don’t care how dedicated to transparency he or anyone is; no one would ever be like, “Oh, I don’t care at all that you telling the world I described my vows as ‘a suicide flirting with a bridge’s edge’ that time I was about to pass out from giving blood!” I’ve already had a hard time empathizing with Tom, who seems to be eagerly digging his own grave on the lawn outside the White House, but seriously: Could he be more of an idiot right now? 

Tom, at least, is not the only dummy in the room. Frank is realizing — perhaps a bit too late! — that this was a mistake. “We revealed too much,” says Claire, and again, this whole plot is stretching credulity awfully thin, considering Frank and Claire have been in politics for decades and never lose control. Tom is treating this whole endeavor like it’s about him, his writing and his book and his career. Tom, you were hired as a PR flack. The book is supposed to be a promotional tool for Frank’s campaign and America Works. It’s not a freaking tell-all, you scruffy, dopey child! Tom asks if Frank is afraid, again completely missing the point. “No, it’s just no one’s business,” Frank replies, one of the first reasonable things anyone says in this conversation. Then Frank points out that he could destroy Tom’s reputation by revealing “the authorship of your first book.”

Mitchum escorts Tom out with a “too bad about the book” in his best Regina George voice.

Tom goes and cries to Kate about it, but Kate — who, unlike Tom, is a grown-up and a professional — tells him to get over it.  “I’m not risking my reputation because your book is dead.” She points out that, as a journalist, she does not have the luxury of being precious and heartbroken every time a story of hers gets killed. Tom has to make it personal because he’s a whiny bratty boy: “I almost felt something for you.” Fare thee well, Tom, good luck with that non-starter of a novel. Kate will be busy breaking real stories about the Navy SEAL who definitely did not die in “a training exercise.”

Jackie calls Remy into her office. Is this the first time we’ve seen him wear something other than a suit? Casual looks good on you, Remy! She offers him a job with Team Heather, but Remy says he’s out of the game for good. He might not even stay in D.C. Jackie looks wrecked. He doesn’t have dirt on Claire, either. “If I did, I don’t know that I’d shovel it your way.” Later on, she goes to his place and they have sex, because of course they do.

Heather calls Doug, who is basically living in a caricature of darkness now, as his visage is reflected in the window of his microwave. Heather has changed her mind: She’ll use that journal, after all. She asks him how much he wants for it. “Betrayal doesn’t come cheap,” says Doug. Also, Doug will soon be searching for Gavin the way he was searching for Rachel as a way of continuing to search for Rachel because as long as Doug is suffering, so, too, must we suffer.

Then Heather meets with Frank, ostensibly to take herself out of the running and go for the SCOTUS spot, but we know better. They get together in that secret stairwell where Frank met Petrov, Frank shot from below as he perches atop the staircase for maximum dramatic effect. But he loses footing, and quickly: Heather tells him she knows about Claire’s abortion and has the journal to prove it. “So,” says Frank, walking right up to her, “you’re finally one of us. The men, in their smoky back rooms.”

Frank looks to us to say: “She can go after me all she wants. But she goes after Claire and I’ll slit her fucking throat in broad daylight.” The thing is, though, Claire needs his support, and it’s not because of anything Heather wants to do. Frank seems to think that life is just a series of grand gestures, that it doesn’t matter how he treats people in his day-to-day life so long as he comes along every once in a while with a big, pull-out-all-the-stops move. So he can slowly let his relationship with Claire disintegrate — by taking her for granted, by ignoring her obvious unhappiness — but he thinks swearing he’ll murder anyone who “goes after Claire” will somehow absolve these other failings.

After telling Frank she’ll “keep waving my pom-poms,” Claire comes across a woman who, despite the Underwood 2016 lawn signs in front of her house, is voting for Dunbar. This real woman is kind of offbeat and tells Claire how she sometimes fantasizes about suffocating her baby in her crib so she can start over on her own, but I like her.

Claire gets the call from Frank about the journal, and Robin Wright just kills it: Claire falls apart, her whole body trembles, her voice is just this helpless, little whisper.

Turns out she has nothing to worry about, though. Doug’s plan, all along, was to get back in with Frank. He lights the journal on fire right there in the Oval Office. Then he reports that he’s been sober for 87 days; this, plus his complicated but I guess impressive demonstration of undying loyalty, is enough to earn him a job back as Frank’s chief of staff. “How can I know I can ever trust you again?” Frank asks. Doug’s reply: “Because I just lit $2 million on fire.”

Doug calls Heather and passes the phone to Frank. ““I have only one thing to say: Go fuck yourself.” He looks at us, high on destruction. “Christ, that felt good.”

But when Frank reports this update to Claire, she is — rightfully — outraged. Frank didn’t consult with her. Frank, who would supposedly kill for Claire, can’t even keep her in the loop. And judging by the end of the episode, this is one indignity too far for Claire. “We’ve been lying for a long time, Francis.” He thinks she’s talking about the voters, but she corrects him. “Not to them. To each other.”