House of Cards
Have you seen the Slugline headlines? Cathy Durant is a potential presidential candidate. Heather Dunbar is still on the map. Frank needs a majority, Claire is still in play, and everyone at CNN is so fired up they practically have confetti spurting out their ears. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
Claire spends most of this episode away from that action, though, even as her every move is made with the convention in mind. This seems to be a recurring sonic theme this season: Claire is in a space so quiet it’s almost suffocating, while Frank is immersed in the noise, the circus, the chaos. In Texas, an eerie calm has settled over the estate which Claire, not too long ago, threatened to sell out from under her dying mother. Elizabeth has never heard of Tom Yates — she stopped reading new stuff after Cheever — but it doesn’t take long before our novelist-in-residence has her thoroughly charmed.
Lest you think Lizzie is softening as she nears the end, worry not; while she’s batting her eyelashes so hard at Tom I’m afraid they’ll fly off her face, she’s still saying things to Claire like, “Did you come to take stock of everything you’re going to inherit when you die? Must be convenient, having a dying mother whenever you need an excuse to skip town.”
Leave it to Elizabeth to say the most hideous, obvious truth: It is, in fact, very convenient for Claire to have a dying mother. Maybe more convenient than Elizabeth even realizes as she tosses off that Dallas Dowager Countess line.
When next we see Tom, he’s decked out in one of Elizabeth’s head wraps and her rings and is pretending to tell her past by reading her palm — “You were a consort to Rasputin!” — and Claire discovers, in Elizabeth’s things, a satchel of baby teeth. Are we touched that Elizabeth kept it after all this time? Is it sweet or a tiny bit creepy (of all the keepsakes in all the world) or is it maybe just something Elizabeth forgot she was holding on to?
On the work front, Claire nixed all of Tom’s speech. “It wasn’t good.” “Is that what you’re going to do here after she dies?” Tom asks. “Cross everything out because it wasn’t good?” I get that Tom’s role in this ecosystem is to be the person everyone else tells things to, the guy around whom, for reasons no one completely understands, even the Underwoods let down their guard. I wish I bought it more.
Frank heads to D.C. to take care of ICO, and not at all to influence his chances in the election, definitely he would never do that, where would you even get that idea? “I don’t use national security matters for political purposes.” He will simply use national security matters to force Cathy to be in the same room as him, and he will order her a Cobb salad even though she doesn’t like them, just to make her talk. Cathy lets Frank know that she saw through his manipulative behavior and has known for some time that he only “pretended to try” to make things work out for her. “You had the gall to take me by the hand, look me in the eye, and lie to my face.” Ooof, Cathy, if you only knew what he really had the gall to do. “Either Claire’s votes come my way or I turn the convention upside down.” She threatens to go on-camera and tell the world that Conway and Brockhart were right about ICO and Frank bungled this whole thing.
Claire falters, maybe because she’s watching her mother go toe-to-toe with her mortality. She floats the idea to Frank that they just give Cathy what she wants, but Frank is firm. “She’s completely helpless,” Claire says of her mother. “But we’re not helpless,” Frank says. “We can turn this around.” And what can Claire do for Elizabeth? “We can make her comfortable,” the hospice nurse says.
What follows are, we know and they know, the last conversations Claire and her mother will ever have. When Claire was small, she used to ask her mother to make the dark stop. “And I promised you I would, in the morning.” Oh, that’s cute as hell. Elizabeth was so jealous of Claire, in her naïve belief that “you could make the sun rise.” (Anyone else VERY relieved that conversation didn’t go to a weird place with Lizzie being jealous of how close Claire was with her dad? We can all exhale now, friends.) Elizabeth is ready to die and Claire — who has been accessory to many a homicide in which the victim would have preferred to survive, thank you very much — says she can’t do it. Elizabeth, stone cold dame ‘til the icy end, levels Claire with the truth: “It’d help you win. Having your mother gone. Do this for me, and let me be a help to you, finally.”
This moment of mother-daughter intensity is undercut, somewhat, by the fact that Elizabeth wants Tom to be there. I mean, really? This guy she barely knows? Okay, sure, I guess so. Claire’s into it, so let’s do this. Claire starts putting droplets of morphine in her mother’s mouth, and not that the payoff would be worth it but it makes me think: Is this why Doug was giving himself booze through a syringe way back when? So it could be the start of a recurring visual? No matter, this whole sequence is impossibly sad. And we’ll never know if Claire did it because her mom wanted her to, or because it would, as Elizabeth said, help her win, or both, or some other secret reason she won’t reveal. Claire and Elizabeth hold hands. Her breathing slows, and then it stops.
As if that isn’t enough intensity for one episode, the scene that follows finds Cathy meeting Frank in the Oval Office. Frank is telling Cathy about the Telegraph story already making the rounds about her non-involvement with Petrov. “Cathy Durant is functional, Claire Underwood is formidable.” At first, Cathy doesn’t seem too rattled. “I’m not scared of you. My endorsement of Dunbar, that makes for an even better story.” But Frank knows he has the best story: Claire’s mother just died. And you can see all the light drain from Cathy’s pores. She doesn’t even know, it’s about to get so much worse: Kevin Spacey fires on all cylinders for this riff about Frank’s vivid hallucinations. He describes exactly what happened, how Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes were lurking in his subconscious, with “cigarettes, razor blades, sex — it was terrifying! All I wanted to do was get out of this room.”
“But of course it makes sense that they would have haunted me,” he says. “Because it’s all true. Everything Lucas Goodwin claimed. I killed them both.”
Cathy stops breathing, I’m pretty sure.
“But nobody believes it. And nobody ever will. Because that’s how good we are at making things disappear.”
He holds up a letter opener like he’s about to stab her, and then he bursts out laughing, “No, we didn’t kill anybody! But we would have. If it was necessary.” The sequence reminds me of that conversation from Breaking Bad, in which Hank and Walt go through Gale’s old lab notebook and see the W.W. inscription, then Hank jokes, “Walter White?” And Walt holds his hands up: “You got me!”
I don’t know if Cathy thinks Frank actually committed the murders, but it looks like something is dawning on her, and she now understands just what he’s capable of doing. He tells her she will hand over her delegates and do what he wants or he “will never, ever forget.” Does she understand now? Cathy arches an eyebrow and nods: “Yes.”
“Good!” Frank says, chipper as ever. “Now let’s go decide what we’re going to do about these terrorists.” And you can just feel Cathy thinking: What about this terrorist, right in front of me?
At the DNC, Cathy does quite the convincing impression of someone who is happy to be saying what she’s only saying because she has a virtual gun to her head (or, as the case may be with Frank, a virtual neck over the Metro tracks). She introduces the First Lady as “Claire Hale Underwood,” just like Elizabeth suggested.
Claire then gives what is, without a doubt, the best speech of the season. Like Frank does with Cathy, she is able to deploy the truth in a way that reveals and hides her true intentions in equal measure. “What am I doing here?” she asks. “I’m here because my mother wanted me to be.” And then she slips, easy as pie, into the lies, the lines so glib that the Elizabeth we know would be appalled to learn they’re being attributed to her. The Conways “may be tough, but they’re not Texas tough.” Ugh, can you imagine? Lizzie the lizard killer would never. But the crowd is smitten, Claire is killing it, and a spooky, ominous rendition of the House of Cards theme rises in the background as the ayes have it, and Frank and Claire, arm in arm, accept the nomination. They walk out together just oozing victory. What a gorgeous shot.
Oh, did you think we were out of room for Doug and Seth? There is infinite space on the internet for exactly this purpose!
After Leann reveals to Doug that Seth outed his not-so-subtle vetting efforts, Doug summons Seth to his hotel room. Seth, maybe don’t go! Have you considered not going? I feel like a lot of the problems people have on this show could be avoided if, given the opportunity to turn down an invitation, everybody RSVP’d “sorry can’t make it” and fired up Netflix from the safety of their couches. But no, as Doug stares at his open mini bar — backlit booze, so tempting — Seth knocks on the door. He is brazen, so very confident Doug won’t kill him or fire him because the PR would be too bad. “This scorched earth policy is bad for us,” Seth says, and he’s not wrong. He leaves and Doug donates $5,000, with his name on it, to the Moretti Foundation, a risky-as-hell decision I’m sure won’t backfire at all. Oh God, is Doug’s new addiction focused acts of kindness?
As for our intrepid reporter, the lighting has improved in Herald Tom’s apartment, which I take as a good sign. He’s making slow, steady progress, mapping out where Frank’s motorcade has traveled. He invites Heather over and shows her his months of work, the things her team never discovered because they followed the money (usually a good call) but not the manipulated travel logs. “If he’s covering up travel, who knows what else he’s covering up?” Guys: It’s two homicides. That’s what else he’s covering up. Maybe weak-link Remy Danton will cave and connect some dots?