House of Cards
Friends, I’m worried about Doug. What we’ve seen of his dwelling is certainly better lit than his gloomy Sadness Caves of seasons past, but his voice, like his spirits, just keeps getting lower and growlier. This dude is spinning out, and I have a feeling that his loyalty will do him in. When it finally comes out that Doug has been blunt-force-trauma-ing his way through the Underwoods’ “Official List of Enemies, Frenemies, Inconvenient Prostitutes, and Other Assorted Loose Ends,” do you think Frank and Claire are going to protect Mr. Stamper? Doug is the loosest end of all.
Doug starts falling apart in this meeting with Nathan, who says Lisa is basically clean. She’s just a girl in her 20s trying to make it to 30, like a rom-com heroine. “Nathan, there’s a bite to your tone that we might need to discuss,” Doug says in a very biting tone to a man who is speaking in a totally calm and normal way. Later, he just goes ahead and stalks Lisa, which really brings me back to a marginally more innocent time in this show, when Doug was all about that weird, spooky lurk. Remember how Doug lurked? A good lurk used to satisfy Doug for days. Now, he has to escalate his lurks to awkward confrontations that force a scrappy, hardworking single lady like Lisa to ditch all her groceries in the street so she can run away from him.
Early in the episode, we confirm that there was an American onboard that Russian vessel, and he froze to death while drowning in the ocean. Claire wants the body to get lost in transit, for sentimental reasons. (She knows his dental records will confirm his identity.) Now, did we need to see that Game of Thrones–esque photo of his icy, ocean-wrecked face? Apparently! Tom is also lurking, while Claire handles this secret business, because he has no friends, no family, no apartment, no independent interests, not even a gym membership —no, he ceases to exist beyond the walls of the White House. “You know when you freeze to death, the last thing you feel is extreme heat?” THOMAS. Claire is in the middle of a war crime. Now is not the time for your unfun facts. Save it for the underside of a Snapple cap.
Meanwhile, Jane Davis is already a one-woman supplier of all the best lines on this show. She brings with her a complicated, mostly secret history of connections to just about everyone important in D.C. and beyond. Whose side is she on and what, exactly, does she want? All Claire wants is Jane’s intel to take down the ICO Big Bad at large. But Jane says she can’t deliver on that until she knows what Aidan told Petrov, and Aidan isn’t revealing that information just yet. Jane also makes a play to hire LeAnn, and LeAnn dutifully reports back about this to Claire, who declines to reemploy her.
The weirdest game Jane is playing involves an impending gas attack. A tragic one, to be sure — you know, if it happens — that would all but require the U.S. government to send in 30,000 soldiers. In other words, the declaration-of-war committee would have to go back to debating, well, a declaration of war, and wouldn’t have the time to devote to Frank. Obviously, any sane person — in House of Cards, that means Cathy — would respond to this news with, “Well, if we know there’s going to be an attack, shouldn’t we try to prevent it?” Jane presents a different case to every single person she talks to and feigns surprise whenever given information she already knows. Claire grills Mark about Jane, while Frank grills Jane about Mark, in a neat little sequence that cuts back and forth between the interviews. Both are coy as hell, but generally acknowledge that the other person is ruthless. Which of them is the more slippery character, you think?
Also in the category of new faces I could get used to: this plucky, young Alex Romero, who no longer wants to be a whip. “What I want is for Francis Underwood to go to jail,” he tells Mark, who it turns out is an ally from years ago. Mark claims he wants to help Romero plan out “the next eight years,” but I have yet to trust a single thing Mark says to anyone, anywhere. Romero also seems skeptical, even though Mark (what a surprise) has dirt on him — dirt he declines to share with the Underwoods, for now. Later, we see Romero and Mark having some loud and profanity-laced confrontation, wherein Mark loses his cool and threatens to out Romero for his collusion with Conway about the committee.
Frank is hustling hard on that stationary bike, either because (1) he is metaphorically trying to stay ahead of his demons, or (2) he wants to stay fit for liaisons with his personal trainer. But he also points out to Claire that Tom “doesn’t really have a reason to be here anymore, does he?” Claire wants Tom to be a consultant, lol. It would be subtler if she just gave him a neon sign to wear that said “BOYFRIEND OF FLOTUS/VP.”
But if Frank really wants Claire to not want Tom around, he shouldn’t be such a dick to her all the time. As Claire and Frank strategize, Frank starts to make the same mistake he’s always making: He underestimates his wife. Claire knows everything, so Frank would be smart to remember and respect that. Instead, he says condescending things like, “I know what I’m doing, Claire. I’ve been president before,” as if she does not know exactly how he became president, and also as if she has not occupied that very same office. Frank’s attitude just pushes Claire further away from him and closer to Tom.
In bed, Claire asks Tom to tell her the worst thing he’s ever done. “Steal my dead friend’s novel and take all the credit, my B” is … not what he says. Instead, he says he pretended to love someone when he didn’t. I swear on sweet Cashew that I then wrote in my notes: “Imagine if Claire were like, ‘Cool, I’m an accomplice to SO many murders, you don’t even know.’” And then, as Zoe Barnes dies and doesn’t breathe, SHE ACTUALLY TELLS HIM THAT. I mean, not everything. But she does say, “Francis killed Zoe Barnes. Francis killed Peter. And so many more are gonna die.” CLAIREEEEEE. Tom tells her to stop. “You don’t scare me,” he says. “I should,” Claire replies. I agree! Tom should be scared, and also let her keep going! The body count is higher than you know.
In his continued idiotic campaign to ignore Claire’s wisdom, Frank refuses to heed her advice, and talks to Garrett Walker — the POTUS to his VP — before Garrett goes to testify before the committee. It is not a friendly chat. “You stole the presidency from me,” Garrett says, reminding Frank that he won by a landslide. I remember him as a largely ineffective and unconvincing president who never knew what he was supposed to do, but sure. Frank’s pep talk did the opposite of whatever it was intended to do, because even though Garrett’s attorney tells him to plead the Fifth, Garrett came to play. Did Frank Underwood have some boring and convoluted deal with Chinese billionaires in order to rig the election? “It appeared to me, he was one of its chief architects,” Garrett said. “It was his idea.”
Mark, who had but one job, gets booted from the room as Frank and Claire watch Garrett destroy them onscreen. They’ll let you know if they need you, buddy. Don’t toss those turtlenecks just yet.
Sean, the rogue reporter that he is, finds Meredith Lee, the former HHS secretary who Doug strong-armed into editing the transplant list so Frank could bump Anthony Moretti from the top spot. Then he meets up with Seth to spill his (correct! Stick with it!) instincts about Lee. Seth, in turn, tells Claire. “I don’t know why he’d make any of this up,” he says. Sean scores a quick visit to the White House, where Claire’s best response — not her swiftest, honestly — is, “If what you’re saying is true, Doug Stamper saved my husband’s life.” Sean makes a play for a White House job; Claire has Seth escort him out.
Sean is at least doing better than Herald Tom, who fired him. Tom realizes that this bulletin board that he’s left in full view of everyone in an unlocked office is missing a key piece: the photo strip of Rachel and Lisa. Did he seriously not scan and make copies of everything on that board? It isn’t backed up on the cloud somewhere? WHAT A DUMB-DUMB. Go directly to sloppy-journalist jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 or a prepaid flip phone.
LeAnn sees Aidan and gives him a gun she has stashed in her car, because she’s so Texas. The next time we see Aidan, he is dead, and there’s blood splattered all over the hotel pillows.
The final shot of the episode is so good: Jane shreds the frozen dead American’s file, then Aidan’s file, and we hear the mechanical sounds of erasure continue as the credits roll.