House of Cards Recap: I Just Called to Say I Hate You

House of Cards

Chapter 55
Season 5 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood. Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix

Those first two episodes had me nervous that this season would be quite the slog, but “Chapter 55” is a reassuring one. Sure, the episode is not without its come the hell on elements — all of which will be duly mocked in this recap, for I do not take this sacred duty lightly — and we are still hearing about but not seeing my favorite HoC couple, Jackie and Remy (who is maybe too famous for this show, post–Moonlight and Hidden Figures). Also, the central conflict of this episode and the way the main characters react to it are beyond illogical; do not fret, we will get to that in a moment. Nevertheless, it features some of HoC’s finest stuff: the loving, complex history shared by Frank and Claire, people with secrets on the verge of being outed, and something very close to plot progression. It’s actually Election Day! (I also feared that this entire season would fill the two weeks leading up to that moment, and readers, I would not have survived it.)

In the category of “obviously you would never do that, for about eight billion reasons,” Conway is spending the 24 hours leading up to Election Day pulling an all-nighter and playing Chatroulette with America, sponsored by Pollyhop. As if anyone would think getting zero sleep and taking no breaks from the camera for a full 24 hours is a good idea for a presidential candidate the day before the election, and as if these callers and questions wouldn’t be vetted beforehand. Also, the least plausible aspect of this deeply implausible plot is that none of the callers is naked, wearing a swastika armband, or both.

Before this ridiculous telethon ensues, an ad put out by a super-PAC called “Americans for Truth” (lol) shows Conway doing his best Kennedy portrait pose while a bunch of people talk about the heroism of his vague act of wartime bravery he’s conspicuously uncomfortable describing in detail. Look, Conway already holds elected office and he has been campaigning for the presidency for at least a year. How has he not come up with a bulletproof — war pun! — story and just stuck to it? Why is he still so obviously skittish and weird and evasive whenever this comes up?

How’s Conway doing? Tom, the perceptive novelist, tells Claire that Conway is “hiding something.” Where would Claire be without these illuminating insights?

Of course, because no one is screening the questions, some Nic Cage–looking bro in a bathrobe asks about the Miller kidnapping and, duh, a plant from the Underwood campaign presses Conway on the details of his rescue mission. Making matters even more intense: This plant is none other than the man Conway saved, Squire, and his brother. (Of all the names in all the world, the guy is named Squire? WTF. No wonder this show includes two major characters named Tom.) The Squire brothers cannot get Conway to fess up to anything, though, and they tell Leann to scram because they’ve been through enough.

A moment for Leann: She is not and will never be as wholly committed to Frank as Doug, who bends to his master’s will like light through a prism. Frank undermines Leann at every turn and gets frustrated that, unlike Doug, she has not revealed “the contents of [her] soul.” I love when Leann says Doug’s “skill set doesn’t really apply here,” because Doug’s “skill set” basically consists of (1) staring at, but not consuming, alcohol (2) making pretty brunettes feel extremely uncomfortable, and (3) committing weirdly drawn-out homicides.

Frank is distraught because he’s losing his voice. Could it be very clunky symbolism for his panic about losing his political power?! We can’t be too sure; better shotgun honey from a squeezy bear to be safe. Also, because Conway’s ad is working and Frank feels like he’s losing. “Do they know what we have done to get this far?” Frank bellows over the phone to Claire. In my notes I write: If they did, you would be in prison.

Cathy alerts Frank to a Syrian national with strong ICO connections named Mohammad Kalabi. There are four guys by that name in the U.S. and one just arrived from Afghanistan by way of Canada. Frank says it’s too late for this information, and I say: Cathy, retire already! Go drink sangria on a beach somewhere in Mexico. You’ve earned it.

Novelist Tom is hovering over Claire and Frank. This is grating to Frank, and also to me, and even to Claire, who probably never feels closer to Frank than in these heightened political moments, within grasp of the shared goals upon which their entire relationship is based. I’m reminded as these two divide and conquer a stump speech that, while last season’s big to-do was about the controversial and unprecedented move to make Claire her husband’s running mate, we’ve heard virtually nothing about it this season. Is the public just cool with this? Seems unlikely to me.

Meanwhile, Doug is out on henchman duty, whisper-growling to Jim Matthews about how he “fucking lied, straight-up, to the president of the United States.” Such a betrayal cannot stand for Doug, who decides it’s time to federalize the National Guard in Pennsylvania. When Doug reports to Frank that all his efforts have come to nothing, Frank tells Doug — a man he has trained to do exactly this — that he “pushed too hard.” If you listen closely, you can hear Doug whimper like a lost puppy. He goes to a dive bar to tempt himself with the devil’s juice, uses his shitty government salary to buy rounds for everyone else at the bar, and storms off without taking a sip. Also, I’m pretty sure the woman he barely pays attention to during sex is the transplant widow from last season.

At the residence that night, Frank watches Claire and Tom sleep, much like a normal husband might do. I literally laughed out loud when Claire said Tom “hums in his sleep sometimes,” like the sentient Instagram filter he is. He’s annoying even when he’s unconscious! This does not surprise me.

Anyway, Frank makes the bizarre decision to call into Conway’s telethon and they proceed to have a very mature pissing contest in the middle of the night.

In the midst of all this is something weird with Seth and Bridget, whom we met last week and who asked Seth to testify against Doug Stamper. (Well, she asked him for dirt on Frank, and Doug was the consolation prize.) Seth won’t do it if he can’t be anonymous, and after threatening her — or warning her? — with revenge porn some shitty guy made, he walked away from the deal. Bridget shows up to watch Seth be supremely douchey — trying to get “a skosh more reverb” on a mic during sound check — to flirt with him and thank him for alerting her to said sex crime, which she has had scrubbed from the internet.

The best and worst parts of this episode follow. First, the good: a beautifully shot scene in which Frank and Claire act along with Double Indemnity, an Election Day tradition from the earliest days of their marriage. If you can forget about all the lies and murder and stuff, this is an adorable ritual. Their dialogue is sharp and sweet at the same time: “I made you kiss me.” You didn’t make me kiss you. I wanted to kiss you.”

But bad news — along with the episode’s real weakness — comes crashing in: Frank hears from Doug that turnout is low. Way lower than expected. To this I say: WAS THIS NOT THE ENTIRE FREAKING POINT OF THE PAST TWO EPISODES? What was Frank trying to do by closing a bunch of polling places and consolidating them into heavily armed voting centers if not to reduce turnout? Yes, this strategy made zero sense when they came up with it, not least because Frank is a Democrat, but their reaction to this result makes even less than zero sense.

Doug deals with this baffling situation by going into the Oval Office, pulling out a desk drawer, and carving his initials into the bottom. I thought he was going to go with “D.S. + F.U. 4EVER,” but people can really surprise you.

House of Cards Recap: I Just Called to Say I Hate You