As you may have anticipated in the previous episode, Claire and Frank are not adjusting well to their current situation. Claire is the acting president, but Frank sees her strictly as a placeholder for him. He wants everyone to defer to his judgment, even though those kids at the White House tend to take protocol pretty seriously (present real-life administration excluded). But as far as everyone but Frank is concerned, Claire is the president, no asterisk, no nothing, until whoever comes along next takes the oath of office.
Claire, like many a brilliant and hyper-capable woman before her, has to constantly cater to Frank’s massive ego even though she should just be able to do her thing, because she’s the president and he is not. Can you imagine if their roles were reversed? Would Claire be interrupting Frank in every meeting, talking over him in the Situation Room, answering questions that were obviously directed at him? Please. And if she did, would Frank react with the cool grace Claire deploys here? Okay, end of thought experiment, on with the recap.
We see the Underwoods with their backs to each other, readying themselves for the day and arguing hard. We get a “GROW UP!” and a “You are pathetically mistaken,” and a “Wake up, Claire. WAKE UP!” all before breakfast. This fight is about the fact that Claire agreed to accept the nominee Mark (who, in order to make this show unnecessarily confusing, they suddenly refer to by his last name, Usher) picks for the vacant SCOTUS seat. In other words, Frank is being a baby about how he isn’t in control of this, and everything else, everywhere and forevermore.
The tension is plain in the Situation Room where Frank, though still seated to Claire’s right, is firmly on his side of the table. He undercuts her and questions her judgment in public, because he is a viciously insecure man who can’t watch his wife live in her power for 30 seconds without feeling threatened. This baddie with ICO connections has been spotted and the question is, take him out now or watch him in the hopes of getting a bunch of ICO contacts too? In a shocking twist, Frank wants to do the thing that makes the biggest boom and he wants it now. Though some generals advise the alternate route of eyeing him for intelligence, Claire agrees with Frank.
As this happens, Doug and LeAnn get their hands on a juicy recording of Brockhart uttering this treasonous tidbit: “If Underwood puts soldiers on those borders, I’ll be the first to tell them not to listen. If the president of the United States gives orders like that, you put him out of his misery.” Ruh-roh. Also inspiring some ruh-roh feelings: the increasingly flirtatious banter between Doug and LeAnn. Literally no attractive brunettes are safe around Doug.
Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson, hi!) appears as a deputy secretary whose official job title doesn’t seem as important as her off-the-record contacts in the Middle East who have done business with ICO and can help nail down this at-large baddie. For a very, very brief moment, she, Claire, and Cathy are all in the Oval together. It ends in a hot second, but I just have to say: It looked so good, seeing the Oval Office with only women in it. Guess it’ll be a while until we see that again.
This striking visual shatters almost as quickly as it’s assembled, because Claire and the gang are getting evacuated. A truck carrying radioactive material has gone missing. How do you lose a truck that is loaded with barrels of the stuff that turned Alex Mack into a glowy, meltable superhero? Claire’s first reaction is to ask Frank if it’s real. They’ve been behind so many false alarms in the past, they doubt the veracity of everything. Maybe they even invented ICO! (I don’t really think they invented ICO.)
Frank is edgy about everything, mostly his lack of real authority. I love when Nora, rogue staffer, yells at Frank for acting like he’s in charge. (Thank goodness Claire did not accept her resignation. I get why Nora had to apologize, but I also wish she hadn’t.) Frank is in such denial about his status. Claire knows where she belongs, though: She’s wearing an army-green top with small gold buttons connected by delicate chains, fashion that mirrors military decorations. Also, her hair looks perfect.
Jane Davis is all skittish about being locked in this massive safe underground — “Honestly, I was thinking about how far down we are and how it’s not my favorite thing” — which is also how I would react to this scenario. No one knows exactly how she has the level of security clearance that got her into this very exclusive bunker, but by the end of the episode, Claire determines that Jane can be quite useful. Claire also has a little nuzzle session with Tom, assuring him that she was worried about him all day, but I rejoice in the awareness that Claire didn’t think Tom was important enough to be protected from death by radioactive explosion.
Frank angry-shouts his way out of the bunker so he can find out if this is a real terrorist threat or some play by the Brockhart-Conway team to get the Underwoods to evacuate D.C., causing mass panic and dipping Frank and Claire’s approval ratings. When he returns to the White House proper, he passes a portrait of Bill Clinton. Interesting choice, not just because of the obvious parallels House of Cards wants to make between these two power couples. No one ever mentions Bill or Hillary in this show; you’d think, if Bill were president in the world of HoC, then Hillary would also be a factor, and she would have at least come up in all of these conversations about running for office. (Veep avoids this altogether by not mentioning anybody after Reagan.) Anyway, Frank visits his old seat behind the Resolute Desk. He looks very small back there.
The above-ground general who meets with Frank all but tells him the threat isn’t real, pointing out that General Braeger — the dude in the bunker with the mustache whom Frank does not like — is very close with General Brockhart. “You know, what you people protect best is each other,” Frank says to her, and then he flips out about how this was an attempted coup and it’s like: FRANCIS, YOU WERE PRESIDENT BECAUSE OF YOUR COUP. Isn’t there a political equivalent of game recognizing game? At least be like, “Wow, great idea for a coup. I also love a good coup.” Don’t act so scandalized. We know your whole deal.
General Braeger, now found out, resigns but refuses to implicate anyone else in this ill-advised endeavor. “You don’t deserve to be in the White House,” he snarls at Claire. “Neither you nor your husband.” Unlike Frank, who would have ruined the moment with an endless, bombastic monologue about greatness and nothing, Claire’s farewell is calm, brief, and all the more powerful for it.
Later on, as Frank putzes around with his toy soldiers, he admits Claire was right about the need to sit down with Mark for this whole SCOTUS thing. She eyes his battlefield. “I know it’s obvious, but it always strikes me — no women.” “Well you know my position,” Frank says. “I’m all for women in combat.”
Frank has photos of Tom having sex with the tour guide, and I’m not really sure what to do with that because it’s not like Tom and Claire are exclusive. Does Frank think Claire will be appalled at this desecration of a room dedicated to our free press?
Claire summons Mark to the Oval, where Frank is also waiting. She chastises him for this pesky little fake terror threat — “No more October surprises” — and I write in my notes, Wait, isn’t anyone doing the thing where they actually run the country? Or has this place just been spinning out for months while these guys try to outmaneuver each other with terrorism that isn’t happening and threats that aren’t real? Then Frank plays the Brockhart recording. We close out on Claire, looking like the boss she was destined to be.
Meanwhile, our friends at the Herald are making some headway: Tom is looking into the day Doug Stamper was carjacked and manages to connect it, through both timing and geography, to Rachel’s last known address. He hunts down the landlord of Rachel and Lisa’s apartment, then confirms that this guy recognizes Doug as the person who paid the rent. (Before all this, he makes a cameo on CNN and talks in such a huge pile of awful reporter clichés — “the silence is deafening,” ugh, come on Tom — that he should be sent to journalism jail. Sean sniffs around the transplant widow, not knowing that she’s fooling around with Doug. When she tells Doug that a reporter from the Herald came by to do a story on the foundation she started for her husband, Doug’s eyes flood with terror.
Sean also tells Seth that he wants to be considered for a comms job at the White House. What do we think: Is he going deep undercover or crossing over to the dark side?