A field of men in red hooded capes gather around an intensely creepy statue in what appears to be some kind of Burning Man for the Über-influential. The statue is the “Crow of Elysium,” because, sure, if I were going to pick a bird to render in a larger-than-life size for trippy ritual worship, that’s the one I’d pick. The whole scene reminds me of that fraternity party where Buffy and Cordelia were going to be sacrificed to some giant snake-god so the brothers could stay wealthy and keep the keggers rolling. Turns out this crow prefers its sacrifice to be what appears to be a very slender Storm Trooper made of papier mâché.
Who turns around and whips off his golden mask at this soiree but Frank Underwood, who finally gained admittance into a club that both wants all the most powerful, influential, important men to be there but also bans women and all presidents. (Wait, what? I feel like that’s just what they told Frank as a way of getting out of inviting him last year. “Yeah bro, I know it sounds strange, but that’s because it’s a law written by the Crow from before the time of man. Otherwise, we’d for sure include you.”) Although no one explicitly says that the gathering bans black people, there are only two men of color in attendance that I could spot, and neither of them were called upon to do or say much of anything.
This little glamping trip for the one percent is held in some off-the-grid woodsy spot called Elysian Fields, a totally unpretentious reference to the paradise in Greek mythology where the gods would confer immortality upon humanity’s worthiest heroes.
Frank makes some grandiose statement to us about how only he, a mastermind among sloth brains, could “manage to reduce a national election down to one state.” Shh, nobody tell him that our national elections typically come down to a just a few states without the interference of any Underwoods, Ohio often numbering among them, and aspiring presidents tend to strategize accordingly.
Anyway, in spite of all the bizarre nonsense on display here — like, really, I’m supposed to believe Conway’s campaign manager and his running mate and Frank would just abscond to the reception-free wilderness with days to go before the Ohio election? And no one in the press tries to find out where they are? — I was excited about this bananas setup and the crazy possibilities it afforded the episode. Would Frank, by the cover of night and in the name of the Crow, kill somebody with his bare hands deep in the woods of Elysium? I’d be into that!
But unfortunately, what we got was Raymond Tusk. NOOOOOOO. I audibly groaned at the sight of this man, a mind-bogglingly boring and infuriating character whose contributions to House of Cards include several episodes about bird-watching.
This IRL bro huddle has one ground rule, and of course it is phrased as some annoying metaphor about bees, but basically you can’t talk about business or politics except everyone keeps sneaking around to talk about business and politics. Also in attendance at this Jamboree of Mansplaining (though if there are no women to whom a man can mansplain, is it still mansplaining?): Mark, the Conway campaign manager whose whole look is “what if Anderson Cooper were a ghoul who never wanted to fully expose his neck to daylight?”; Brockhart, the general who everyone insists is a “good man” until they get to know him and realize he’s a dirtbag like all the rest; and Benjamin from Pollyhop, the young tech entrepreneur who was working with Conway and is apparently helping Raymond Tusk cryogenically freeze his personality so he can continue to bore us from beyond the grave. Everyone in this field is the most insufferable person you’ve ever met, until you meet the person standing next to him.
As Frank launches into yet another monologue about the nature of power and victory, I can actually feel myself aging in real time. We get it, Frank: No one understands anything or is capable of anything or can do or say or think or become anything, except for you, for you are the most amazing, and power is like a bumblebee that buzzes through Gaffney, eating peaches and circling that water tower that looks like a butt even though it’s supposed to be a peach. Also, power is a different bee that doesn’t like peaches but exists only to sting your enemies, and the bee — whichever bee successfully stings the other bee in this double-bee metaphor — is a fickle mistress you can only tame through relentless pursuit and also the occasional homicide. Also, elections are decided not by the will of the people, but the schemes of a handful of the douchiest men you know from that one poli-sci seminar you took just to fulfill a graduation requirement.
Pollyhop Ben gives an off-brand TED talk about how Tusk’s facial likeness can be preserved in a data storage center in the desert for the rest of eternity, so we all have that to look forward to. Frank and Brockhart talk like spoken-word poets from your nightmares. Here is a real thing Frank says: “I like dirt and rocks and facts.” Here is a real thing that Brockhart says in reply: “I’m a patriot. I serve.”
It’s not really clear to me how one could crown Frank the winner of anything at this Overgrown Boy Scout Camp, but Mark is impressed, I guess? Frank is certainly convinced that his speech went over well. Just as Frank is leaving, Pollyhop Ben — who is drunk, as a person must be to tolerate this intolerable weekend — just hands over the recording of Conway being a psycho on the plane. So the plan is for Mark and Brockhart to blackmail Conway into letting them run everything. Not sure when in real life this scene was written and shot, but knowing what we now know about the non-impact of an objectively damning and disqualifying recording of a presidential candidate, this seems like a less than bulletproof plan. Oh well! Frank is ready to leak the tape and, as far as he’s concerned, destroy Conway’s chances. He and Claire summon Mark to the Oval and lure him to their side of the fight.
While Frank is busy with this lost weekend, Acting president Claire finally gets the chance to act like a president. Doug is so distraught without Frank around and always suggests they call Frank to get his opinion, but Frank — after working Doug into a tizzy about Tusk, but then insisting Doug actually do nothing with the intel — is unavailable. Doug is the kid who would tell the substitute teacher that you had a homework assignment due that day.
So this Russian research vessel is sinking into some very icy waters, and Petrov doesn’t want the U.S. to see what’s on board. Hmm. Petrov’s beard looks great, in my opinion. Claire disagrees, but I think we all know Claire’s taste in men is her greatest flaw. Claire tries to make the play to trade the crew for Aidan, but Petrov isn’t having it. He says that if Claire does send a rescue team, he will leak everything Aidan knows.
Complicating things further is the news that there’s an American on the boat. The U.S. is also sorting out some trade deal with China, and China is oh-so graciously offering to assist with the rescue. Jane says this is just for “humanitarian reasons,” but then reveals it’s actually tied up in the negotiation: No rescue and the tariff deal won’t go through. What is Claire to do? Also, how is Jane suddenly such a major player in the administration? We didn’t even know her before the last episode!
Claire says she doesn’t believe there’s an American onboard and insists on proof that, as Cathy points out, will be virtually impossible to obtain. Then she forces China to up the tariff as punishment for collaborating with Petrov and has China take all the credit for the rescue even though America was in on it. She lets the boat sink. Based on Jane’s ominous sign-off — “the American was the technology” — I think we are supposed to believe the American guy died on the boat and sank to the seafloor, frozen, just as Raymond Tusk hopes to be after death.
In other Claire updates: Tom loves Claire. Claire thinks she loves Tom, too. The woman Tom was seeing in New York was his theology teacher turned wife because of course she was. She probably read all his horrendous first drafts and told him that he was the most insightful, brilliant student she’d ever had, which explains everything.
At the Herald, I ask: COULD THIS PLOT PROGRESS AT A SLOWER PACE? I swear on the tracks of the Cathedral Heights Metro, is this portion of our fair program designed to drive all of us as insane as Lucas Goodwin’s manifesto sounds? Tom spends a few minutes flipping through disturbing photos of corpses (they are all beautiful young women, as they must be) and Angela gets the chills looking at Zoe’s old press pass, and … that’s it. At this rate, I’m sure Tom will crack the case right around the time Doug falls in love with a blonde.