House of Cards Recap: Watch Your Step

House of Cards

Chapter 64
Season 5 Episode 12
Editor’s Rating *****
Michael Kelly as Doug, Neve Campbell as LeAnn. Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix

We’ve spent most of this season watching Frank Underwood do so many things that he has no interest in, sucks at, or both. He’s monologued about power. He participated in a rich-man reenactment of Into the Woods or whatever. He watched Claire be the president. He even made room for awful-poet Tom in the residence. He hates all of these things, and he isn’t particularly good at them. So it was almost a comfort — nay, a joy — to watch Frank get back to doing what Frank does best: killing, maiming, and/or otherwise sidelining people who get in his way.

Cathy is a formidable, intelligent woman who knows right from wrong and has never been the sycophant Frank wants her to be, so it was only a matter of time before the Underwoods got rid of her. Now, was I expecting Frank to shove her down the stairs like Petra’s mom pushing Abuela in that episode of Jane the Virgin? I was not! Straight out of a telenovela, right? Frank can barely hide his non-panic as he yells out, “Help! Help! The Secretary has fallen!” I don’t know that we’ve seen Frank put those timely shove skills to use since he pushed Zoe onto the Metro tracks.

It’s not just Cathy who gets kicked to the proverbial curb/bottom of the staircase. By episode’s end, both Claire and Frank’s truest loves will be hit, hard, by ruthless life-ruiner machine that is the Underwood marriage.

Tom leaves Claire the worst gift any man can leave an ex: his manuscript. Ugh, on top of everything else, now she has to read his shitty first drafts? Tom has redacted large sections of the text — the parts that Claire told him and him alone — but naturally, the existence of this novel is bad news bears. Frank loses his cool, as is his standard m.o. these days, but maybe he’s just feeling edgy because reporters keep asking him questions like, “Hey, you’re about to get impeached, is now really the best time for this super-involved military operation in Syria?”

Or maybe it’s because Sean, Employee of the Month, shares the intel he stole from his sleeping girlfriend’s phone (not cool, Sean) about the Herald’s investigation. (Later we find out that some of the evidence was a plant by Tom and Angela, put in the email on purpose so Sean would see it and tattle on the Herald to Frank.) But as far as Frank knows, the Herald has everything it needs to prove Doug and Frank killed Zoe Barnes.

“Oh, Doug,” Frank says, with a sad shake of the head. “Poor Doug.” “Yes,” Claire replies slowly, a scheme manifesting in the air between them. “He’s an unlucky person,” Frank says. Claire almost smiles: “Always has been.”

Claire invites Doug to a dinner at the residence to “take a breath” and I write in my notes, MORE LIKE YOUR LAST BREATH, BUDDY, IT’S BEEN REAL, HELL IS LIKE A SADNESS CAVE YOU NEVER CAN ESCAPE. Then, in the guise of light banter, Claire asks if Doug and his brother are in touch. (I write: Sounds like someone is trying to find out if anybody is going to miss Doug, and if Frank won’t miss Doug, NO ONE WILL, for Doug has alienated everyone and also murdered that one girl he really liked, and it turns out the Moretti widow was just hate-fucking him that whole time.)

Instead of murdering him, to my surprise, the Underwoods level with Doug: The conversation escalates, one line at a time, as Doug keeps underestimating what Frank and Claire are telling him to do. He’ll resign! He’ll make a statement! Claire is the one who finally says: “We need you to implicate yourself in the death of Zoe Barnes.” The cover Frank weaves is practically the truth: Doug was drinking, he was unstable, he did do everything for Frank, he was too loyal. Doug can hear his heartbeat thudding in his ears.

He runs away to his office and opens a drawer full of — holy smokes, kids, it’s those singing birthday cards! DOUG IS THE LEAK, I REPEAT, DOUG STAMPER BETRAYED THE ONLY MAN HE HAS EVER CARED FOR. Then Doug goes to LeAnn, where he lies about killing Zoe Barnes but uses the confession to get out all his feels about blunt-force-trauma-ing Rachel to death. This mash-up admission does not convince LeAnn of anything. I don’t know that she believes Zoe’s death was an accident — although maybe for the people in the world of the show, aside from the Underwoods and the Herald staff, Zoe’s death wasn’t that major a news story and LeAnn hasn’t given it much thought.

About Tom’s book: Claire tells Frank about the manuscript and how it “alludes to things.” Though Claire promises to handle it, Frank just shouts over her. He will take care of it, thank you very much. “How could you be so stupid, to fall in love?” he sneers at her. I eagerly await the day Claire punches Frank in the face.

Did you think Claire was really going to leave this up to Frank? Of course you didn’t. She uses Mark’s house as a meeting spot for Tom, and the first thing he does — after telling her some boring story about how he used to love hiding (we get it, it’s a metaphor, it’s not that creative) — he asks Claire what she thought of the book. TOM, NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR NOTES. “You portray us like a couple of monsters,” Claire says, which, I believe it. Obviously Tom overheard more of the Underwood marriage than he ever let on, including a choice conversation on a flight back from Russia wherein Claire referred to herself as a murderer. “I know everything,” he says. “But isn’t that what you wanted?”

Robin Wright directed this episode, and I will take a break from tearing into Tom to note her excellent performance in this scene. She plays it all so well: Claire’s nerves, her conflicting emotions, her clarity of purpose, her sadness, her desperation. And maybe some of you saw Tom’s imminent death coming when Claire let herself be so honest about how the breakup was destroying her in a way so complete it’s practically a cliché: “I think of you all the time. It almost makes me hate you for it.”

She ultimately gives Tom a better death than Frank gave his old paramour: Tom dies while having sex with her, gazing up at her perfect face, but also (probably) realizing in his final moments that this woman he is literally inside of is murdering him.

Claire just leaves his dead, naked body there for Mark to deal with. She doesn’t even cover him with a sheet! I wonder if this is because she can’t bear to look at him, or because she doesn’t care, or because (my favorite option) she wants to make it more gross and awful for Mark so he can see exactly what she’s capable of.

How did Claire take Tom out? Using some Chinese herbal thing Jane gave her that supposedly cures migraines if you take it in teeny, tiny doses, but apparently, it can just up and kill a person if you go overboard. Jane has solidified her stance as Team Claire, out of what she says is a rational and humanitarian impulse to actually have a president who might bring something resembling peace to Syria. Jane also locks in her place as “the character who has all the dirt on everyone else” when she casually lets it slip to LeAnn, “I have your gun, by the way.”

Over at the Herald, Tom sounds like a conspiracy theorist but we know he’s onto something. All his care packages from Doug are adding up to a real story that Tom is incapable of proving because no one will go on the record about anything.

The action is at the Judiciary Committee hearings, where Nathan decides he has no choice but to commit perjury and also utter the accidentally hilarious line, “It’s unthinkable to assume the FBI would involve itself in the election.” In other committee news, Mark tells the Underwoods about the dirt he has on Romero and it is VERY disappointing. Here I thought we finally had a guy on this show who didn’t make me want to projectile vomit all over my screen out of sheer, uncontrollable disgust for humanity’s basest impulses, BUT NOPE, Romero was part of some collegiate gang rape. Everyone is trash.

Frank waives executive privilege and testifies. I know the end of his speech is supposed to be quite the OMG moment, but this show really knows how to make a girl roll her eyes 8 billion times while Frank talks in circles and avoids getting to the freaking point. Maybe it’s our reality seeping into my TV-watching brain, but the idea that Frank is revealing some shocking truth to the world — that politics is dirty, “the system is corrupt,” but everyone in that room is part of the same corrupt system — is a childish one. His false equivalencies don’t hold up, he knows it, we know it, and I am so bored by his grandiose proclamations about “the death of the age of reason.”

House of Cards seems to think it’s at its best when it does these big, bellowing speeches. I get that when you have a Kevin Spacey in your arsenal, you will want to deploy him for this purpose whenever the opportunity arises. But the show is so much more fascinating and exciting in its smaller, quieter moments. Less melodrama, more actual drama, which is not always shouted, capitalized, underlined, bolded, and then repeated at the camera for good measure.

Anyway, Frank is resigning! President Underwood is dead, long live President Underwood.

House of Cards Recap: Watch Your Step