No one is happy about the Jordan Valley. Petrov is pissed. Israeli and Palestine are in a miniature arms race. Claire can’t keep the American involvement under control. And apparently the American people are none too thrilled with the fact that our troops are entangled in a vague, seemingly pointless “peacekeeping mission” that looks suspiciously not peaceful. As Frank hits the campaign trail, the town halls get teeth, as people use the Q&A session to ask what the hell we’re even doing there.
Frank tries to dodge, but Annie — a white-haired rock star who officially has my heart — doesn’t let him. “What is the point of having us ask questions if you won’t answer them?”
Frank responds to this cogent point by eliminating town halls from his campaign altogether and forcing Jackie to come up with a fake reason to postpone a debate with Dunbar.
In the midst of this craziness, Frank gets a call from Tim from the Sentinel, Frank’s old friend/love. That night, Frank pours himself a mighty big drink and talks to Tim, who lives in Colorado but may as well be on Mars, leading that simple life, minding his own business. Novelist Tom apparently gave Tim a ring about the book and Tim wanted to make sure it was kosher to talk before spilling all that college dirt. “You know,” he says, before hanging up. “We run a half-price special for commanders-in-chief.” Grade-A flirting skills, Sentinel Tim.
Remy apologizes to Jackie for crossing a line and admits that he still has strong feelings but “I’m not going to put you in that position again.” Jackie says this not-being-together situation has been hard for her, too. They hug! Five stars for that hug. (Not for this whole episode, though. Just the hug.)
Israel is instituting a no-fly zone, and because he is a dick who needs to show strength approximately 18 times an hour, Petrov declares he will fly right through it. Frank has had enough: He’s going to meet Petrov in the Jordan Valley, a natural last (I assume) meetup between two heads of state who have both traveled around the world to see each other on the other’s home turf. Claire calls Alexi to put the brakes on this; Alexi hangs up on her.
Claire tries to level with Frank. She thinks this a mistake. Frank points out, not incorrectly, that almost every diplomatic decision they have made has been a mistake. “Claire, I value your opinion. I just don’t agree with it this time.” Frank bolts out, and Claire has a brief run-in with Tom, who tells her a “big piece” is missing from his book, and that piece is Claire. Good luck breaking through that icy wall of steel perfection, kiddo.
In the Jordan Valley, Frank has to wear Kevlar and a helmet. Petrov isn’t wearing a helmet, of course. Petrov has a few demands. As per usual, he wants the missile-defense stuff he asked for way back when, and he wants the troops to leave. Oh, and one other teeny thing: He wants Claire to resign as ambassador.
“You can’t make this about her,” Frank says, as if this hasn’t been about her the entire damn time. “She was never equipped to be an ambassador,” says Petrov. “She’s blinding you. I’m doing you a favor.” Petrov teases the idea that Alexi was working for him this whole time, playing Claire and, by extension, playing Frank. Then he tells this very disturbing story about how when he was in the KGB, he was stabbed and shot — he pulls up his shirt to show off some nasty-looking scars — and then he killed a man with his bare hands. Oh, also, he strapped the dead man’s head to a donkey so it would carry it back to his village. GROSS. “Do you think you’re capable? I think you are. You’re ruthless.” Well, we have seen Frank kill with his bare hands three times (two humans, one dog), though none of those murders was quite so grisly as what Petrov is describing. Then again, Petrov had the cover of war under which to behave like a killer and call it patriotism. Frank didn’t have that Kevlar, so to speak.
“I don’t see why Claire means so much to you,” Frank says, falling for the same stupid trap every superhero with an ordinary girlfriend has fallen for in the history of villainy. “Because she means so much to you,” says Petrov.
Frank gets home and breaks the news to Claire, not particularly well. “Petrov wants a diplomatic change at the U.N.” Why are you sugarcoating this? SHE KNOWS. She always knows. Frank looks into a window to say that he thinks “the presidency is the illusion of choice.” No one had that illusion, Frank, except you.
Frank gives Tom a ring at one in the morning and summons him to the White House. A very strange and intimate encounter follows, wherein we find out that Tom lied again about the origin of his novel: Tom was “the hustler,” turning tricks as a prostitute for men (maybe also for women, but that never comes up). Most of the guys just wanted to talk, he says. “That access, those stories. It was an addiction. I craved it. I lived for it.” Tom calls himself Frank’s friend, which, RED FLAG. Writers are always selling someone out, Frank! Tom grabs Frank’s hand and holds it against his own heart, and some weird caressing goes down, and then Frank sends Tom home. Ooookay. Smart moves all around, definitely not going to backfire for either party.
A ray of sunshine in the Sadness Cave: Doug’s brother is back in town. After Doug overhears him talking to his wife and kids a few times, Doug says the whole gang should come visit. A lot of cute, if aimless, bonding ensues. Doug’s brother tries to tell Doug that, since his life is work, he has no life. “I’m freer than you are, pal,” he says. “You’ve got two pictures on your fridge, and they’re of my kids. That’s not freedom.”
The focus groups like Claire blonde, especially in Iowa. Claire prefers it dark, but “We’ll do what we have to do.” What a team player.
“Max” goes to see Lisa to tell her that everything he ever told her was a lie and “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back.” He warns her about the FBI and generally sounds psychotic. He tries to leave her Doug’s contact info; she wants nothing to do with it.
Then, in the most important plot development, not just of this episode but of the entire series, Lisa wakes up to find a package outside her house. She lifts off the paper and—
CASHEW! IT IS CASHEW! GAVIN LEFT LISA CASHEW! #JESUISCASHEW #CASHEWLIVES