No one has ever asked me how I would reform our country’s presidential elections, but if someone were to ask, I would suggest that campaigning is probably not the best use of a sitting president’s time. So maybe, I don’t know, we could just limit the length of all campaigns to the six months before an election? Also, every candidate would get some normal amount of money — I have no idea what that would be, like, $500? Or a million dollars? What’s the amount of money you start with in Monopoly? That oughta do the trick — and also there would be a day when we invite Canada’s finest Justin to our shores to see which presidential hopeful has the best chemistry with him. We would replace one of the 10,000 debates with an event in which Justin and all the wannabe presidents could pass a baby back and forth for three hours.
Unfortunately for Frank Underwood, my brilliant, flawless vision for campaign reform is but a pipe dream, and even in his fake America, campaigning is hell. Conway, on the other hand, can jet all over the place, both because he is not busy being POTUS and because he did not recently get a liver transplant. A medical team tells Frank to reduce air travel to once a week. Frank is all pouty at the prospect of being “stuck in the Rose Garden” and I think: Frank, you already have the thing you want. If you don’t like the idea of being at the White House, maybe don’t run for president? Again, not an expert here, just a layperson who watches a lot of television focused on our nation’s capital.
Another reason that perhaps Frank should not be president: Even though the ICO threat has been diffused, he wants more of an action-movie finish for the good PR he knows it will provide. Special forces on the ground! A sequel for Zero Dark Thirty! (2 Dark 2 Thirty?) “I will not be satisfied by blocking the serpent’s path, gentlemen. I want to cut off its goddamn head,” Frank says. At least Cathy has learned that Frank never wants her opinion. She is a dog in a muzzle, to borrow Frank’s phrasing, and let’s all pour one out for that dog he strangled in the series premiere.
Brockhart gets Conway up to speed, and Conway responds with his plan for the most politically useful outcome, so Brock-pure-of-heart is scandalized. “You want to keep the ICO leadership alive so we can stay on message? This is the exact sort of BS I resigned over in the first place.” He’s so sad! “I thought you were different,” he says, to which Conway essentially replies, “lol nope.”
Oh God, oh no, I can’t: Laura Moretti, widow of the man who died so Frank could live(r), leaves Doug a voicemail. What do you know, his $5,000 offering was the biggest donation they’d ever received. “I don’t know how you found out about us,” Laura says — I KNOW HOW, LAURA, BACK AWAY SLOWLY — but “if you’re free for coffee” nooooooo Laura nooooooo “I’d love to thank you in person.” NO NO NO. Then Doug listens to the message again. PRETTY BRUNETTES ARE NOT SAFE AROUND DOUG. Someone send this woman a bucket of bleach for those locks, ASAP. It’s not too late to be blonde and, by the laws of HoC physics, invisible to Doug Stamper.
Tom wrote a paragraph about “love” in one of Claire’s speeches. But now that they’re a thing, it’s too weird and Claire cuts it out. Later, while watching footage, Tom insists that Claire “screw the research” and talk about what he wants her to talk about. Tom, do not mansplain politics to this woman. Please stop weighing in. Tom wants to scribble Claire love notes in his Moleskine and then drive away with her into the California sunset, where they can both get matching tattoos of that Kerouac quote about how the only people for me are the mad ones, and make heated eye contact until both of their dying days.
Claire thanks him for being “so professional about everything. You’ve been very kind.” “I’m not kind,” says Tom. “Just realistic.” The camera zooms in on the architectural wonder that is Claire’s face as she realizes Tom’s feelings are stronger than she could have anticipated and “Oops!… I Did it Again” starts to play. (Sorry, I may have imagined that second part.) “That paragraph you wrote about love, it made me uncomfortable,” she explains. She didn’t want to say it in front of him. The makeout tension is so high and even though, as you may be able to tell, Tom doesn’t really do a whole lot for me/I would chuck him out a window, in this case I say: Go for it, Claire! Have an affair! Men do it all the time! This is the true definition of feminism: Women getting away with the same shitty stuff men have been up to for generations.
Other Tom — Herald Tom, and I just want to say once more for the record that there is no reason for a fictional television show to give two unrelated characters the same first name unless your goal is to confuse the hell out of people and clutter up recaps with “no this one, not the other one” qualifiers — swings by the sad, shuttered doors of Freddy’s BBQ. Remember Freddy’s? We were all so much younger then. In an alley, Tom meets Remy, who tells him, off the record, that Freddy’s met the same fate as “everything Frank touches.” Remy says Tom doesn’t make him nervous, but it’s clear he wants to talk, or he wouldn’t even drop barely useful clues like “don’t ignore the where.”
Freddy, in case you’ve forgotten, has a job as a groundskeeper/gardener at the White House. We see him for the first time in ages just in time to say farewell: He’s going to leave soon to work at a flower shop in Georgetown. Frank is so heartbroken. “There aren’t that many people here I’m all that comfortable with,” he says, and again, may I suggest that this distance he feels might be an occupational hazard of being a murderer/blackmailer/generally unpleasant person. Then, in a really misguided attempt at kindness, Frank’s like “let’s celebrate you leaving by making you cook ribs for me again!” He has no idea how insulting that is. But Freddy does: “I’m just the help to you, aren’t I?” Frank is horrified that Freddy is “misinterpreting” him, and Freddy replies, “You’re right. it’s all my fault. I don’t know how Claire does it.” And it explodes. Frank is furious that Freddy isn’t more “grateful,” conveniently forgetting how Freddy’s businesses went belly-up and they only reunited because Freddy was unemployed. Frank demands Freddy call him Mr. President and Freddy drops the mic: “You’re a motherfucker. My bad, my bad. You a motherfucker, Mr. President.”
Tom, then, should be catching Freddy at a fortuitous time for his story — you’d think Freddy would want to take action against the aforementioned motherfucker — but Freddy does not cater to the will of the fourth estate. Freddy instead abides by the unwritten eleventh commandment: Snitches get stitches. He beats the daylights out of Tom for no apparent reason (the recorder wasn’t even on, man) and leaves him in an alley.
Claire and Tom are on the plane again, doing a walk of shame through the sky. Tom resigns and flies back east, but his departure doesn’t stick; Claire calls up his love section in some rando speech with the only couple in South Dakota that’s voting for the Underwoods. Frank and Claire talk on the phone and he knows something Tom-related is awry. Also, during that phone call, Claire actually takes off her heels for the first time maybe ever? And she’s putting a Band-Aid on her heel! SHE GETS BLISTERS!
Frank also makes time for a quick chat on the phone with Conway. Turns out Brockhart is stirring up some controversy. “I don’t blame you for being a fraud, Governor. We all have to be hypocrites every now and then.” Very chill thing of you to say, Frank! Then Frank threatens to put troops on the ground if Conway and Brockhart don’t “put politics aside and do the right thing.” “You’re on your heels and you’re asking me to help you by appealing to my sense of duty?” Conway is so smarmy, like the kind of villain Bradley Cooper used to have to play in the movies. “I’ve even got you sold on my message. You shouldn’t believe anything you see on TV.” What a dirtbag.
Remy meets Tom at a dive and, through the powers of the most wonderful drinking game of our time — Never Have I Ever — confirms a bunch of important information for Tom. (In this scene, Tom deploys his own Batvoice, and it’s so low and gravely I can only make out about 72 percent of his lines.) Then Tom takes his intel to the Herald chief, because he needs institutional support and a real office. “Underwood may be a crook,” he says. “But he’s not a killer.” Tom! WAKE UP SHEEPLE. He gets an office and a team and, after expressing how important it is that nothing they discuss leaves the room, writes “Manipulation, deception, corruption” in huge letters on a dry-erase board that is clearly visible from the hall. A for enthusiasm, D for discretion.
Other Tom — smitten, heartsick, and recently unemployed Tom — meets Frank at the White House. Frank doesn’t waste time: “It was more than just a fling, wasn’t it?” Tom and Claire really should have agreed on a narrative while they were still in the same place. Anyway, Frank had “a feeling” after the Texas trip, and he knows Tom made Elizabeth laugh. “Do you make Clare laugh?” Frank asks. Tom says yes. “I make her feel desired. I think she feels comfortable being vulnerable around me. I have to say, I’m a bit surprised you’re not upset.”
Weird interlude after Frank signs the executive order to send troops after ICO: Aiden meets Frank in that stairwell — Frank at the top, Maria in West Side Story–style, so that he’s technically still in the residence — and all we see is the outline of Frank, a shadow, against this glow behind him. Aiden tells him that, with Claire’s speech, “beyond happened.” They went “beyond marriage.”
“The Conways are everything everyone wants to be. You’re everything everyone wants to become,” he says. Wait. Can they really find this out from our search data?! The Circle is real; I will be here wearing a tinfoil hat and also blanket like Chuck McGill.
Frank then does something very generous and actually modern and fantastic and unorthodox, and it gives me very conflicting feelings on account of how terrible we know he is. He tells Claire that Tom should stay “because he can give you things that I can’t. Claire, we’ve been a great team, but one person, one person cannot give everything to another person. I can’t travel with you. I don’t keep you warm at night. I don’t see you the way he sees you. It’s not my permission to give, but you do what’s right for you. But I want you to know, if you want, I know you’ll be careful, and I’ll be fine. I mean, if we’re going to go beyond marriage, let’s go beyond.”
And so: Tom is summoned. Tom, Claire’s consort. Live that dream, you two! Does he feel used, powerless? We may never know, until he writes about it and reads that writing to us in an insufferable voice-over. Claire, invoking the timeless words of the Jackson 5, tells Tom, “I want you back.” Have your happiness Claire! They wake up fully clothed and spooning, as one does. Oh man, are they all going to eat breakfast together like some very strange Leave It to Beaver role-play? I guess so! Tom looks like a drifter they found on the highway. Maybe it’s just because he isn’t wearing a tie. I cannot believe they just showed up to breakfast wearing the clothes they slept in and wore all day yesterday. Don’t go soft on us, Claire.