Remember when I was relieved that House of Cards wasn’t going to make this election drag all season? Well, that relief is as dead as that dog from the series premiere because “Chapter 57” picks up nine weeks after the election and still — still! — neither of these dudes has enough electoral college votes to win. The situation was a lot funnier when it happened on Veep a year ago. Frank tells us that the Supreme Court is short a justice (what else is new) and “all three branches of government are in crisis” (omg same) and maybe some important person should just flip a coin, as great philosopher Donald Duck once recommended in a Disney comic.
It’s an awful lot of tell with very little show, unless you count the pleasant tour of our national monuments. Also, Frank’s idea of a killer kicker is “meet your new daddy,” which is (1) gross, and (2) not really accurate, because he’s the incumbent, so, you know, he’s already the “daddy” if we’re insisting on that gross term of endearment.
Conway is not enjoying this purgatory and we find him doing some VR thing that replicates his experience in combat. At first, I think this is because war is preferable to his real hellish existence, but it turns out this is a form of PTSD therapy (which is real and fascinating). Conway, as per usual, gets all edgy whenever anyone suggests something went awry during his service. Under the stress of it all, Conway starts being a real dick to his wife. He mansplains politics to Hannah, calls her “darling” in a snarky tone of voice, and taunts her: “What are you gonna do? Take the kids and go to your mom? You’ve already picked out the White House china.” Oh, and because there aren’t enough creepy white men on this show, campaign manager Mark continues to look like Julian Assange’s fraternal twin and flex his evil mastermind muscles.
One of this show’s most annoying habits is taking us on scenic detours to nowhere — especially in episodes like this, where there is a ton of plot to address and these supposedly symbolism-heavy side trips just slow things down for no reason. Just because a Netflix episode can be 54 minutes long doesn’t mean it has to be! You may be surprised to learn that 45 is a perfectly fine number of minutes. Perhaps it will not shock you to learn that I could have done without the little reunion of Frank and Eric, who played Frank’s ancestor Augustus in a Civil War reenactment a while back and gave Frank good, meaningful, ghosty feelings. The purpose of this is … umm … that everything Frank thought he knew about Augustus was a lie and it’s okay because Eric believes in destiny? Wow, thank you for that. Such a valuable use of my finite time in this cruel world.
Cut to MSNBC, where soon-to-be-betrothed Mika and Joe are flirt-shouting about how messy democracy can be, but there’s a method to the madness of the mess, so don’t get mad about the mess without paying attention to the method. In my notes I write: Jesus, is this entire season going to be all these dodos flipping out about how no one knows who the president is? Zoe Barnes did not die at the non-existent Cathedral Heights metro station for this.
Things get worse before they get better: Tom is writing short stories (eww, why) and they are all about Claire and their tryst (double eww, double why). When Claire, a goddess mucking about with mortals like some kind of modern-day Zeus in a perfectly tailored pencil skirt, states the obvious fact that Tom cannot write about this, and he should instead write about literally anything else, Tom throws the self-indulgent, whiny fit of a young creative white male who is encountering the word “no” for the first time in his life. “I’m writing. It’s what I do. I’m a writer,” he says, although have we seen him write anything, actually? (Never forget: He didn’t write the novel that made him famous. He stole it from his dead friend.) Claire reminds Tom that he is not a prisoner in the White House and is free to leave whenever, so Tom is all, “I do have some things to do,” which is hilarious and not even a little bit convincing. Does Tom live at the residence? Did Claire give him a drawer? She later sends one of her lackeys out to stalk Tom as he goes to New York to have a touchy-feely dinner with another older woman.
Finally we get to the juicy stuff: LeAnn tells Claire that Frank’s approval ratings are dipping into the high teens but, on the bright side, Claire is at 30 percent. And because of convoluted electoral rules I won’t bother to explain because I know you don’t care either, Claire can be vice-president even if Conway wins the presidency. Everyone proceeds to talk about a “split ticket” like it will actually tear the fabric of our delicate country asunder. Honestly, I think we’d all be fine, but such is life as the House of Cards recapper: Everyone onscreen has an aneurysm over everything, while I nod knowingly from my couch and murmur, “Doesn’t seem like that a big deal.”
Then again, whenever I want these guys to think something is a big deal, they brush it off. Such is the case when Lisa — who you may remember was the girlfriend of dearly departed Rachel back when Rachel was living off the grid — visits Tom at the Herald to share her concerns about Doug Stamper and the Underwoods. Tom is surprisingly dismissive of her and cavalier about the evidence he says he already has, but fortunately, cute gumshoe Sean snaps some pictures of Tom’s notes from the meeting and passes what little intel he has so far on to Seth.
After sharing a cigarette with Claire in a spot where you can almost not hear the protesters — it’s just like old times! — Frank tries to lock down this Congressman Romero character. Instead of clinging to his integrity or successfully selling out, Romero tries and fails to secure the votes Frank needs for the presidency. Turns out the Democrats think supporting Frank would do more damage than a Conway presidency. GEE, IF ONLY A CERTAIN POLITICAL PARTY HAD FELT THAT WAY ABOUT THEIR CANDIDATE NOT SIX MONTHS AGO. Frank tells Romero he’ll never set foot in the Oval again, then blackmails all the Congressmen he can. (The grimier offenses include statutory rape, a father-daughter DUI, and who knows what kind of incriminating email.)
Aidan calls LeAnn and tells her to stop the manhunt. He’s got dirt on the Underwoods (and, one assumes, Doug) and will start leaking it. LeAnn passes this choice threat along to Doug, who is feeling all bruised because Frank questioned his loyalty (!!!) and also because he failed to get New Hampshire, even though LeAnn managed to secure Maine. Not even weirdly silent sex with the transplant widow can cheer him up. (Maybe he should’ve role-played as her Uber driver?)
Frank is slipping, but Claire is gaining ground: She meets with a few undecided female senators, all of whom seem onboard with Claire in the White House. Now it’s only a matter of when, and with whom. Empowered by this meeting, Claire beautifully destroys Donald, who it seems has moved beyond his crush — not enough to not say stuff like, “I’d vote for you!” but enough to provide the country with “clarity” that can only come from a single-party ticket. Claire responds by telling Donald he is a fool: “You always were. You are your dumb, dead wife that you never, ever shut up about … You have a legacy of nothing.” Donald, ever the mature gentleman, basically calls her a cunt. Politics: It’s fun for the whole family!
In the end, the vote for the president is inconclusive. Neither Frank nor Conway got the 26 they needed, so the vice-president will be the acting president for as long as it takes the House to make up its mind. And who will that be? The episode ends on Claire staring right at us.