It only took ten hours, but we’ve finally got ourselves a FIVE STAR episode of this fine series! “Chapter 63” gives us everything House of Cards does best: constantly shifting power dynamics, questionably legal usage of technology, honest-to-goodness progress on the murder-mystery front, old secrets coming back to destroy reputations and possibly lives, ill-advised sexual encounters, stone-cold breakups of couples I never shipped anyway, eerie parallels to our current political situation that simultaneously feel far more absurd and relatively grounded in comparison, and Claire Hale Underwood being an absolute legend. Let’s make like a rejected Doug Stamper showing up all vulnerable at LeAnn’s apartment and do this thing.
Herald Tom is slumming it yet again on cable news, swinging by Rachel Maddow’s show alongside Seth to talk about the latest scandal smacking the Underwoods down: Chinese money influencing the election and Frank’s facilitation thereof. Foreign funds in an U.S. presidential election? CAN U IMAGINE. Seth uses this opportunity to call Garrett a “disgruntled former president,” as if Garrett was a middle manager who got fired from a Kinkos for showing up stoned to work. Tom expects articles of impeachment will be drawn up any day now, and it turns out he is not wrong.
Mark, Claire, Frank, and Doug are assembled in the Oval. Mark says impeachment is inevitable and advises Frank to go the censure route, which means letting the House Republicans impeach him to give those Senate Democrats cover, and then letting the Democrats throw everything but a criminal charge at him. Frank has the sneaking suspicion he can’t trust Claire, but he doesn’t know who she’s working with behind his back or what exactly she’s plotting, if anything. Frank would rather just destroy Garrett’s credibility so the case crumbles, but easier said than done.
Of course, Frank is appalled that Claire thinks he would be okay with this whole plan. I think Frank is just feeling like an idiot because this particular series of events never occurred to him.
As long as we’re on the subject of idiots: I didn’t think Frank’s boyfriend could be worse than Claire’s boyfriend, but I didn’t really know Eric yet, now did I? First Eric starts talking like some sketchy palm reader, telling Frank that his “fate is sealed.” Then he makes the objectively moronic claim that Frank doesn’t have to worry about what happens because “even if you’re impeached and convicted, you’ll still make history.” Can someone please sit Eric down with a history book and point out that inclusion therein is not, in and of itself, a worthy aspiration? Eric also refers to Frank as “Francis,” which is Claire’s thing. As the kids on Downton Abbey used to say, he’s being too familiar. Finally, Eric has this total romantic meltdown where he just up and yells, “I LOVE YOU, YOU NEED TO KNOW THAT” in a public park (?!?!?) while all the Secret Service agents just ride around pretending not to hear. For this indiscretion, among others, Frank abruptly discards him. I love Claire’s reaction to discovering he’s gone: “He did have a facial expression I won’t miss. A sort of permasmile. It’s creepy.”
All-mighty Claire takes a break from the proceedings to stare us down. “Just to be clear, it’s not that I haven’t always known you were there.” Obviously there is nothing that Claire does not know. “It’s that I have mixed feelings about you … and I’m ambivalent about attention.” So many of this season’s fourth-wall breaks have been insufferable, masturbatory ramblings about the nature of power and/or redundant descriptions of things we can already see onscreen. I’m relieved to see this tactic put to worthy use. Claire is the person who hides her inner life from everyone, so there’s a lot more value to hearing her secret asides than there is from hearing Frank’s.
Frank summons Nathan and Doug to the Oval with a plan: They’ll record every phone call coming in and out of the White House, look in on every computer, tap every cell phone, and have all this stuff stream into a satellite office where Doug can watch everyone’s every move, like A on Pretty Little Liars. (Frank would be right at home in Rosewood, now that I think about it.) Frank also requests a livestream. Claire also knows, which adds a great, thrilling tension to everything she says and does: She knows she’s being watched. What is her performance telling us? Does she ever slip and forget that she’s never not seen?
The FBI swings by LeAnn’s apartment to investigate Aidan’s death. The gun that was used to kill him — which we saw on the hotel bed — is missing, so somebody messed around with that crime scene since the last time we saw it.
Frank and Claire tell Mark that they’re open to the censure plan, although now with this Mohammad news out there, it’ll be a lot more challenging. Mark tells Claire to “stay out of this as much as possible,” which sets Frank off. Who is Mark really working for, anyway? “Don’t get paranoid, Francis,” Claire says. “If not now, when?” is Frank’s excellent reply. Probably doesn’t help that even his former allies are asking him to resign, to save everyone the trouble of impeaching him.
He also tells Claire that it’s time to “set aside their personal lives,” and even though you know I hate when anyone tells Claire what to do, I approve of this message. Claire finds Tom in the kitchen of the residence, because he of course has nothing else to do and nowhere else to be. Claire basically quotes Frank in her breakup: “There’s just no place for you here anymore.” I wonder how she feels about the fact that she just told Tom that Frank murdered Zoe and Peter Russo; maybe this is all part of some bigger plan she’s orchestrating? Because if she wants Tom to have no hard feelings and go quietly into that good single life, she has a real funny way of showing it. She ends the conversation by telling him, I kid you not, “You can finish your coffee.” Ice cold, Underwood. (Then again, maybe she was just acting it all out for Frank’s benefit.)
Doug doesn’t trust Claire, naturally, and he’s tailing Tom because Frank asked him to. Claire catches him in the act and oh-so-kindly alerts Doug to the fact that she knows about the Morettis. “Your behavior shows poor judgment, Doug, and could be a liability for the president.” Doug takes this opportunity to confess to the transplant widow who — plot twist! — has known this entire time. “I’m not fucking you because I like you. I’m fucking you because I hate you.” Doug is so angry that for the first time in his entire adult life, his voice rises above his signature whisper-growl and he shouts at her to get out of his car. He goes to LeAnn’s apartment for wound-licking purposes. Do they not realize her laptop is open or do they not care that Frank can see them having sex? This whole episode is a very fun and twisted game of “forgetful public servant, savvy manipulator of public perception, or low-key exhibitionist?”
Wherever we look lately, there Jane is. She’s crashing Cathy’s lunch with her lawyer to be real nosy about the situation at the White House, she’s having secret stairwell sidebars with Claire to tell her “it’s important that you can walk away from anything that happens” to Frank. As for Cathy, she keeps a good poker face with POTUS, does a theatrical defense of him to Romero, but then slips Romero a Post-it affirming that she will, in fact, testify and turn on Frank in exchange for immunity. Cathy is the only almost-good person in this whole bunch.
The sun rises on another leak: “A source deep within the White House confirms POTUS Underwood used questionable intelligence to justify voting center closures which threw the election into chaos.” Hoo-boy. Frank tells Cathy to make a fake paper trail; Cathy nods listlessly, then hightails out of the Oval to make her deal ASAP. At least Frank will always have Doug, who fesses up to futzing around with the donor list. Frank, in character as ever, is not at all disturbed by the death he inadvertently caused. He’s just touched by Doug’s everlasting devotion, the truest love in all of House of Cards.
Meanwhile, those Herald reporters are getting their hands on some valuable information via USB by way of a singing birthday card, from some unknown source in the White House. Tom has Angela leak the latest damning tidbit — remember that Mohammad whom the Underwoods raided before the election? Yeah, he wasn’t the ICO one — to a little blog I’d almost forgotten about. Yes, Slugline is back! Glad to see that little scrappy corner of the internet wasn’t one of the many casualties of the Underwood administration. Sean didn’t get his Herald job back, but he has found himself a new gig, or so he claims: He’s now deputy press secretary at the White House.
Near the end of the episode, Claire is in the bathroom rehearsing: “The president didn’t bring me in. I wasn’t in the room.” She is not especially convincing as an ignorant, yes-woman of a wife. Frank, feigning sleep, is listening. But he can’t put one over on Claire. Not now, not ever.
“I didn’t know anything about it. How’s that, Francis?”