House of Cards
What did Frank know and when did he know it? I’m busting out this presidential cliché because so much of this season finale — and your enjoyment of it — likely hinges on your answers to those questions. Frank spends a lot of time pontificating about how brilliant he is, as usual, not just to us but to Claire, Romero, Mark, Jane, and basically everyone. This, even though he just resigned the presidency, ceding all real power to his wife with whom he doesn’t exactly have a, shall we say, Barack-and-Michelle rapport.
How powerful is Frank, really? Depends on whether or not you believe him when he says this is all unfolding exactly as he planned.
I get the feeling that Frank is just scrambling here, trying to make it look like he intended for things to end up this way all along, much like I pretend I totally was going for purposefully smudgy eyeliner when attempts at cat-eye fail. Frank’s long, bloviating lecture to Claire about how real power actually isn’t in the White House just doesn’t add up. All Frank wanted to be was president, but now that he can’t be president anymore, he has conveniently changed his mind about the importance of the presidency. Frank just shifts the title of “Most Powerful Position” to wherever he happens to be standing.
He reaches new levels of condescension when he tells Claire, “Don’t you see, I’ve designed this. I wanted you to be the president. I’ve made you the president.” Wow, way to take total credit for all of Claire’s achievements, buddy! You wouldn’t have gotten elected to the Mosquito Control Board without her, let alone taken the White House.
But Claire is still in charge, even if she’s outraged that Frank announced his resignation without even consulting her, thereby setting her back on her heels and leaving her nonexistent transition team scrambling. Claire holds all the cards and she knows it. Also: Claire is a literal murderer now, the kind of person who killed a man while she was having sex with him, like some kind of Gone Girl psycho, and then left his naked body behind for some male lackey to clean up. Frank, yet again, is forgetting how powerful his wife is. He has tricked himself into believing that she needs him more than he needs her.
After all, Frank is still talking to Claire like he’s the one in control. He demands she issue him a full pardon or he’ll renege on his resignation. Obviously she’s just going to say that and not follow through! But Frank trusts Claire’s cross-her-heart, hope-to-die pinky swear, like an idiot. Speaking of doing things like idiots: Isn’t the White House still tapped all over? Why is everyone just talking about murder and bodies in these halls as if they aren’t being recorded?
Herald Tom comes by the White House to talk to Doug. Sean, the Kellyanne Conway of the Underwood administration, doesn’t care what kind of White House he’s working in, as long as he’s working there. It’s clear that Tom doesn’t believe Doug’s admission about Zoe Barnes — we confirm as much when he later visits Doug at home — but also that he doesn’t have enough pieces to put together a logical alternate narrative. I want to scream at the screen, “MAYBE LOOK INTO THE TIMELINE RE: PETER RUSSO AS LONG AS YOU’RE DIGGING UP THIS DIRT.” But I whisper-growl it instead, in Doug’s honor.
Much of this episode revolves around Frank and Claire systematically distancing themselves from everyone who has ever done anything for them, and watching each of these discarded individuals realize they were fools to ever think they were the exceptional ones, the ones the Underwoods would care about enough to keep. Claire wears this bright, light blue dress, like Alice in Wonderland (a really unusual, out of character choice) to tell Seth that he needs to “go away for a little while,” using the same tone of voice your dad used to tell you that your family dog was going to “live on a farm upstate where there are lots of other dogs to play with.” Then Doug hands in his letter of resignation to Frank, who tells him, “You know we can’t see each other for some time now.” Doug looks positively shattered, much like the glass ceiling in this alternate America that is about to get its first female president.
Frank lets Romero know that he knows all about Rochelle, the girl he gang-raped in college, so Romero disbands the committee. It’s all okay, he explains on TV, because we’re getting a woman president now! Oof. Not a slick reply, Romero. “When all is said and done, you do realize that Francis Underwood will still be sleeping in the White House tonight?” the reporter points out. But she turns out to be incorrect, because Francis Underwood will be decamping to a hotel for the foreseeable future.
LeAnn stops by Doug’s office, which is now her office, and announces she, too, can’t have anything to do with him anymore and also that he needs to GTFO before Claire gets sworn in. I really thought Doug was going to kill himself and leave some barnburner of a suicide note spelling out all of Frank’s crimes. (Post a video confessional straight to Slugline, like the Conways would have done!) Or maybe he’d blame Claire for all of them. Or something. But instead, he listens to some moody recording about sacrifice.
LeAnn’s tenure as chief of staff is extremely short-lived. She has one of those come-to-Jesus moments as Mark coolly relieves her of her duties, barely a day after LeAnn gave over all her Aidan intel to Jane in exchange for her gun and the job. (Jane, smooth and vicious, “As long as I’m around, you’ll be a part of this administration.”) Jane is in the room, of course, when LeAnn gets canned. She doesn’t say a word.
Claire has a little talk with Jane in the residence kitchen and looks at her like she’s seeing her for the first time. “Who are you to me?” Jane responds, letting Claire know that Frank is a liability no matter how you slice it. Also, fun fact: “If he’s not treated properly, your husband’s liver could fail him at any time. It’s not the kind of thing I could do. But I could find someone.” Bold. Jane recommends her go-to homicide treatment, stuff that’s lethal in higher doses.
Meanwhile, they finally found the ICO big bad they’ve been searching for this whole time. Perfect timing! Through convoluted military action involving China, Russia, Syria, gas attacks on civilians, and ICO, Claire now has justification to start the war Frank was gunning for this whole time. When Claire tells Frank she’s made up her mind to send in troops, he helpfully tells us, “Something in her eyes has changed.” FRANK, WE KNOW. WE CAN SEE HER.
The scene that follows looks exactly like the famous photo of the night Osama bin Laden was taken out, right down to the general sitting in the Hillary spot, putting her hand over her mouth in shock. And as long as we’re taking people out: Good-bye forever, LeAnn Harvey! You trusted all the wrong people but I’ll miss having you around. At this moment, I wrote in my notes, “Hey, did nobody report on Tom Yates’s death? He was a novelist of medium renown plus he was a speechwriter for the VP/FLOTUS, seems like the sort of thing that would merit a Herald obit at least.” So I was very happy to see that the tour-guide girl was wondering why he hadn’t returned her calls, even if the person she told was slippery Sean.
Just before Claire makes her statement to the nation about the successful kill (of the terrorist, not LeAnn) and her declaration of war, Mark comes back with a recommendation for VP. He recommends … Mark! He says other people suggested it, which, sure, that’s exactly how that happened. That’s about as convincing as “So, should we be dating? I mean, I’m not saying that, it’s just like, other people keep bringing up how cute we look together.”
Claire addresses the nation. She talks about Frank by not talking about Frank, and he can feel it. “If she doesn’t pardon me,” he tells us. “I’ll kill her.” Well, better find a new personal trainer to keep those shoving muscles in shape, buddy, because Claire is not pardoning you. Not tonight and not for a good long while.
Because this episode didn’t have a high enough body count, an anti-war protester scales the White House fence and is shot and killed on the lawn. (Side note: They got those signs together really fast, don’t you think?) At first glance, I thought it was scorned lover/trainer Eric, but I think it’s just a similar-looking white guy.
I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do with a show that theoretically has so many thrilling things going on — multiple homicides, the dogged investigations into said homicides, sex murders, power grabs, Robin Wright’s face — but can still feel like a total slog. Episodes go by with almost no development in any of the plots that actually matter, while Frank flounders in the interest of some random legislative end. Everything that could be resolved in ten minutes takes five episodes, and everything that would really merit major screen time gets glossed over, ignored for hours at a time. I say this because, much as I want to be invigorated by the prospect of what’s to come, it’s hard to trust that the show will deliver. Though I’m far more interested in Claire as POTUS than I was with Frank, and I’m downright delighted to see her screening his calls.
Claire ends the season in the Oval Office, staring us down and paraphrasing the glorious Tami Taylor: “My turn.” What was that thing Frank said about how all the power is outside of the White House? Sure doesn’t look that way from here.