House of Cards Recap: Birth and a Nation

House of Cards

Chapter 71
Season 6 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

House of Cards

Chapter 71
Season 6 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix

This HoC season has somehow become obsessed with pregnancy. It’s all about abortion, babies, and, as we learn at the end of this episode, the reveal that Claire is pregnant with what she says is Frank’s child. I am underwhelmed by all of this. Honestly, with Frank out of the picture, it’s pretty weak that the most interesting thing the writers could think to do with their female lead was get her pregnant.

Claire — technically a Democrat — is living out all these tropes that conservatives use to undermine women: that women are too emotionally unstable to serve as president; that women choose whether or not to carry pregnancies to term for selfish, even arbitrary reasons; that women use pregnancy and childbirth as a way to trap the men in their lives. House of Cards has always been wildly confused about its politics. Frank was a “Democrat” who hated the teachers union, wanted to destroy Medicaid, railed against “entitled programs,” pushed for more voter suppression, and only talked about the need for more gun control after he was shot. Claire’s actions — and the manner in which they’re presented here, as both the ultimate act of villainy and some stroke of female brilliance — only muddies the Potomac waters further.

It was more radical, all along, for Claire to have just not wanted to be a mother — to be unapologetic about that in her public life, and to dare her self-proclaimed progressive political party to question that decision. Why make her change her mind about that at the last minute? Just so she can, what, cut Doug out of a will that she probably destroyed anyway? Claire is already rich! She was wealthy when Frank married her. And Frank hadn’t even begun that lucrative post-presidency career of book-writing and speech-giving and whatnot.

Also: The kid has to be novelist Tom’s, right?

And now, back to the plot! (For even when HoC doesn’t care about that, I do.) Herald Tom’s house looks like it has been ransacked, and only his whimpering dog remains. I am EXTREMELY worried about this dog. I hear a man yelling and it sounds like a stranger, but it turns out that’s just what Doug sounds like when he speaks above a whisper-growl. Tom was looking into ARCAS, Rachel’s death, etc., we all knew this, but now Doug knows it too, and is in possession of this innocent pup that Tom protects ‘til the end.

After the news of Claire’s abortion is leaked, Melody does her very millennial routine (the baby as avocado) and Claire addresses the nation, and us, to say the pregnancy wasn’t viable. Really, she and Frank weren’t viable. Again, we knew this already. Claire then meets with her all-female Cabinet, and I am disappointed that they are all wearing gray. No pops of color for these women? It’s not like there are men in the room who will take you less seriously because of it. Mark is cut out of this meeting, but, as he desperately explains to some reporters, it’s super normal for him not to be there. It’s actually weird for everyone else to say it’s weird.

Janine and Herald Tom are on the run. I love that journalists on TV shows all wear the same military-green jacket. (I mean, I have one, too. A+ for sartorial verisimilitude!) They’re getting faxes from Janine’s ARCAS source. I’m impressed that everyone knows how a fax machine works.

Bill is getting some bougie new-wave treatment while his sister looks on in a silk nightie and bathrobe, because that’s definitely how siblings dress for each other. I love that Bill is one of those Republicans who would berate anyone for saying America isn’t the bestest country in the whole wide world, but when it’s his life on the line, he takes advantage of medical advancements that are only available in Europe. Annette reports that her “son” is still not taking her calls. Bill’s response: Maybe it’s all for the best! Real banner night for parents, I see.

Jane has been retrieved from Saudi Arabia and meets with Claire, who, by the way, is using the name Hale now. “The people that know us best know how to hurt us,” Claire tells her, while assuring Jane that none of the agencies will ever work with her again. Sensual hair-smoothing escalates to intense hair grabbing as Claire tells Jane she’s done suffering fools. Jane, in turn, advises Mark to bail on the whole Claire shitshow. As per usual, the men on this show refuse to listen to the women who know what they’re talking about.

Meanwhile, Claire is Skyping with Petrov, who is helping her clean house. She’s also bribing Kelsey with a leather handbag (and it better be full of cash, considering) who is both promoted to permanent press secretary and demoted to person who is not allowed to speak in public until Claire says so. Claire then meets with FBI Nathan to get some updates, and when his reports are not to her liking, she suddenly accuses him of being “too distracted” to do his job and reminds him that she knows he has a baby boy.

Once Jane is out of her little hotel jail and is back in the Oval with Claire, she tells a story that begins with Claire’s least favorite line, “There was a troubled young woman.” This young woman worked on Brett Cole (now Congressman Cole’s) campaign, where Mark also worked, and she and Cole had a thing that got too heated, so Mark had to make it go away. He took this literally and told her to disappear; she took that literally and jumped off the Roosevelt Bridge. Of course, the real victim in this story is not Cole’s then-very-pregnant wife or this unnamed dead girl but MARK, who became the indecisive, insecure man-baby before us today.

Jane, very distraught, calls Mark, who STILL has Tom Yates’s body. How?! Where is he keeping it? What a waste of closet space!

Okay, time for some dot-connecting: That old guy Doug was talking to back in the psych ward has been BFFs with Bill Shepherd since they were kids. What does this mean for Doug? Nothing good, judging by the look on a face I barely recognize in such direct light. The Shepherds want to bring down both Underwoods. Doug, clinging to Frank’s legacy like it’s the only piece of driftwood on an empty ocean, is NOT here for that plan.

Doug calls up Herald Tom. Doug is also in possession of my new favorite character: Tom’s dog. “You lay a hand on that innocent animal and I swear to Christ I’ll beat the living shit out of you,” Tom says. My worries intensify. Doug is playing both sides — delivering Janine to Seth, but not before warning Janine so she could get all her good intel to a safe space. Doug the dognapper gives Tom a key to where his beloved pup is being stored and, in exchange, Tom gives Doug Janine’s article about ARCAS.

What Tom really wants (aside, obviously, from the safety of his precious dog) is for Doug to go on the record about how Frank committed a string of murders. Doug keeps trying to twist this so it’s all Claire’s fault. “Sometimes you have the chance to make the right person pay, even if it’s for the wrong crime.” Wait, what? Tom does not agree and neither do I. Doug’s nonconfession: “I am never going to tell you that Francis killed the three of them: Zoe, Russo, and LeAnn. But you already know the truth.”

Mark pops over to remind Claire that he still has Tom Yates’s body. Then Mark calls Jane, who is in what I guess is maybe a Swedish assisted-suicide chamber? It’s all Nordic clean lines and lingering despair. RIP, Jane. Also dying in this episode: Cathy Durant, who, as Jane predicted, couldn’t escape her Claire-determined fate.

Claire visits Herald Tom — who, she tells us, she has no idea what to do with— and explains that Doug is a “delusional liar.” Huh, okay. Claire also wants to say she is “not complicit” in any of the “deranged” things Frank may have done. Again, this attempt to subvert ideas about women as being crazy, unreliable narrators who are always blamed for their husband’s bad behavior isn’t really landing, considering Claire is also a crazy, unreliable narrator, and she should be held accountable for her participation in her husband’s bad behavior.

Tom wants to do this by the book and send along questions to her press office that Claire can answer on the record. This brings us to the most heart- wrenching scene of the season/series: Tom attaching keys (and a flash drive?) to his dog’s collar and saying, “You be a good boy” as he gets MURDERED. I am so worried about this dog!! Remember how House of Cards began with Frank killing that dog in the street?

As for the mystery of Duncan’s birth: His mom was the housekeeper, and his dad was some one-night stand. To this I say, Seriously? That’s it? What’s the point of introducing something so potentially explosive to have it all resolve with nonentity characters who we’ve never met and don’t care about? Why can’t he be, like, Zoe Barnes’ secret twin brother or Frank’s love child? Also, the Shepherds being the Kochs of this universe, wouldn’t it have come out by now that there is no record of Annette having ever been pregnant? Wouldn’t she have wanted to cover her tracks by legally adopting Duncan from the get-go? Also, if her primary concern was that this housekeeper she employed wasn’t in a position to support this baby, why didn’t Annette just … give her a raise and help her find child care?

Annie wants Bill to say Duncan is part of the family. But Bill, a rude blueblood snob, says Duncan is “not one of us.” So Annie calls him a coward and says, “I hope you die.” Siblings!

Back at the Oval, Doug is growling at Claire. The Shepherds can be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths at the ARCAS plant. Claire takes a brief recess to vomit. In accordance with the Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine, women who vomit are always pregnant, so. Claire tells Doug that their prenup had a clause ensuring all of Francis’ assets go to his heir, and then she does a Meghan Markle belly-cup.

Alas, Doug uses her convenient puking-related absence to find something taped to the bottom of the desk drawer with his initials carved into it. In other words: the last thing Frank ever gave him.

House of Cards Recap: Birth and a Nation