In case you were still wondering about the moral compasses of everyone in the HoC universe, and/or you were confused as to the stakes of this series, this penultimate episode clears that right up for you by announcing this much: Literally everyone is capable of murder.
And by everyone, I mean everyone. Everyone! Did you think the Shepherds wanted to just assassinate Claire? Like, so badly that they would employ a fake doctor to get Claire an IV drip that would induce labor when she was only four months along in her pregnancy, thus threatening not just Claire’s life but the life of her baby? (Way to be ethically consistent, Annette “Abortions Are Evil” Shepherd.) Doug and Nathan are on the run because, as Nathan puts it, “Literally all I care about is getting out of this alive.” Janine is sobbing while driving because she knows that Tom’s death-by-whoopsie-robbery was premeditated manslaughter.
To remind all of us what this show is apparently, truly about — umm, death?— we begin with a shadowy figure digging up graves. A lot of graves. Remember that one episode of The Americans where a whole scene was spent digging up just the one grave? And that was a team of trained spies, working in shifts! This someone is bearded. There is sorrow. There is sighing. There is a sense that this soul is more at home here, under the suffocating blanket of night, surrounded by ghosts, than anywhere else. There is: Doug Stamper.
Doug has been listening to Frank’s final gift, this itty-bitty MP3 or some such device, on which Frank recorded all his monologues. Is this a recording of everything he ever said straight to the camera? Were his fourth-wall breaks actually secret diary entries? “There are two kinds of pain” is from the series premiere — aww, simpler times — and as we can see, Doug has listened to this tape so much he knows it all by heart.
If you were asking yourself, “How long did it take Doug to grow that beard?” the answer, as we can see from Claire’s swelling belly, is four months. She’s giving rousing speeches about how “the future has become very personal” while all these shadowy oligarchs are trying to run her out of office. Claire calls herself a father, a mother, a leader, a friend, and Doug, watching from afar, mutters to himself, liar, killer, because he has COMPLETELY fucking lost it. He has an actual Unabomber beard. He is mourning Rachel. I shout at my laptop, BUDDY YOU ARE THE ONE WHO KILLED HER YOU DON’T GET TO BE ALL “RIP, MY LOVE.”
Claire has a vision, and the vision is, let’s start arresting people in Congress because the Shepherd “freedom” app is a gross violation of privacy! And let’s get rid of everyone who doesn’t agree with me! (Claire as Trump in Hillary clothing is … one way to go, I guess.) Nora reminds Claire that we “live in a world of due process,” and I mentally summon Doug to dig another grave, for there’s no way Nora is not long for this world.
Janine has the press part of Air Force One all to herself, which is a bad sign— typically once Claire knows about you, you are doomed — and she uses this opportunity to quote from Frank’s secret tapes, knowing it will put Claire on notice. Claire responds by having very intense contractions. Which kind of pain is that, I wonder? A doctor comes by to do blood work and advise Claire to skip her upcoming appearances; all of a sudden Claire doesn’t want to be an indisposed president, but such is that pregnant life. Then this doctor — an emissary of the Shepherds, it turns out — gives Claire that drip that induces her labor, right when she’s in the middle of talking about a Russian troll factory with Petrov! “History belongs to the highest bidder now,” Petrov says, and upon hearing this, Claire’s unborn child is like, “NOT TODAY SATAN” and Claire keels over.
Speaking of people whose bodies are betraying them: Bill has looked better. He is Miss Havisham-level pale, talking to a bunch of rich people at some event. Remember that the Shepherds bought Justice Abruzzo, so don’t be surprised that they wrote his majority ruling which will diminish Claire’s powers “over time and across the board.” It’s a little early to be popping Champagne, but no one told Annie and Bill that. Congressman Cole is here, as is Mark, wearing a turtleneck (?) and a blazer and talking about how he’s just fine to rebuild his career again and again and again. One rogue waitress interjects the proceedings to say that the Shepherds are killers and that Bill made himself sick with his own factory poison.
As Bill starts in on today’s bloviation of choice, Annie cuts in: “Please don’t confuse me with someone who is willing to listen to one more of your goddamn opinions.” CHISEL THAT INTO MY HEADSTONE, CROSS-STITCH IT ONTO ALL MY PILLOWS. (Or, at least, everybody go add that to the tops of your Tinder profiles.) Annie tells Bill they’re both legally adopting Duncan so he can inherit Shepherd Unlimited. Sensing a theme, re: heirs, legitimacy, and inheritances?
While Claire is unconscious, she has this flashback to hooking up with a hot guy in a great sweater whom she loved having sex with but who she does not choose. Because … “I want every door to be wide open and stay that way.” Sure! His name is Reed. I don’t think we know him from anywhere else. After one last time with him, Claire calls young Frank and tells him she’ll meet him in five minutes.
Upon waking, Claire learns about this dubious doctor who “will never practice again” (fair) and that she’s carrying a daughter (obviously). She calls Annette just to taunt her with the heartbeat and call her a “fucking cunt” (again, fair).
Meanwhile, Doug does weird survivalist face-washing and then emerges into the night where Nathan awaits him. Doug gives up the coordinates of where Rachel is buried; Nathan folds immediately because of not wanting to die.
Claire kind of loses it and tears apart the Oval Office, finally figuring out that Doug took something from the bottom of that drawer. Congressman Cole shows up and somehow avoids commenting on the post-frat-party vibe of the place. Also, Congressman Cole is now Speaker of the House. Claire explains that someone will go down for app-related treason and tells Cole that Justice Abruzzo traded a favorable ruling for a lakehouse. Really? Are lakehouses so great and that hard to come by? I mean, I don’t have one, I’m just saying. (I love that Abruzzo doesn’t even deny it; he’s just like, “My grandson has MS and needs to swim!”) Cole isn’t so hot on impeaching a black justice. Claire, as you might expect, does not care.
So Abruzzo recuses himself, Duncan is charged with treason, and I think to myself, Extremely shitty for Duncan that he didn’t just stay with his birth parents. Annie’s take on how Claire is polling high now is “anyone that popular is bad for democracy,” lol.
The Shepherds decide that the only course of action is to assassinate Claire: She has no vice-president, so Cole will become acting POTUS, and then they’ll push the stability angle to get him elected for real. Besides, Annie says, Claire will be a feminist martyr, especially because she’s pregnant. (Just in case you weren’t sure these kids weren’t hypocrites re: abortion, “pro-life” politics, etc.) Doug is brought into the meeting but quickly bails when his ridiculous terms — take down Claire, leave Frank alone — are not met.
Doug then meets with Janine, who got Tom’s research off his dog’s collar (that is brilliant, RIP Herald Tom, all dogs are good dogs) and says it’s the same story Lucas and Zoe were working on when they were killed. Janine yells what we are all thinking at Doug: “What the hell are you protecting?”
Claire has a sit-down interview with Melody of Beltway TV, where she announces that she’s having a girl. Doug watches this interview with his arms folded. Through the TV/fourth wall, Claire says, “Come and get me, Doug.” So Doug dramatically cuts off his beard because the END IS NIGH. Of course he cuts himself so there can be symbolic bloodshed. Then Doug looks right at us and says, “She leaves me no choice.” Is there anyone in this show who isn’t allowed to talk directly to us?