One hundred days into Claire Underwood’s presidency and the people’s reviews are … mixed! The death threats are disgusting, specific, and so clunky in their symbolism they feel excised from the pages of dead Tom’s unpublished novel. Really, we’re supposed to believe that a deranged internet troll wants Claire skinned, cubed, and displayed in such a way that her flesh makes the white stripes and her blood fills the red in a corpse-collage of the American flag? Pretty sure these psychos are still sussing out the difference between “their” and “there.” (Don’t even get them started on “they’re.”)
But this is House of Cards. Did you expect subtlety? Remotely plausible dialogue? Coherent plot development? Don’t make me laugh while ending this sentence with Frank’s signature knock-knock.
As you surely know, Frank Underwood is as dead as Kevin Spacey’s career. Regular readers of these recaps (hi! Missed you, mean it) know that my favorite star of this show has always been Robin Wright, and my second-favorite star is Robin Wright’s cheekbones, so this development is fine by me. The word on Frank is that he died peacefully in his sleep (lol ok) and is buried in Gaffney, which he loathed, beside his father, whom he despised.
The question theoretically looming over the proceedings is: Who killed Frank, and how? Suspects abound, though of course the obvious candidate is Madam President herself, who was in bed with him when he died. (See also: Tom.) My question is: Will this final season do what viewers actually want final seasons to do and close loops left unattended since the early days of season two? Or will it introduce a whole bunch of new nonsense for us to keep track of and never get to the deaths of Peter Russo, Zoe Barnes, Lucas, Tom, etc., etc., in a satisfying way?
As Claire has always done when she wants to project authority, she’s incorporated some military motifs in her outfit: Brass buttons on a fitted navy jacket that’s very uniform-like. (Chances are we’ll be seeing that aesthetic repeat throughout the season.) She wants to address some new recruits before shipping them off to Syria. Vice President Mark whose look is very “what if Anderson Cooper were possessed by a demon,” suggests Claire postpone a day, due to this credible threat on her life. “Tomorrow will be the fifth of July,” Claire says, hair immobile as a helmet. She will go to the base as planned.
Remember when Frank breaking the fourth wall was all ooooh way to put the “prestige” in prestige TV? Yeah, so that was in February 2013. Claire’s direct addresses aren’t exactly the thrill they used to be, no? And it feels like this show has forgotten how to use them. Claire saying one thing to the world and another thing to us isn’t surprising. But Claire has her secrets, and I want to know what they are. I’m not saying it can’t be a useful technique, but in this premiere, I am underwhelmed by its application. Also by the bird-in-the-wall scene. What was once trapped in the White House walls is free at last to spread its wings and fly?? Wow, such symbolism! Much metaphor! Anyway I have to stop rolling my eyes or they will get stuck that way, and then I won’t be able to watch the rest of this season, so: onward!
Who is this soul I see, pacing in circles outdoors? Why, it is DOUG, a man without a country, for what is America with no Frank? As a great French philosopher once sang: Life is so unnerving for a servant who is not serving; he is not whole without a soul to wait upon. Poor Doug: Out of the Sadness Cave and into the psych ward.
Doug is tormented. Doug is in Victorian mourning for the only person he’s ever loved. Doug is … swole now? He is in conspicuously good shape for someone in this situation, especially if his only form of fitness is slowly doing laps in that meditation garden (I barely recognized our troubled, wounded hitman in all this natural light) and clenching his jaw to keep from sobbing when he thinks about how he’ll never get to murder another brunette to tie up a loose end for Frank. Then again, maybe it’s just that we’ve never seen him in a T-shirt before.
Smug, douchey Seth pops by mostly for plot-exposition-through-dialogue reasons. Doug’s patented whisper-growl returns when he asks if Claire “even shed a tear” over Frank’s death. No one loved Doug like Frank! Doug has one half of a BFFs necklace and he will bury the other half at Arlington, where Frank wanted to be interred, which Claire totally would know if she had with Frank what Doug has. Also, Doug is holding out for a pardon from Claire that I’m sure is coming any day now!
In therapy, Doug won’t change his story, which is suspicious—makes it sound like a script which, as we know, it is; he did not shove Zoe onto the Metro tracks—and besides, he could never speak ill of Frank, who helped him get sober and the only thing he asked for in return was Doug’s unwavering, unquestioning loyalty, and also that Doug take responsibility for all of Frank’s murders and assorted criminal activities. Later, we see that Claire is in cahoots with the therapist (reminds me of Don Draper spying on Betty through her psychiatrist), pressing to have Doug remain there indefinitely and suggesting he could be on antipsychotics. So what if he’s an addict? She only wants what’s worst for him.
Time to meet the new kids. They’re siblings: Diane Lane is Annette Shepherd and Greg Kinnear is her brother, Bill. They run Shepherd Unlimited, which is like a Koch Brothers-type conglomerate that owns factories and does philanthropy but mostly uses their financial power to bend our fair Republic to their Republican will. Dun dun dunnn. Ordinarily I am here for all things Diane Lane but, as ever on this show, I eagerly await the moment when her character stops speaking in meaningless mystery statements (“The hardest firework to make is blue” — um, what? Also who cares?) and makes this cool thing called “plot” happen. But for now, they mostly do a lot of talking at each other and have moody thoughts in the dark.
The Shepherds want Claire to sign this deregulation bill that presumably makes it easier for corporations to, I don’t know, dismantle factory workers and sell their limbs on the black market, or somesuch other evil thing. This bill has been in the works for ages and Frank pinky-swore he’d sign it. But Claire says she’s not beholden to Frank’s promises. Bill does not take this well and I wonder, as I often do on this show: Do people really talk to the president that way? Setting aside the current guy, I just feel like even the wealthiest donors didn’t roll into the Obama Oval and yell at Barack.
The Shepherds also aren’t feeling Claire’s slate of candidates, including this Nancy Gallagher character. “For the record, nobody loves women more than me,” says Bill, who is definitely a misogynist and, at the time he announces this, is the only man in the room. But he does not want Nancy for whatever Nancy is running for. Claire says something very Leslie Knope-like about believing in government and its ability to make people’s lives better. I assume this show is set in the distant past.
Back at the military base, Claire gives a boring speech about independence, while sneaking asides to the viewers at home about how we shouldn’t believe a word Frank said to us. She does a little “thank you for your service” step and repeat where, as you probably predicted, one young recruit dares to question whether or not Claire has a plan. And on the way home, someone shoots at the Beast. The bulletproof glass holds and the assassination attempt is kept (mostly) under wraps.
For some reason, we have to watch Claire recite all the presidents who were assassinated and all the presidents who were almost assassinated. I get that you have unlimited time on these Netflix shows, but seriously, what is the purpose of this? Are you building in time for us to get up and find snacks since there aren’t any commercials? This episode is almost an hour long and it could easily have been 45 minutes or less. Anyway, Claire is glad someone respects her enough to try to kill her, which is a real glass-half-full approach.
Spliced throughout this episode is a memory of Claire as a little girl, being harassed by boys who cut off her dress, and then getting revenge by jamming a broomstick through a peephole straight into one of their eyeballs. Sure.
What is intriguing here is that Annette has a son who is buddy-buddy with a young woman, Melody Cruz, who pops up in the press corps on Air Force One, angling for an exclusive interview with the new-ish POTUS. That, and when asked by his sister if he arranged this assassination attempt—which, based on all available information, was more of a warning shot—Bill says nothing. Why is everyone in this universe so cavalier about homicide? Also, Annette and Claire went to Andover together, and Frank told Annette “some fascinating things” before he died.
Back at the White House, we learn that Claire still doesn’t have a chief of staff and instead is just relying on Mark, a man she cannot trust, doesn’t like, and who is constitutionally incapable of directly answering any questions he is asked. Claire confides in Nathan, the FBI guy, that she is “starting to believe” Frank was murdered. Wonder what her endgame is here, drawing attention to the suspicious circumstances of Frank’s death. Who do you think she’s going to frame for it?
Claire retires to her room after the longest Fourth of July of any of our lives to find Frank’s ring in the middle of the bed. So apparently someone broke into the White House, or had someone on the inside—but not before they dug up Frank’s grave, busted open his casket, and pried the ring off his rigor-mortised finger. Okay! Three guesses who did it? Seems very Shepherd-y, or of course, it could be Mark. He is an unsettling man and Claire did make him clean up Tom’s dead body that time. Maybe he’s holding a grudge.
In a classic, super-subtle HoC move, the ring fits perfectly on Claire’s middle finger, which she points to the sky while staring us down.