A graveyard is quite the ominous setting to begin a new season. It certainly set the somber tone for this episode, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this foreshadows a darker season ahead. At first I believed Frank was visiting Doug Stamper’s grave; it was a great misdirect. As Frank addresses the audience for the first time he says he wouldn’t be at his father’s grave if he didn’t have to. When you’re president however, you need to be a little bit human. If it hadn’t been made clear before, we truly learn about Frank’s utter lack of sentiment when he takes a piss on his father’s head stone.
It was a quiet episode; it didn’t have any of the shock factor that came with the season 2 premiere. Where it lacked in “oh shit” moments though, it seriously made up for with a deep insight into Doug. The majority of this episode was devoted to him, with the Underwood’s taking a bit of a backseat. The shots from Doug’s POV during his recovery were fantastic. The blurred camera effect when his eyes could barely open and the ringing in his ears was so overwhelming, I felt like I was living through the trauma with him. When he ultimately wakes up from a coma we learn he has suffered major damages to his frontal cortex. This means his emotions will be unpredictable and it will be a struggle to regain full control of his motor skills.
Claire goes to see Doug and after playing nice for a few moments, she gets to the meaning of her visit, which is to coach him through a story for the police. It’s important they find Rachel, but she can’t be involved in the official story. She gives him a cell phone with only one number programmed in, labeled emergency. The Underwoods, always their best at keeping up appearances, have Doug’s apartment cleaned and fridge stocked before he is released from the hospital.
Doug’s brother Gary, who he has barely spoken with over the last decade, stayed by his side in the hospital and has offered to stay with him at home while he recovers. Doug sends Gary home, and it’s clear his only interest now is getting back to work. He tries to reach Frank, but is advised his new phone is only for emergencies. Later he meets with the FBI informant, Gavin, who tells him there is no trace of Rachel. Doug calls the emergency line again, desperate to speak with Frank.
When Doug finally gets a call to meet with the president, things could not have gone worse. He slips and falls in the shower and breaks his arm. Instead of going back to the hospital and missing his meeting, he uses a wooden spoon and duct tape to form a splint. Unfortunately, there is no good news for Doug at the White House. Frank, displaying lack of sentimentality, tells Doug he needs to focus on his recovery before returning to work. Doug argues he could work from home, but Frank is resolute in his decision.
Back at the hospital, a doctor prescribes him painkillers, not knowing of his addictive tendencies, but Doug doesn’t stop him. When the pills run out he turns to alcohol, which he has a sex-worker squirt through a syringe into his mouth. It would seem Doug is officially on a downward spiral, all those years of sobriety washed away. It feels as though Doug may have become a liability for the Underwoods, and considering how they deal with liabilities, that can’t be a good thing.
Through several news clips – many of them viewed by Doug as he’s determined to stay current – we learn president Underwood has a very low approval rating and his first efforts in the White House aren’t going smoothly. On The Colbert Report, Frank discusses his new jobs program called America Works. Colbert doesn’t miss an opportunity to ridicule the plan, calling it a work of fantasy and comparing the abbreviated name, “AmWorks”, to Amway. Later, when reviewing the finer points of the program with his team, one member has his own idea of how it should work and voices it to Frank. This man no longer has a job.
Frank has appointed Donald Blythe as his VP in an effort to keep this pain in the ass close to him rather than over in Congress. The two meet with a Supreme Court Justice who has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and would like to spend the rest of his lucid years with his wife. Frank asks him to stay on for another 6 months to a year so he can appoint a new Justice at just the right time. Showing more of that absolute deficiency of emotion.
Frank is forced to make a decision on whether or not to use a drone to eliminate a highly wanted terrorist in Yemen. There are a few political leaders he doesn’t want to cause problems with, and there’s a possibility civilians may be caught in the middle. This scene was uncomfortably real. Frank opts to only take out the target if no civilians are involved.
Though we don’t see much of Claire, some of her season’s trajectory is set up; she wants to run for Ambassador to the UN. She would like to announce the nomination soon, but Frank tells her of some opposition, specifically from Catherine Durant. In typical Claire fashion, she doesn’t give a shit about that. She’s been in the passenger seat for decades and it’s time for her to take charge.
When Frank is called to the Situation Room that night, he asks Claire to accompany him. The target has been located, but he is on a bus that could very likely also have children on it. Frank orders the strike, and he’s probably playing us, but he actually looked upset. Perhaps inviting Claire to view the strike was an attempt at persuading her to wait on the announcement, but it didn’t work. She wants that nomination and he’s going to give it to her.