Previously on House of Cards, ‘‘Forty-One to Forty-Three’
When Blythe expresses concerns over his upcoming call with Petrov, Claire offers to listen in and send him notes should he need her guidance. The Russian president immediately takes the upper hand in the conversation and, feeling that Blythe is in over his head, decides he’d rather wait to discuss the matter with Frank. Claire coaches Blythe into telling Petrov that Frank may never come back, so he had better get used to dealing with him, which is enough to change Petrov’s mind. News of Frank’s health was supposed to be kept under wraps, but Claire feels absolutely nothing in regards to her husband’s wellbeing.
Of course, she shows the public otherwise during a press conference disclosing the details of Frank’s condition. She also uses the opportunity to address Lucas Goodwin’s suicide note, which reads more like the Underwoods’ rap sheet. It’s important, she tells America, to not sensationalize the words of a “sick young man.” The tears come far too easy for this ice queen when there’s narrative to distort. It’s an all too familiar parallel with how we often reframe shooters as being mentally ill, often to avoid discussing, or to discredit, the true underlying cause for their actions.
Whatever Goodwin’s motives, his plan certainly backfired when he wasn’t able to get the job done. Thanks to sympathy votes, Frank is now way up in the polls, and rather than help Dunbar’s campaign as he originally intended, Goodwin has effectively ruined her. Their connection, however loose it may be, has been made public – Seth was forced to tell Doug what he learned from Cynthia in order to save his job – and Dunbar is being forced to go on the record about it.
Cynthia urges her to tell only part of what happened; that Goodwin did meet with her campaign manager, but not with Dunbar herself. She almost goes through with it too, but in the end she opts for the truth. It’s admirable, until she takes it a little too far. Dunbar glorifies her truth telling while simultaneously painting Frank as the biggest lying liar who ever lied. An attitude that doesn’t do her any favors, in a climate that is currently favoring their gravely wounded president.
Unfortunately for Frank, public approval isn’t what determines how fast you can get a liver transplant; he’s still second on the list despite being the POTUS. Not surprisingly, Doug offers his own liver for Frank. Sadly, because he is a recovering alcoholic, Doug’s liver just wouldn’t be sufficient. Even more unsurprising, Doug strong-arms the Secretary of Health into moving Frank to the top of the list. Now all he needs is a donor.
Currently thinking about everything but Frank’s recovery is Claire; she’s too busy playing puppet master to Donald Blythe. When he has no idea what to do about the gas crisis, she steps in to “help” him, yet again. She sends Leann to get Remy and, using the photos of him and Jackie as blackmail, uses him to get to Raymond Tusk. Remy pretends he’s back in the game and hopes Tusk will be his first new client. He’s forced to employ a bit of coercion himself, but in the end, both Remy and Tusk find their way back to the White House. Tusk’s connections to China will help ease them into a partnership with America and Russia, and Claire comes out of it looking like a genius; which she is.
Much to Doug’s dismay – actually, he’s absolutely livid watching Frank’s plans get derailed – Team Claire has developed a debt-relief strategy to present at the G7 summit in Brandenburg. There is some push back to the proposal; both Cathy and Jackie are opposed. Jackie’s support is easily won when Remy reveals the dirt Claire has on them. As for Cathy, she’s essentially overruled when Blythe approves Claire’s inclusion in the trip to Germany. While Blythe himself will stay in Washington, in case something should happen to Frank, Claire feels she should attend based on her close familiarity with the plan. Even when she learns that Frank is being prepped for surgery she chooses to keep going because, “the best way to be at his side is to serve my country.”
It was anyone’s guess whether or not Petrov would go for the bailout plan and, as usual, he’s being very stubborn. At first he’s entirely against any negotiations, but eventually he agrees to meet privately with Claire, partly because he’s so desperate to get under her skin. One minute he’s complimenting her appearance, the next he’s prying into the details of her and Frank’s marriage, but Claire stays focused. Not even a call from Frank, awake and out of surgery, can get in her way. She convinces Petrov that this deal is a way of earning back some dignity, and he falls for every word. Claire gets her deal, and Cathy gets to take the credit; which should be enough to shut her up, for a little while.
What are the chances that this near death experience will make Frank a better man? As a doctor explains, the President’s “brain is swimming in a pool of unprocessed ammonia,” which can lead to severe hallucinations. Frank is seeing all kinds of crazy, a lot of which seems to suggest that his subconscious demons have come out to haunt him. First, he envisions a confederate solider staring down at him behind the barrel of a gun. Then, there’s an unsettling, yet hypnotic sequence where he’s trapped in the Oval Office with Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo. During the transplant surgery, the tension is heightened, and it’s almost as if Zoe and Peter are fighting to keep Frank in the dark forever. Whether these hallucinations will weigh on Frank’s soul remains to be seen, but it’s clear he does feel some guilt or shame for the crimes he’s committed; he just keeps those types of feelings buried much deeper than most people would.
Back at home – with hair that’s now almost the same white as Claire’s – Frank can barely walk a few feet without help. It’s incredibly jarring to see this man so vulnerable and delicate. However, his condition does make it easier to believe him when he promises things will be different, if Claire will join him again in the White House. He even agrees to proceed with her plan for the gas crisis. “I said you were nothing, in the Oval, without me. It’s the other way around.” Either he’s truly had a change of heart during this ordeal, or he at least realizes Claire’s power. Regardless of the reason this was a smart move; Claire is virtually unstoppable right now.
When Dunbar announces she’s dropping out of the race, House of Cards shifts its focus to a new opponent: the Republican nominee, Will Conway. Unlike Dunbar, Conway is willing to employ morally questionable tactics in his campaign. Pollyhop, the next big Internet search engine, is allowing Team Conway to collect voter data. So, while he’s no murderer, he is shaping up to be a fitting adversary for the Underwoods.
Leann is ready with a plan to counter Conway’s, which involves data scientist, Aidan MacAllan. This is the guy who Leann’s been talking to all season, the one who initially discovered Conway’s connection to Pollyhop. If Frank is granted access to the NSA, MacAllan can sift through the data and learn almost anything about the electorate the Underwoods could ever want to know. Though Frank would prefer to expose Conway (plan A,) rather than take this huge risk with public data (plan B,) there couldn’t have been a more opportune time to explore the option.
The terrorist group ICO is occupying land in Syria and trying to recruit Americans to their cause. General Brockhart, head of the military, is pushing for a targeted missile strike, but because the ICO leaders are almost impossible to find, Frank wants to go another route: surveillance. So, while under the guise of protecting the American people, Frank will have access to infinite amounts of data to be used to manipulate those very same people.
Hoping to persuade General Brockhart into joining his team, Conway uses his military background for a little manipulation of his own. It works and Brockhart hands in his resignation, but Frank calls his bluff and approves the missile strike. Which renders the surveillance plan impossible. But then, Conway decides to go public about Pollyhop, and all bets are off. The American people, and the media, are in love with Conway’s idea of transparency being a two-way street. It’s only fair that the public should have access to his information – and he means ALL of his information – if he’s allowed access to theirs. With plan A no longer viable, Frank returns to plan B and cancels the missile strike.
Meanwhile, Frank still needs a running mate, and Blythe is out. After stepping into the role of president while Frank was away, Blythe realized his heart is just not in it. Frank feigns disappointment, but is all too eager to meet with the leadership to discuss other candidates. Their suggestions are all pro-gun people, which will interfere with a bill Claire is trying to pass involving stricter background checks for gun ownership. In a carefully rehearsed speech, Claire and Frank give the OK for this type of VP, as long as the leadership supports the bill. Oh, and if they agree to appoint a pro-gun Supreme Court justice.
Surely what we’re witnessing here, are the beginning stages in the journey towards Claire becoming vice president. Now, it’s going to take a lot of fancy footwork to make a married couple running for office together not completely laughable, but if anyone could do it, it’s these two. They may still be sleeping in separate beds, but the Underwoods feel whole again. Though the flashback to NYE 2012 was, on the surface, meant to show us the first time Frank and Will met, it served also as a reminder of just how harmonious Frank and Claire used to be. And I think this past is undoubtedly predicting the future.
In the background
- Doug’s rage – He suffocated Seth with a cup and it was absolutely bananas! Doug’s devotion to Frank has led to worse (mainly Rachel’s murder) but still, he is one terrifying man. “If I can’t have your loyalty, I’ll have your obedience.” The Secretary of Health better watch her back.
- Dunbar’s ethical struggle – The writing in this scene was fantastic. Watching Dunbar explore just how much she was willing to sacrifice to become president, offered such a contrast to how Frank and Claire would deliberate over the same issue. The fact that Dunbar would even consider NOT lying to get ahead, is exactly what makes her a worthy president. And it’s exactly why she would never win in a game of such corruption.
- Danny killing himself – What a strange and abrupt scene. Was this simply to foreshadow Claire’s background checks for guns legislation? The message feels a little twisted here since; a gun almost kills Frank, but then a gun also saves Frank, twice. Once directly, by Meechum killing Goodwin, and once indirectly when Danny’s organs were donated. Either way, the scene feels a bit misplaced.
- Justice for Zoe & Peter – Everyone is taking a second look at Goodwin’s claims, including his old boss Tom Hammerschmidt. He decides to meet with Janine, former White House correspondent, who confirms that Goodwin’s claims are the truth. After seeing how badly the Underwoods ruined her life for knowing what she knows, Hammershmidt is unable to quiet the nagging feeling that something must be done. Too bad he’s focusing more on the money laundering than the murdering.
House of Cards S4E5-E7
Another fantastic three episode stretch; House of Cards hasn’t been this engaging since late season two. The show took a risk in making Frank essentially absent for almost two episodes, but watching Claire rule over the White House like an absolute boss made the time just fly by. I almost wish Frank had to wait just a bit longer for that liver. However, it does look as though he and Claire are about to be at their very best, plotting and manipulating together at peak levels. And that’s very exciting.
Who knew watching Claire and Frank prepare speeches, and pushing each other to be tougher and play even dirtier, would be so damn thrilling? Seeing them get pumped up for meetings with the NRA or the Democratic leadership is just the kind of behind-the-scenes action I didn’t even know I was craving. In hindsight, the distancing we saw between them in season three was necessary, no matter how painful. It’s so rewarding now to see them back in action together, after all that time apart.