Greg Kinnear, Diane Lane, Cody Fern
Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

Does Claire’s long con hold up to any scrutiny? Granted, this is House Of Cards, so plausibility is measured on a sliding scale, but it’s hard not to spot the flaws in Claire’s scheme even as it’s quite a bit of fun to watch it play out. (This show in a nutshell, really.) At the very least, it gives Robin Wright some new notes to play, which isn’t easy to do six season into a series.

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The cold open is the tipoff: Claire is an actress. As a teen, she was cast as Lysistrata in the school play, but even back then she’s too disaffected to bother going through with the role, tossing it to Annette instead. In the present day, the cable news networks are having a field day with an ongoing “Where is the president?” storyline. Claire has been absent from the public eye for several weeks, and the only photo of her to surface reveals her stricken with grief, her face smeared with dark eye makeup.

It’s all a ruse, she assures us. “Don’t worry. I have a plan.” Well, of course she does. We’ve been watching this woman for six seasons, so we know she doesn’t behave this way. So why don’t the people around her come to this same realization? Her argument is that this is exactly what critics expect of a female president—too emotional, can’t be trusted when times get tough. But come on, this is Claire Underwood! Who could possibly buy this act, well-delivered as it is? When she breaks down in tears and dismisses Mark after he tells her she’s alarming the nation, why doesn’t he get that this is a con?

I guess the only reason is...there’s no show if he does. That was always the case with Frank: savvy politicians who should have known they were getting played were easy pickings for him. It’s one of the frustrations of House Of Cards over the long haul. Rarely have the Underwood adversaries been formidable at all. So it is that Claire is able to predict exactly what’s going to happen. The Shepherds will propose that Mark use the 25th Amendment to unseat Claire and take her place. Mark will convene the cabinet in a basement somewhere and garner support for the plan. They will all sign a letter declaring Claire unfit to serve. And Claire will swoop into the meeting just in time to intercept that letter and fire them all.

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But that’s not all! By convincing Kelsey that the Russians had Tom Yates killed and that Mark covered it up, and getting her to say so when the FBI interviews her, she rids herself of her most perilous threat. That leaves the Shepherds with their last ace in the hole, the information about Claire’s four abortions. Ah, but Claire’s replacement cabinet is entirely female! Checkmate! I guess?

Except doesn’t Congress have even more cause to impeach her now? In firing her entire cabinet just as they were about to have her removed, doesn’t she further establish herself as an out-of-control tyrant? I just don’t see how this plan is better than, say, simply replacing her cabinet members a few at a time over the course of her first hundred days, since they were Frank’s picks and it’s her right to surround herself with her own choices. Ah, but that wouldn’t provide the shock effect—the stunned look on Annette’s face when she first sees the all-female cabinet.

We’ll see how it plays out, but for now I’d have to vote “No, does not stand up to scrutiny.” It’s still a guilty pleasure, though, as is seeing Doug Stamper lurking as Dr. Rosen turns on the light in his remote “cabin.” (Sign me up for one of those rustic dwellings, please.) Stamper knows his shrink kept Frank’s will from him, and Rosen folds quickly, telling Doug that Frank left him everything. The last line of the will: “Remember the last thing I gave you.” At this point, I doubt it was a letter opener.

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Stray observations

  • Is it just me or was the score especially over-the-top in this episode? I felt like I was watching a Gothic horror movie at times.
  • My initial guess, when Claire first dropped a hint about Duncan Shepherd’s parentage, was that he was the product of incestuous union. There have been hints that Bill and Annette are very close siblings, after all. But then Claire says something about Annette not being his real mother, so my new theory is that Claire only had three abortions, and Duncan, though raised by the Shepherds, is the biological son of Francis and Claire Underwood. He looks like he could be, right?
  • Stamper tells Claire he thinks Durant is alive. As far as Frank is concerned, he says, “Whoever killed him will get what she...or he...deserves.”
  • Skorsky’s source has screenshots of emails implicating Bill Shepherd in the refinery explosion. Hammerschmidt gets his hands on a box of Rachel Posner’s personal effects, including a photo booth strip with Stamper’s home number written on the back.
  • Jane is fucking the ICO guy, who has her kidnapped and taken to Saudi Arabia. Sure, why not.
  • Things that are smarter than Duncan Shepherd, according to Bill: a towel, a rug, and even Seth.

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