Anyone expecting a straightforward election on House Of Cards is evidently unfamiliar with the television program House Of Cards. Even so, the dizzying events of the fourth and fifth episodes of this season would require a master’s degree in political science to unravel and fact-check… and really, what would be the point? We’re going to start holding this show to some standard of reality now that we’ve entered the post-reality era of American politics? We’ve seen a lot of things recently that we’ve never seen before, so let’s just stipulate that the basic outlines here—the House deciding the presidency and the Senate deciding the vice-presidency in the case of no candidate reaching the required number of electoral votes—are factual, and enjoy the ride.
And it is an enjoyable ride, particularly in “Chapter 55,” which unfolds over the course of an Election Day that appears destined to end with Underwood failure. Conway is riding high in the morning, confident of victory, while Frank and Claire have abandoned Double Indemnity to meet with Stamper and Leann to put their plan into motion. That plan is to sow chaos and confusion, starting with another phony terrorist attack. Frank informs the governor of Tennessee that an ICO terrorist is planning an attack on a voting center in Knoxville, and indeed there is an “incident” of some sort, but as far as we can tell it’s all smoke and mirrors. With the director of counter-terrorism on hand to play bad cop and urge the governor to shut down the polls, Frank is free to protest too much that he must do no such thing.
Frank next goes to work on Ohio, a crucial battleground state that could deliver the presidency to Conway. The governor isn’t buying Frank’s line about “credible NSA chatter” until Macallen once again manufactures supporting documents and has them sent directly from the NSA server. After that, he’s had enough; the prize hacker in the Underwood arsenal takes a powder and neither Leann nor anyone else is able to track him down. Given what he knows, that’s not great for the team, but they’re all-in on sabotaging the election at this point. On the surface, they’re still pretending concession is inevitable; Frank even calls Conway to congratulate him on his victory. What he doesn’t do is publicly concede, which leaves Team Conway in a limbo that doesn’t sit well with the candidate at all.
Basically, the Underwood plan is to throw all the shit at the wall and hope some of it sticks, which is exactly what happens. The Ohio governor imposes a curfew, voter-suppression challenges are filed left and right, and a handful of states are refusing to certify their results. It’s like a sequel to the 2000 Bush-Gore election with the turmoil cranked up to 11, and while it’s not always easy to follow, it’s a delicious showcase for the Underwoods in full supervillain mode. When Frank enumerates the election years that will mark their dynasty all the way up to 2036 and purrs “one nation Underwood,” it’s both ridiculous and satisfying. And when he turns to the camera and says “Meet your new daddy”… well, what can you do but laugh and tip your cap?
“Chapter 57” picks up the action nine weeks later, but nothing has been resolved. Two states have refused to certify their results, so neither candidate has enough electoral votes to win. The plan is for both the House and the Senate to vote simultaneously, which could result in a split ticket running the country if Conway prevails in the House while Claire takes the Senate. This is probably the biggest leap of logic in these two episodes, but we’ve come this far, so we might as well go with it. Another issue with this scenario is that it should be a little more clear-cut than it plays out here, but certain information is withheld from us. Although Claire mentions that the Democrats now control the Senate, it’s not clear by how much, or what the numbers are in the House. A straight vote along party lines is not in the cards here, because that would be too easy. Frank is having trouble reining in a progressive congressional bloc, which actually makes some sense given that Conway doesn’t appear to be much further to the right than him and is less hawkish to boot. Stamper and Leann are working the phones (there’s a whole lot of phone-working in these two hours), but although he chides her for not taking a harder line with Maine, she’s the one who prevails while Stamper struggles.
By episode’s end, the House is no closer to reaching a decision, but the Senate is another matter. Donald Blythe is inclined to postpone the vote, and gives Claire a condescending little speech about trying her luck in four years. She’s not having it, though, taking the opportunity to disprove Donald’s contention that she’s not like Frank. If the members of the House can’t make a decision, the vice president will run the country until they do. From the shot of Claire that closes the episode, it’s evident that Frank’s political fate is the last thing on her mind.
- Tom Yates is still just sort of hanging around, but he’s been a drag on the season so far. I have to assume he serves some larger purpose later in the season beyond Claire’s boy toy/occasional conscience, but for now his appearances just grind the show to a halt.
- It’s kind of an odd time for Frank to get back in touch with his Civil War roots, but that’s what he does when he invites Eric, the actor who portrays Frank’s ancestor Augustus Underwood in reenactments, to the White House. Frank learns that much of the mythology about Augustus was made up on the spot by Eric, but one apparently true story may foreshadow the remainder of the season: After appearing to be dead for a full day and night, Augustus rose again.
- Rachel Posner’s ex-girlfriend Lisa resurfaces with some dirt for Hammerschmidt, but he’s not buying. Sean Jeffries snaps photos of Hammerschmidt’s notes on the meeting and brings them to Seth, who wants to bring Stamper down no matter what happens with the election. But more importantly: Does Lisa still have custody of Cashew?