Michael Kelly
Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)

“Chapter 72" opens with a time jump, one long enough for Doug Stamper to grow a bushy Beard of Sadness and for the world’s longest pregnancy to finally begin to show as Claire now boasts a noticeable baby bump. Stamper has taken a turn for the Shakespearean, muttering monologues as he digs up a grave in the desert. This is Rachel Posner’s burial site, rediscovered at last to provide closure for anyone who might still need it.

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And what about closure for House Of Cards? The penultimate episode is a wispy thing indeed, fading from the memory even as one watches it. The Shepherds’ master plan is revealed: they’ll use their Supreme Court pick Abruzzo to tilt a decision against Claire, stripping her of power, while establishing a new third party that will be headed by Brett Cole and totally under their control. Not a great alternative to what’s already in place, but if there was ever a time for an idealistic challenge to Underwood rule, it has long passed on this show.

Doug Stamper is driving around in his murder van listening to Frank’s diaries and committing them to memory. He’s devoted, you’ve got to give him that. He may even have a plan, although it looks a lot like he’s just making random threatening telephone calls and getting spotted on surveillance cameras until someone finally catches up to him. It turns out to be Nathan, who gets the coordinates for Rachel’s burial site from Doug in exchange for letting him live and telling Claire he escaped the country. Nathan just wants to get out of this thing alive, which makes him maybe the smartest person left on House Of Cards.

As for Claire, everything is going her way, even when it momentarily looks like it isn’t. Supreme Court ruling against her? That’s why she has evidence of Abruzzo trading favors for the Shepherds in exchange for a lake house. Instant recusal. Congress voting against her? Ah, but they’ve all been using the Shepherd Freedom app for nefarious purposes, crawling their constituents’ phones. Pregnancy scare? It looks like she may lose the baby, but it turns out she’s been drugged to start contractions early. Another Annette plot foiled. And the capper: “You fucking cunt. It’s a girl.” Well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it?

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As this episode’s flashback elucidates, Claire has never been about empowering women in general. She’s only about empowering one woman in particular: herself. “I want every door to be wide open and stay that way,” she tells her young suitor, who is baffled that she would choose Frank Underwood over him. Frank was her means to an end, but in order to fully achieve that end, she has to destroy whatever is left of Frank’s reputation. He has to mean nothing so that she can mean everything.

That’s something Doug Stamper can’t allow, so it’s time to shave the beard and get back down to business. We know he’s serious because now, for the first time, he addresses us directly: “She leaves me no choice.” (This happens right after Claire appears to speak to him through the television, and I’m not sure exactly what we’re supposed to make of that. I think I’ll go with “Doug is a little crazy” rather than “this is a world where people actually do speak to each other through televisions.”) And so the stage is presumably set for a final showdown, even if it’s not the one anyone had planned or hoped for at the end of House Of Cards.

Stray observations 

  • The matter of Duncan’s parentage continues to confuse. Does Annette propose that both she and Bill legally adopt him? Is that a thing: brother-sister adoptions? Asking for a friend. Anyway, Duncan is arrested by the FBI and charged with treason for his role in disseminating the Shepherd Freedom app.
  • Claire knows Doug must have something on her, as she find the drawer with his initials carved and piece of tape where the evidence once was. She tears up the Oval Office in the process, even knocking over the American flag. I think maybe that was symbolic.
  • Hammerschmidt did leave some dirt on Claire in his dog’s collar and Skorsky found it, but there’s no smoking gun. Claire is grateful for Skorsky’s work on exposing the app and wants her to reveal all of Frank’s dirty dealings, too. Russian trolls are also on the case, courtesy of Petrov.
  • Seth: “This is where I turn to the camera and say ‘I don’t know.’” Well, at least he’s still watching this show.
  • I think the funniest thing I ever heard on House Of Cards is Claire telling Melody Cruz that she likes nothing more than to laugh.
  • Or maybe it’s funnier that Claire’s approval ratings are near 80 percent. For an unelected female president who recently disappeared for weeks and fired her entire cabinet. That would definitely happen!
  • Final prediction: Frank Underwood will appear in the series finale, but it will be in a flashback and he’ll be played by a different actor.

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