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Maybe Raymond Tusk had the best take on Claire Underwood. As Bill Shepherd tells her after a tense exchange of threats, Tusk always wondered whether Claire was a real person or just playing the part of one. That could read as a meta comment on Robin Wright’s performance as well. There’s an unknowable essence to Claire, whereas it was always easy to see exactly what Frank was all about. Wright brings that enigmatic quality with her chilly line readings that leave sincerity an open question hanging in the air. Maybe she’s about more than just power for its own sake. Maybe she has some core beliefs and an agenda she believes in. Or maybe she just wants to mess with the people who think they’re truly in charge.


The ambiguity isn’t resolved in “Chapter 67,” in which Claire’s motives are as clear as mud. As the hour begins, she is strong-arming the Ohio governor into declaring a state of emergency after a refinery accident causes a Flint-like situation with the local drinking water. Or maybe it doesn’t; some question whether Claire is manufacturing an emergency to hit back at the owners of the refinery company, the Shepherds. On the other hand, some of those questioning Claire don’t take the bait when she offers a glass of water straight from the tap, so how certain can they be? At an impromptu public appearance with Annette Shepherd, Claire announces that the EPA and the military will investigate the disaster, and visibly pulls away from Annette when she raises Claire’s arm in an attempted show of solidarity.

In a sharp jab at the usual level of discourse on cable news these days, the incident becomes a major talking point, with representatives for both sides debating whether or not a “recoil” actually happened. Claire may not have entirely manufactured the disaster, but she’s clearly using it to poke at the Shepherds in retaliation for her discovery of Frank’s ring on his bed. She assumes they are responsible, just as she’s sure Bill is behind the assassination attempt designed to scare her into playing ball. Vice President Mark Usher strongly suggests she do so as well, and it appears that he may quite literally be in bed with the Shepherds, or at least with Annette. Temporary though it may be, Claire plays along, raising Annette’s hand emphatically and signing the “safety” bill in exchange for Bill returning Frank’s ring to his grave. Even with Claire directly addressing us in Frank Underwood fashion, her chess moves remain opaque. Frank always told us exactly what he was doing, in thuddingly obvious terms at times. All we can really get out of Claire so far is that she’s not Francis.

Doug Stamper has come to that realization as well. His pardon isn’t coming, so he takes matters into his own hands, stealing his analyst’s phone and setting up a meeting with the US Attorney General. He recants his confession for the Zoe Barnes murder and the charges against him are dropped. He receives immunity in exchange for his testimony against Claire, who probably shouldn’t have assumed she’d inherit Doug’s loyalty to Frank. Will a present of Frank’s cuff links be enough to lure Stamper back into the fold?

The truth of Frank’s sudden demise remains cloudy, but at least Claire gives us a few tidbits to chew on. The night of his death, Frank had shown up at the White House drunk and raging, slurring his words. She’d locked herself in her bedroom and he’d died in his own—not in bed beside her as the official story goes. Still, if Frank was murdered, I’m not ready to scratch Claire’s name off the list of possible suspects. As with all things Claire Underwood, at least so far, the truth remains unknowable.


Stray observations

  • Secretary Durant is a potential witness for the US Attorney’s probe, so she survived her fall down the stairs at Frank’s hands (which remains one of the top three stupidest moments in House Of Cards history).
  • Seth Grayson is now in league with the Shepherds, and most of his efforts center around a new app that gives them control of what people see on their phones after they’ve willingly handed them over to have it installed. Constance Zimmer returns as Janine Skorsky, now working for a weekly paper in Ithaca and digging into the nefarious app that, according to one user, tells what’s going to happen before it happens.
  • “I slept with him once.” “Your brother?” “Your husband.” “I know.” Annette and Claire sure have a strange relationship, following up this exchange with a mirrored bowing routine they must have practiced many times in their youth.

My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.

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