We know, we know. You’re done with politics. But politics, my friend, is not done with you.
The past several months have already given us Brexit, President Donald Trump, and that Macron-Le Pen nail biter. Think your nerves can handle two Underwoods on the same ticket?
Season 4 of House of Cards ended with Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) becoming husband Frank’s (Kevin Spacey) running mate in the upcoming presidential election against suave but hotheaded Republican Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). Wright has joked that our real-life POTUS has taken “all of our good ideas,” making the Netflix drama’s far-fetched plots seem a little less, well, far-fetched.
But while golden showers are on par with bodyguard threesomes, and Russian interference looms both in fiction and reality, House of Cards can still be counted on to deliver some seriously mind-blowing drama. Let’s not forget that both F.U. and White House chief of staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) are murderers who have narrowly avoided being killed themselves. The First Lady is sleeping with another man, all the while plotting how to spin a terrorist attack on U.S. soil into votes. Pretty sure none of that’s in James Comey’s receipts, but, hey, ya never know.
Grab some popcorn and set those breaking news alerts to silent — one bonkers administration at a time, folks.
The televised beheading of American James Miller by ICO terrorists is having a huge impact on the upcoming election, which is now just two weeks away. As promised, vice president hopeful Claire (Robin Wright) is using terror to drum up votes, filming a PSA that encourages citizens to rat each other out. Forget MAGA: Underwood-Underwood 2016’s campaign slogan appears to be “If you see something, say something.”
A news bulletin from Ann Curry explains that one of the domestic terrorists behind Miller’s death was killed in an FBI raid, but another, Joshua Masterson, remains at large. Plenty of people are blaming Frank, too, including angry protestors burning effigies of the president, a bitter Conway (Joel Kinnaman), and Miller’s grieving young daughter. “You killed my father,” she tells Frank during her father’s funeral service. “You’re the reason he died.” Frank moves to comfort her, and she uses the opportunity to tell him that she hopes he dies and that Claire becomes president. Be careful what you wish for, girl.
Now that the funeral is over, it’s time for both parties to use Miller’s death for their own political gains. Frank’s plan is to push Congress to make a declaration of war, whipping Americans (and, more importantly, voters) into a fearful frenzy. In a total Trump move, he also insists on the tightening of visa restrictions and an intense no-fly list. Secretary of State Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson), ever the voice of reason, balks, calling it “unprecedented.” Or is that “unpresidented”?
During an appearance on Charlie Rose with the First Lady, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) rightly accuses Frank of using the possibility of war to distract everyone from the charges raised in his big article. The journalist is still very much on POTUS’ tail, hiring a young style reporter with great social skills to join his investigate team.
Will Conway likewise wants to shift the story from terrorism to Frank’s crimes. Though the military vet isn’t opposed to war, he doesn’t want it to work in his opponent’s favor. In addition to putting out his own fires — running mate General Brockhart (Colm Feore) needs to toe the line, while his wife Hannah (Dominique McElligott) has been expressing sympathy for the at-large Masterson’s mother — he recruits right-leaning Democratic congressman Alex Romero to join the declaration of war committee and sway the vote.
Claire’s big plan is to “dial up the terror.” She arranges a meeting with Masterson’s mother, accusing the woman of raising a monster and offering to play her the video footage of her son beheading James Miller. Mrs. Masterson is driven to tears. When she’s approached by reporters after the meeting, she’s visibly distraught, and asks her son to turn himself in. It’s just the soundbite Claire wanted.
For her next trick, Claire pays a visit to a burnt-down convenience store in North Carolina. There’s no reason to think that this is anything but run-of-the-mill arson, but the First Lady spins it so that it’s all presented as yet another example of terrorism on U.S. soil. Someone’s clearly onto her bullshit, because a man shouts “War whore!” and then splashes black paint all over her nice khaki suit. Oh, and in case you were wondering, she’s still sleeping with Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), even though he steals her stuff and helps himself to the White House kitchen.
There’s been a lot of talk about FBI raids targeting Joshua Masterson. News breaks that agents are closing in on the terrorist in Virginia — or “Virgina,” as Ann Curry’s dodgy chyron puts it — but it’s a dead-end. That’s because (surprise!) Frank and Assistant FBI Director Nathan Green (Jeremy Holm) have had him in a cell this whole time.
“Did you think I didn’t already have him, that I would have left him out there somewhere?” Frank asks the audience, breaking the fourth wall. “And I thought you knew me.”
Yup. We should have known. The bruised and battered criminal won’t give up any ICO intel, but does hock up a big wad of spit the president’s way. Frank tells a reluctant Green to “get rid of the asset,” and the next scene shows POTUS announcing in a press conference that Masterson was unfortunately killed in a manhunt. He helpfully adds that domestic terrorism is still running rampant, and that Congress really needs to get on that declaration of war.
He may want to rethink that. Democratic Minority Leader Bob Birch (Larry Pine) informs Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) that Congress plans to use the war committee to investigate Frank. They’re looking for Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp to testify, and, frankly, so are we.
Frank’s call to James Miller’s widow doesn’t go as planned; he expects her to thank him for taking out her husband’s killer. She tells him to get lost and to take Miller’s name out of his mouth. His ego is bruised, but Claire knows just the thing to cheer him up. She takes him out to the front of the White House, where countless supporters are holding “We are all Jim Miller” signs. For Frank, it’s a reminder that his fear propaganda is working. He shakes hands and works his way down the line — miraculously, nobody shoots him — telling each person, “You have nothing to be afraid of.”
He turns to the camera to address us, the audience. “You have nothing to be afraid of.” Riiiiight.
It’s Halloween! Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil) doesn’t like candy corn, and there’s nothing more terrifying than a campaign video in which Frank’s face morphs into Claire’s. Telling, no?
Still not scared? Consider Claire’s visit to New York City, where she’s promoting a range of gas masks for people to wear in the event of a chemical attack. Welp. She runs into Ken Caswell, an old schoolmate of Frank’s, who has bad news: Tim Corbet, the classmate with whom Frank had a youthful fling, has gone missing after a trip on the Arkansas River, and is feared dead. Ken’s own life might hang in the balance, too, judging by the way Claire reacts to his suggestions that Frank and Tim had a (wink, wink) special relationship. She shuts him down and admonishes him for having a big mouth. We’re guessing Claire would sooner push Ken onto some subway tracks than have a gay sex scandal break out a week before the election.
Back at the White House, Frank is doing his darndest to make Election Day his bitch. He’s invited the nation’s governors, including New York’s very own Will Conway, to D.C. to convince them to create large-scale voting centers patrolled by the National Guard to keep voters safe. This is especially crucial in five swing states: Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Stamper tells those governors’ aides that they’ve received threats, hence the need for “safe” voting centers. They accuse him of trying to suppress Republican voter turnout but pipe down when Stamper offers favors to sweeten the deal.
The governor of Pennsylvania happens to be Jim Matthews, Garrett Walker’s former vice president who got conned (and then replaced) into stepping down by then-whip Frank. Matthews is due to testify before the committee investigating Frank. In exchange for an EPA “swag heap” that’ll create jobs in his state, he’ll stay mum. Sure enough, he has little to say when Congressman Romero interrogates him about Raymond Tusk and Frank’s role in his resignation.
Speaking of leaks, Tom Yates is in the dog house when he tells a reporter friend that he’s Claire’s “mouthpiece.” Nobody wants people thinking about what Claire and Tom might be doing, but the pressures of being in a top-secret relationship with the First Lady are getting to the speechwriter. The two make up and fall into bed, but Tom becomes aggressive. No means no, man.
Frank takes a beat to mourn Tim. He tells Claire that she’s the only person he’s ever truly loved, but privately, he nearly breaks down when thinking about his old friend and former lover.
There’s little time for reflection, however. It’s time to amp up the terror once again. Thanks to Aidan Macallan’s hacking, everyone’s phones and internet signals start screwing up, triggering travel delays and even a train derailment. Frank announces that it was all a cyber attack from ICO and reiterates his demand that Congress declare war. The ruse convinces the governor of Ohio to agree to have troops sent to his state.
The fear-mongering is too much for Conway. After telling off General Brockhart for continually bringing up his military record (hmmm… what’s that about?), the Republican candidate tries to take his children trick-or-treating just as troops roll up. Conway loses it as the cameras roll, blasting Frank for demanding war and letting expletives fly.
Watching at home with their his-and-hers jack o’lanterns (oh, the nightmares), Frank and Claire celebrate their opponent’s meltdown with a nightcap.
Pictured: Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) and Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman).Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix.
Election Day is probably the last day some of us would like to relive. But here we are.
With one day to go before the polls open, Will Conway has a new campaign manager (Campbell Scott’s cooly confident Mark Usher) and a gimmick: He’s staying up for 24 hours to take calls from voters in a live-streamed feed for Pollyhop. Unfortunately, all anyone wants to ask him about is the one thing he’s reluctant to discuss: his heroic rescue of a fellow soldier, Captain Craig Squire.
Given that Squire is just about the only military vet who isn’t gushing about Conway in a new campaign ad, the Underwood campaign suspects there’s more to the story. LeAnn goes to Texas to pressure Squire himself to call and confront Conway; Conway is taken aback and acts cagey, but manages to end the call without any bombshells being revealed. Squire’s brother refuses LeAnn’s pleas to call back.
The 24-hour Q&A session makes Conway seem “accessible” and “modern,” Tom Yates makes the mistake of observing to Claire. She takes this to mean that Frank is old, and therefore, she too is old. “He’s only a couple years older than me, you know?” she reminds her lover.
While Frank and Claire are busy attending rallies, Doug Stamper is giving Pennsylvania governor Jim Matthews an earful about breaking his promise to Frank; he has not deployed troops or created centralized voting centers. Matthews responds by telling Stamper that Frank, and, by extension, Doug, are going to lose and they will be poof, out.
Doug’s in a murderous mood, and it doesn’t help when he returns to the White House and gets scolded by Frank for being too pushy. He tries to cheer himself up by having terrible sex with Anthony Moretti’s widow (and you thought your booty calls were bad). When that bombs, he goes to a bar, orders a drink, and contemplates breaking his sobriety before fleeing without taking a sip. Um, we’re proud?
He’s not the only one oozing desperation. Secretary of State Catherine Durant, last seen trying to plot a coup with Donald Blythe of all people, feebly offers to arrest an innocent man simply because he shares a name with an ICO terrorist. Frank resorts to creepily watching Claire sleep with Tom in her bed. They discuss his fears about the polls. Then they discuss Tom’s nocturnal behavior. Totally standard.
It’s nearing 6 a.m. Frank, still unable to sleep and presumably bored of watching his wife’s lover toss and turn, decides to call into Conway’s live-streamed Q&A. He offers to let Conway ask him one question. Conway takes the bait and asks why Frank stepped in before he could secure the release of James Miller, the American man beheaded by domestic ICO terrorists.
Frank warms to the topic as Claire crawls into his bed. The terrorists would take advantage of Conway, he tells his opponent, obliquely referencing the guilt and shame he must feel about what happened overseas with Squire. He succeeds in getting under Conway’s skin.
Now it’s Election Day, and someone’s hung up the Trump-approved gold curtains. The Underwoods vote, then head home to take part in their Election Day tradition: watching Double Indemnity, a classic film noir about a couple who resort to murder to get their way. It’s also the film that was playing when they had their first kiss. Now would be the perfect time to bust out that eye emoji.
Their movie date is spoiled by bad news: The polling numbers are really low. Like, probably-losing-to-Conway low. Doug retreats to the Oval Office to carve his initials into the underside of a desk drawer. Frank gets testy and snaps at Claire’s mention at the mere thought of losing.
Moments later, the film is nearing its conclusion.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” Claire asks her husband as Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck’s images flicker in the background.
“This is our house,” Frank responds. “We are not leaving.”
The last line we hear is courtesy of MacMurray, who is warning Stanwyck she’s about to take a “one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery.” Foreshadowing?
This episode begins with the ending of a film, and ends with the beginning of Frank and Claire’s nefarious plot to create “one nation… Underwood.” So catchy, so chilling.
Doug and LeAnn are called into the Oval as Team Underwood panics about the dismal polls. Doug is fighting with LeAnn and threatening to fire gossipy staffers. Tom Hammerschmidt is predicting an Underwood loss and regaling Seth with tales of meeting “the last Mrs. Hammerschmidt drowning tequila shots at the Bob Dole Ballroom.” Team Conway, meanwhile, is having celebratory afternoon sex.
All hell breaks loose in Tennessee. Frank and Claire do everything to give the impression that they want voters to get out and perform their civic duty. Meanwhile, Counterterrorism Director Nathan Green (guess he got a promotion after the Joshua Masterson killing) is working behind the scenes to persuade the governor that a terrorist incident is imminent. Conway aide Mark Usher tells the Republican governor that voting should be undisturbed, but it’s all for nought. The governor calls for a curfew and the voting centers are shut down. Conway is furious.
The election focus now moves to Pennsylvania and Ohio, both of which Conway needs to win. He picks up the former, prompting Frank to concede the election in a call to Conway. “You think I learned nothing from Al Gore?” he notes to the camera as he and the projected winner have a cordial chat.
Conway’s celebration is short-lived. It’s time for stage two.
Doug has threatened LeAnn’s pal Aidan Macallan into creating fake “credible intel” that makes it look like Ohio voting centers are also being targeted by terrorists. He then badgers the governor, who happens to be losing his own election, into following Tennessee’s lead by suspending voting. Coincidentally (wink), all those key states — Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, etc., with Hawaii as a bonus — Frank discussed earlier in the season are refusing to verify their voting results. Lawsuits are being filed left and right. Frank, who has yet to publicly concede, still has a shot.
Of course he does. The episode ends with a flashback to Frank and Claire’s conversation, where they agree to do whatever it takes to win. This was all part of the plan, and it’s working beautifully.
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