While House of Cards is sometimes able to put on the facade of being thirteen different units rather than just one, long story each season, Beau Willimon’s writing staff is still so comfortable with the freedom of the Netflix model that constructing a season with different peaks and valleys appears to not be much of a concern. Typically, penultimate episodes set up whatever big things are going to go down in a season finale. It may end up being the case with “Chapter 25,” but it hardly ends on a cliffhanger or suggests that Frank’s goals are going to be accomplished in one fell swoop of a final episode.
That goal, of course, is getting the president impeached, opening up the door for Frank to take over the country (and, certainly, the world, galaxy and universe at some point). The steps that Frank and Claire have taken in this direction have been comparatively subtle and once we see what’s going on, it’s brutally effective. Every time Frank has done something to get on Garrett’s good side and every time Claire has reached out to Patricia, the Underwoods have executed a careful, single step towards bringing the presidential couple down. Garrett calls is Frank’s cold calculation – in a scene where he finally shows us that he’s got a head on his shoulders enough to recognize what Frank is trying to do – but calculation doesn’t begin to describe the layered plotting of the Underwoods. For every attack that’s made against them, they have three counter-attacks.
Bringing in Jackie to the mix is probably the best example of the extent to which the Underwoods will go. All season, Claire has been pursing this assault bill; here, she finally lets go to sway Jackie over to use her power as whip for getting impeachment a reality. The move makes a whole lot of sense for Jackie, who is extremely cautious and skeptical with any and all dealings relating to the Underwoods, and it also gives her the kind of power we haven’t seen her use that much this season. Molly Parker has been fantastic in the role, but for the most part, Jackie has been a non-starter. Seeing how she operates and responds to a situation like the one Frank is putting together makes her much more of a character. I have to wonder, though, what this means for Claire. She’s carved a place for herself this season in a way that elevated her way beyond her supporting status last season. She’s been pursuing her own goals and fighting her own battles, even if Frank has been in her corner for help from time to time. Sacrificing the bill, however, means that her ultimate purpose is just to serve her husband in his campaign, which takes all the goodwill and agency Claire’s character has built. It’s not shocking given how focused on Frank House of Cards is, but it’s a little disappointing after such a great run of episodes that did right by Claire.
That main political plot aside, these three episodes have a lot of other interesting moments worth discussing, not least of which is the physical entanglement Meechum finds himself in with Frank and Claire. We’ve seen how much value Frank places on his bodyguard, but now it’s clear that Claire also sees his importance and the pair draws him in deeper than they’ve done with anyone else. It could just be that the trio can have a few drinks and use that as an excuse to go down that route, but I’d sooner believe that Frank and Claire are very capable of controlling their faculties under any circumstances and would get involved with Meechum – even just for one night – as another move towards strengthening the core relationships around them. Or hey, maybe they’re just attracted to the guy. In any case, it’s an additional instance of examining how strange the Underwood marriage is in terms of what’s taboo and what isn’t. They each know of each other’s physical infidelity, but this is the first time they participate in that together.
And while Doug and Rachel aren’t an item, Doug perceives Rachel’s involvement with Lisa as more of a figurative infidelity. He may be able to delete her phone number and try to work through his addictive impulses at an AA meeting, but Doug’s jealousy can’t be kept in check. In an extremely conniving way, Doug winds up coming back to Rachel’s place with Lisa to make a statement and get Rachel to kick her out. That Rachel would go along with it is unexpected, but we don’t know just how intimidated by him she is or how much she feels like she owes him. Regardless, the scene between Rachel and Lisa that follows is nothing short of fantastic. Rachel Brosnahan and Kate Lyn Sheil absolutely knock it out of the park, creating a scene of the kind of honest emotion that House of Cards is necessarily devoid of 99% of the time. Based on the sequence alone, I don’t have any more doubts about Lisa’s character – it’s highly unlikely that’s an elaborate plant – because of how much hurt is elicited by both actresses. Of all different secondary characters House of Cards could focus on in later seasons, Rachel fits in so well compared to characters like Gavin, and I hope she isn’t dropped from the main story.
These episodes contain a few other strong moments, such as Doug making peace with Seth, but they mostly serve to move the main plot forward, inch-by-inch. I would be shocked if Frank manages to get the presidency in the season finale, even though that’s the kind of big moment a writer can punctuate a season with. That would be way too easy and a good example of how House of Cards burns through story too quickly. But if that’s the case, then so be it. Frank didn’t win his vice presidency, he was appointed to the position. It would make sense that rather than beating Garrett in the ballots, he would usurp him. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
[Photo via Netflix]