For the majority of the third season, Heather Dunbar has been a tertiary character. She’s made her way in and out of the Oval Office in an attempt to chat with the President about their legal defense when it comes to the case of a drone strike that killed and injured a number of civilians. The case has been present in each episode, but hardly a focus. With the fourth episode though, the case takes center stage, and so too does Heather Dunbar.
The Washington that House of Cards constructs is one where there are constant threats to one’s power, and everyone is in politics strictly for themselves. There’s very little empathy or teamwork. So as much as Frank has to work with Heather on the drone strike case, he also has to consider her a threat. That idea is cemented in this episode, as early on Seth and Remy inform Frank that the Democratic leadership is considering Dunbar for the presidential nomination in 2016. She may not have the experience, but she’s the embodiment of truth and justice in America, and that’ll go a long way with voters hoping for some sort of transparency in their government.
The beginning of the episode acts as a catalyst. Dunbar is in front of the Supreme Court defending the government’s decision to launch a drone strike against a man named Aziz. While the strike did take out Aziz, it also injured a man named Mahmoud, who lost both of his legs, and killed his entire family. Normally, the government would deny responsibility for the attack, but with Frank’s order and his declassification of certain details about the strike, Dunbar admits culpability.
It’s all part of Frank’s overarching plan to be honest with the public. Don’t get it twisted though; he’s not doing it out of the goodness of his heart. Rather, he has a long-term plan (whether he wants to admit it or not) to run for President in 2016, and this “honesty” is all part of the campaign.
As revealing as the defense is about Frank’s intentions, the scene serves a larger purpose. Justice Jacobs, who revealed that he has Alzheimer’s back in the season’s first episode, has a momentary memory lapse. “Are you asking me about drone strikes?” prompts Dunbar, to which Jacobs snaps back and continues with his line of questioning.
Jacobs, who initially wanted to retire from the Supreme Court (keep in mind, it’s a lifetime appointment), was manipulated into staying on for a few months by Frank. At that point, Frank needed him there; he couldn’t risk a new nomination only a few months into his presidency, especially as he was working to get America Works off the ground. With Dunbar an apparent candidate for the Democratic nomination though, Frank’s eager to find a place to stash her away, and a seat on the Supreme Court could be just the place.
If Frank could convince (or rather, manipulate once again) Jacobs into retiring from his post, he could appoint Dunbar and have one threat to his presidency out of the way. Dunbar is ecstatic when Frank offers her the job; he just has to convince Jacobs to let go of the position and all will be set.
Jacobs has had a change of heart though, and after a discussion with his family, has decided to live out his healthy days doing what he’s always loved, which is serving as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Frank pleads with him, telling him that he’s only trying to save him from public embarrassment, from tarnishing his legacy. Jacobs sees right through it though and won’t be manipulated again.
NEXT: Gavin almost gets caught[pagebreak]
While all of this is going on, Gavin is still working on finding Rachel for Doug, but is coming up against roadblocks within the F.B.I. His search radius is too broad, so he needs more specific information about Rachel in order to narrow the search. Doug doesn’t know a lot about her though, so Gavin concocts a plan to attend some AA (or NA?) meetings and hopefully connect with Lisa, the young woman Rachel had a fling with last season. He finds her at a meeting, but their introduction is brief. If he’s going to get information out of her, it’s going to take some time.
Elsewhere, Claire and Catherine are still working on their plan to get United Nations peacekeeping troops into the Jordan Valley. After Russia vetoes a U.N. vote (as expected), Claire takes the first steps toward activating the Uniting For Peace Resolution, which would involve bypassing the Security Council (and Russia’s veto) and going straight to the General Assembly.
The Russian Ambassador is clearly not thrilled, but he seems more concerned about how Petrov will reprimand him than he his of losing a battle within the U.N. He asks Claire for more time, but she knows that involves backing down from Petrov. She refuses, telling the ambassador that they’re going forward with the resolution.
The scene drives home an intriguing character contrast that’s been present throughout the season. Through the first four episodes, we’ve seen Frank slowly lose some of his ruthless nature, while Claire has continued to be her vigilant self. The Underwoods have always been a team, but in the early stages of this season, we can see Frank cracking under the pressure, or at least doubting himself. That’s not the Francis that Claire knows, as she tells him on the phone, essentially telling him to man up and figure out a way to deal with the Dunbar situation.
Dealing with Dunbar is easier said than done though. Her excitement about the Supreme Court nomination was just a front for her real intentions, which have always been to run for president. She gives a speech on the steps of the Supreme Court announcing her bid for the spot. It’s a bold move, and even when she’s back in Frank’s office, and he’s doing everything he can to intimidate her in the passive-aggressive way that he does, she stands strong.
If that doesn’t signal that Dunbar is a real threat, then the possible inclusion of Doug Stamper on her team does. The former Underwood staffer contacts Dunbar after a meeting she has. Like all political dealings on House of Cards, Doug hides in the shadows and whispers his intentions. He wants to get in on the ground floor and be a part of Dunbar’s team. He’s been out of Washington for nine months, and Underwood seems to have no interest in bringing him back. If Doug joins the team, it’ll severely complicate things for Frank. Nobody knows Frank better than Doug, and that could be a huge asset for Dunbar. What’s unclear though is whether or not Doug will remain loyal to Dunbar, or if he has ulterior motives. This is House of Cards—he has to have ulterior motives, right? It’s part of the job description.
With Dunbar now a significant threat, Frank seeks solace and guidance in the only place he can: church. Francis Underwood is no President Bartlet though. Rather than an impassioned speech in Latin, Frank just straight-up stares down a statue of Jesus and then spits in his face. “It’s love your selling?” he asks the crucified Jesus. “Well, I’m not buying it.” Frank has been full of self doubt so far this season, but perhaps this is the return of the ruthless leader, the man he needs to be in order to take command of the Oval Office. As Jesus just found out, everyone’s just a pawn in Frank’s game.