The eighth episode of this season of House of Cards ended on a high note of sorts. Despite the fact that the America Works program was killed because Frank had to sign an emergency bill while Hurricane Faith was barreling toward the Eastern Seaboard, the President ended the episode by officially announcing that he was going to run in 2016. Frank’s endured a lot this season, and he’s shown a fair amount of malaise, but the end “Chapter 34” gave us a Frank who was entirely optimistic.
By contrast, “Chapter 35” is nothing but plans gone wrong. I’ve mentioned before that part of the show’s problem is that it allows its two main characters, the Underwoods, to be consistently removed from any of the consequences of their actions. They hardly ever have to face up to harsh truths, to reckon with the consequences of their often-ruthless actions.
This may be the best episode of the season for the very fact that it forces the Underwoods to deal with real stakes, to confront the series of actions and decisions that have led to many innocent people losing their lives. Moreover, Robin Wright is the director on this episode, and she brings a welcome stylistic flair and sense of atmospheric dread.
After the win that was getting the resolution to send peacekeeping troops into the Jordan Valley, and managing to secure the cooperation of Russia in the process, everything is falling apart for Claire and Frank. While out campaigning, Frank learns that eight Russian soldiers have been killed by an IED. This is a disaster for the peacekeeping mission, so the reaction to it must be swift. They must investigate what happened and bring it to light as soon as possible in order to keep the resolution in place.
Russia is standing in the way of that though. They’ve blocked everyone, including the U.N., from examining the blast site, citing a distrust of all other parties involved in the resolution. Frank tries to negotiate with Petrov, asking him to allow U.N. or American forces to lend a hand, but the Russian President won’t listen. He’s determined to conduct his own investigation.
While the investigation is going on, many of the players that took part in the resolution are panicking. Israel wants to blame Palestine for the attack, and America is doing everything it can to keep everyone calm and collected. Yates and Baldwin—watching the events unfold as their sexual relationship continues to blossom into something more—realize how big of a mess this is going to be. A peacekeeping resolution could suddenly end up a catalyst for war.
Since Frank can’t convince Petrov to allow the U.S. or anyone else near the blast site, he suggests that perhaps Claire can get some information from Alexei, the Russian ambassador. The two meet secretly at the U.N. because it turns out that Alexei has some explosive information to deliver. While he can’t come outright and say it, he suggests that the reason Russia is blocking access to the blast site is because they don’t want anyone to examine the findings; that’s because Russia killed their own men in an attempt to sabotage the peacekeeping mission.
NEXT: Doug falls off the wagon[pagebreak]
While Claire and Frank are conducting their investigation into the IED blast, Doug and Gavin’s search for Rachel finally comes to an end. Gavin meets with Doug in order to tell him that Rachel was found dead in a ditch in an abandoned construction site, though she wasn’t going by her own name anymore. She’s listed as Jane Doe in the police report, but a gruesome crime photo confirms to Doug that Rachel is indeed the unidentified body.
This is hardly the conclusion Doug was hoping for. He’s long cared for Rachel, and her death shakes him deeply. It’s not long after that Doug falls off the wagon and begins drinking again. He spends the night out coming close to getting into fights at bars before returning home, puking on his floor, and then watching the live surveillance footage that once showed Rachel’s location. Wright frames the scene beautifully, giving us a shot from above, with Doug leaning back in exhaustion, the coffee cup he just threw at his computer laying still on the keyboard.
Doug has spent most of this season lost, but the death of Rachel leaves him more devastated than ever. In a final moment of desperation, he reaches out to Frank. Meeting him at the White House, Doug shows him the evidence of Rachel’s death. Frank is obviously glad that the matter is finally closed, but he’s also shaken by his friend’s return to alcohol. He asks Meechum to burn the files and take Doug home, where Doug’s brother meets him to take care of him. If Doug won’t go back to rehab, this might be the next best option.
Doug also admits to Frank that he was working for Dunbar, and says that he did it to try and get close to her, so that he could find a “silver bullet” that Frank could use in his campaign. Frank seems to trust Doug and wants to take care of him. He’s worried about him, despite Doug’s protestations that he’s “not Peter Russo.” With his friend’s health one of his utmost concerns (along with any political advantage he can take), Frank calls Dunbar and scolds her for making Doug work, for pushing him too hard. It’s a powerful scene in that it shows Frank’s ruthlessness as both a friend and a politician.
Frank has even more to worry about than Doug though. When Claire reports back that the Russians killed their own men, he has to make a difficult decision about how to handle the delicate situation. Ultimately, despite counsel to the contrary, Frank decides to secretly send troops into the blast zone. It’s a covert operation that’s meant to gather evidence so that the U.S. can use it to either prove Russia’s guilt or at least strong-arm them into some sort of new resolution.
The resulting scene, where Frank and Claire sit in the situation room as the mission takes place, is haunting. There’s a palpable tension, and once the Russian agent who the U.S were supposed to trust with getting them to the blast site starts shooting at the troops, everything turns disastrous. Wright does a wonderful job behind the camera, filming Frank first from behind, his head in his hands as he realizes that the mission needs to be aborted, and then from a low angle where we can see the defeat on the President’s face.
For the first time in awhile, Frank is confronted with real consequences in that his decision (and all the decisions that have led to this big one) has cost one American soldier his life, and may have much larger international implications. When the episode comes to a close, we see Frank writing a letter to the family of the fallen soldier. He writes that he was killed in a “training mission,” part of the elusive rhetoric that comes with running the country. Suddenly, everything is in a tailspin for Frank, a far cry from the rousing campaign stop that kicked off the episode.