House of Cards loves its time jumps, but there’s probably never been one more significant (and off-putting) as the one that begins “Chapter 72.” The camera pans along a dark desert; we see multiple holes recently dug. Then, in the light of a car’s headlamps, we see Doug Stamper digging yet another hole, this time finding exactly what he’s looking for. This is no regular Doug Stamper though, this is bearded, angry, “I hate Claire Underwood so much” Doug Stamper. There are few things more reliable than a beard to convey a time jump, and that’s a solid one that Doug’s got going. That’s months of not shaving and wallowing in your hatred for the President of the United States. It’s the beard of a lunatic, which makes sense when you consider the final scene of this episode.
Enough about Doug’s beard though (for now). After digging up what’s presumably Rachel Posner’s body, he sits in his creepy van and listens to the audio recording that Frank left him, the one he found back in the Oval Office. It’s a recording of Frank’s diary, his whole life story, and Doug seems to know it by heart. That’s super weird, but maybe also super helpful somewhere down the road when he tries to get Claire prosecuted for her crimes. This season has struggled to commit to any sort of meaningful conflict, but the first few moments of this episode make it clear that the series’ conclusion is going to come down to Claire and Doug, battling it out for…what exactly? An obscure sense of “power” or “justice”? Whatever Frank’s legacy is? Really, we’re just watching bad people who don’t like one another try to kill each other. There are no protagonists here.
Because House of Cards can’t even do lean storytelling with a condensed episode order, there are all these other rather meaningless storylines we have to deal with before we can get down to the nasty business of Doug trying to kill Claire. So, Claire is at a women’s conference, and incredibly pregnant to boot. She uses her time in front of the audience to slam the Supreme Court, and her political opponents, for trying to roll back her powers, specifically her access to the nuclear football. Again, this is all about America’s great fear of a woman being too emotional to make a decision. She also uses this opportunity to hammer home that the Shepherd Freedom Foundation used its app to crawl into people’s phones and invade their privacy.
So much of the episode uses this story to further the tension between the Shepherds and Claire, but it’s not like we’re getting anything new here. It’s the same old emotions, just playing out with a slightly different story. Some of the story is meant to show the level of influence the Shepherds have, but that feels like old hat too. This time around, rather than showing that influence through the signing of a bill or the appointment of a judge, it’s the fact that Congress isn’t rushing the investigation into the app. In other words, Congress loves the Shepherds, so there’s no reason why they’d be eager to start looking into them. Again, this is yet another story that painfully details the Shepherds’ hold over everyone, and that Claire isn’t going down without a fight. “Replace the U.S. Attorney,” she shouts when confronted with the idea of due process.
The other subplot involves the Supreme Court ruling on Claire’s ability to handle the nuclear football. Basically, the Shepherds are sure they’ll win the ruling because Judge Abruzzo is the swing vote. But Claire has other plans, finding dirt on Abruzzo about him taking a bribe from the Shepherds in order to secure a favorable ruling for Shepherd Unlimited, and strong-arming Brett Cole into seeking impeachment of the judge. It’s never really explained what happens after that; another slight time jump informs us that the court ruled in Claire’s favor and upheld her powers. (Recap continues on next page)