House of Cards recap: Setting the stage for Doug vs. Claire
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)
The time jump also gives us a few other pieces of news. First, Bill Shepherd is very, very sick. He can’t even hold a room’s attention anymore, as he rambles and loses his train of thought. That forces Cole to try to distance himself from the Shepherds, and instead get advice from Mark Usher, who’s no longer the Vice President. Claire hasn’t sought out a new VP yet because, as she says, “Congress is dirty,” but really she just loves having the power to herself.
Then, things get really crazy. After Claire not so subtly tells Petrov to have Russian trolls amplify Frank’s crimes online, Claire suddenly goes into labor. At 26 weeks, that’s not good. She’s rushed into care, and we’re forced to sit through yet another flashback. This one sees Claire choosing to marry Frank instead of running away with the guy she loves (I guess?). It’s another flashback that tells us nothing about Claire, though this one serves the purpose of being grossly male gaze-y when it comes to young Claire. When the flashback ends, we learn that Claire’s labor, which has been stopped, was induced by Pitocin and came at the hands of the doctor who recently saw her for some tests. In other words, someone (guess what? It was the Shepherds!) tried to kill her baby. Claire, triumphant and having a baby girl, calls Annette and holds up the phone so that she can hear the heart beating.
So, what’s up with Doug? Well, Nathan tracks him down in the desert and then lies to Claire about it. He says that Doug’s seemingly fled the country, and they have no way of tracking him at the moment. He’s lying because apparently, he’s working for the Shepherds. He brings Doug to one of the most ludicrous meetings this show has ever thrown together, as Bill, Annette, Seth, Mark, and a few others talk about the pros and cons of organizing the assassination of President Claire Hale. Of course, they all decide it’d be great for the country in the long run, they just need some lunatic to pull the trigger. Cue bearded Doug getting the pitch.
Initially, Doug refuses, but when he sees Claire on TV throwing Frank under the bus, calling him an “unknowable con man,” his undying love for the man who used him as a pawn for his whole life puts him into a fit of rage. He gets up from his couch, goes into the washroom, and shaves his beard to let us all know he means business. And because that bit of imagery isn’t enough, he also gets some blood on his hands!
Then he’s gifted the honor of breaking the fourth wall, like Frank and Claire before him. “She’s given me no choice,” he says, and another humorless episode of House of Cards ends, and sets up a showdown for the series finale.