Remember a few episodes ago, when I mentioned in my recap that Claire Underwood seemed to be watching Rosemary’s Baby? Well, now we know why that might have been her choice that evening: she’s hosting the devil’s baby in her stomach. Okay, maybe calling her late husband Frank Underwood the devil is going a little far, but that’s just in the spirit of House of Cards, isn’t it? Upping the ante one episode after another, until the only space left is occupied by the truly ludicrous and laughable. That’s where we are with “Chapter 71;” we’re in full, laughable and ludicrous territory, and your thoughts about this final season of the show are probably hinging on how much you think a showdown between Claire and Doug is a promising storytelling avenue with only two episodes left.
Let’s back up though, because the whole “Claire is pregnant with Frank’s baby, but wait, does that even make sense in terms of the timeline of his death?” conversation doesn’t happen until the very end of the episode, and there’s a lot going on elsewhere. After Claire made all her big moves in the previous episode, “Chapter 71” is largely about the fallout. It’s a fallout that will include three deaths by the time the credits roll, and in the meantime, we get to watch the slow political deaths of everyone else.
With Claire making her own cabinet and shirking the influence of the Shepherds, Melody Cruz is allowed to go nuclear. She runs the abortion segment about the one Claire had at 16 weeks, in all of its sensationalized Fox News-esque glory, but it does little to faze Claire. She addresses the issue from the desk in the oval office, telling the American people that despite trying for a family with Frank for many, many years, when it finally happened the baby “wasn’t viable.” She turns to the camera to tell us that’s not true because House of Cards has to lay out everything we already know with moments of exposition both lengthy and mercifully brief.
With that out of the way, Claire can focus on what she really loves: punishing everyone around her. She introduces the new U.S. Attorney at a cabinet meeting — one the media notices isn’t attended by the Vice President, which is unusual — and she shares Claire’s interest in “cleaning house.” That’s bad news for the old establishment, which means Mark Usher is absolutely losing his mind. He’s in full panic mode throughout this episode. He’s holed up in his own house, frantic to the point that Jane’s even worried about him. She tells him to get out while he can and that any retaliation against Claire will mean his end, but he’s not going quietly, even as the Russia story begins to dominate media coverage.
As for the Shepherds, they seem to have so few moves available at this point. But there is one big wild card, and that’s Doug. This season has been frustrating when it comes to Doug and Claire, with nearly every episode following a similar pattern: Doug and Claire hate each other, then they realize they maybe both benefit from working together, only to then go back to being enemies. A whole season of that, even with a shortened episode order, is exhausting. With only two episodes left though it seems like the show is finally committing to Doug being against Claire. The Shepherds try to persuade Doug to work with them on taking down Claire, setting up a meeting where Doug crosses paths with Brett Cole, but whether he accepts their deal or goes out on his own is still up in the air.
As the episode unfolds, there’s an impending sense of doom permeating every new scene. You get the feeling that something bad is coming, and by the episode’s end, that’s true for many major players. The most upsetting of all the deaths in this episode is Tom Hammerschmidt’s. In “Chapter 71” he finally gets what he wants, or at least part of it: he learns the truth about the deaths of Zoe Barnes, Peter Russo, and Rachel Posner. Off the record, Doug admits to killing Rachel, and while he won’t explicitly say who killed Zoe and Peter, the implication is enough. Tom wishes he had more, that he could prove these things and publish them, but he has to settle for simply knowing the truth. That’s all Doug will give him, along with some dirt on Claire.
In essence, Tom knows too much. He’s always known too much, and that meant he had a giant target on his back. Sure enough, now that he’s gathering evidence on Claire Underwood, his time is up. Two gunmen storm into a deli where Tom is eating, but Hammerschmidt knows exactly what’s coming. He kneels next to his dog and puts some sort of USB drive on his collar. It’s his final move, one last ditch effort to get a story out there before one of the gunmen shoots him in the back of the head, a murder the media will label “a robbery gone wrong.” Perhaps Janine will pick up his cause now that she has the emails from Arcas employee Ron Meyers, which detail that Bill Shepherd and Shepherd Industries knew their plant was dangerous. The emails also show that Shepherd Industries used the explosion to get people to sign up for the app that’s tracking everything about them. Could she potentially ruin the Shepherds and Underwoods all at once?
Next up on the death list is Cathy Durant. I mentioned that perhaps Jane was in on the whole ICO kidnapping thing, but that’s not true. Claire’s wanted to get at Jane for some time after learning that she helped Cathy get away. Claire had Cathy tracked, and that leads to a sniper taking her out as she’s about to get into a car with her husband. And so Cathy Durant dies for the third and presumably final time on this show.
The only person from the previous Underwood administration who might survive this is Seth because he’s just happy to be here, you know? He’s quietly doing what he’s told by the Shepherds, and that might be enough to have his life spared. Jane Davis though, she’s on Claire’s list after not doing what she asked with Cathy. We don’t know for sure if Jane dies, but it sure does look like it, as she collapses in her weird light bed while on the phone with Mark, complaining of the biggest migraine. Poison? I think we have to assume so.
As if those three deaths weren’t enough, “Chapter 71” ends with one last bit of storytelling insanity —don’t even get me started on Duncan and his biological mother, because who even cares about these characters we’ve know for six episodes? — as Claire tells Doug that she’s pregnant with Frank’s baby and that they had a clause in their prenup that stated any heir would supersede a will, which means Doug won’t get everything Frank left for him. You have to laugh at how ludicrous it is, especially coming on the heels of figuring out Frank’s coded message about a hidden chip of sorts, one that presumably has some damning evidence that Doug can use against Claire. The final two episodes will see Doug and Claire go toe-to-toe…again. And thus, the presence of Frank continues to loom large over this season.