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. (Recap continues on next page)