Everyone is coming after Frank, as Lucas tries to expose his darker side while Claire attempts to derail his campaign
After being absent in the previous episode, Lucas Goodwin, a.k.a. “John Carlyle,” starts off “Chapter 42.” He’s washing rental cars for a living now. While doing so, he stumbles upon a newspaper and is attracted to two specific headlines: one that says Frank is making his way to South Carolina for primary day and one that says Heather Dunbar will be in Ohio. He stuffs the Dunbar article in his pocket and gets back to work.
Meanwhile, Frank has made his way to Gaffney, S.C., and is finding a ton of support in his hometown and home state. After attending a church service in the small town, largely populated by African-Americans, Frank takes the podium and delivers a brief speech. More than anything, he addresses the current oil crisis in the United States, a product of Russia’s refusal to deal with the U.S.
Frank has dealt with crisis before, but this one is starting to hurt his campaign; people in his own hometown are flipping off his motorcade as it drives by. Leann knows just how bad it’s getting. She hired a firm to analyze some numbers, and it turns out that Claire is more popular than he is. Leann figured as much, but it’s nice to have the numbers to back up her gut instinct.
Those numbers allow Claire to feel emboldened. First, she tells her mother that she can come and go from Dallas whenever she pleases, and then she sets a plan into motion to knock Frank down a few pegs while also putting herself into a position of power. So much of this episode is a cat-and-mouse game between Claire, Frank, and, tangentially, the Dunbar campaign. As Frank says, “It’s as though she [Claire] never left…and that’s what I’m afraid of.”
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Claire’s plan begins with Leann secretly getting into a safe deposit box after registering with the bank under a fake name. She snaps a few pictures of something in the box, but we don’t know what it is. Whatever it is, she brings the photos to Gaffney and asks someone by the name of Oren to do an industrial printing job for her. She hands over a ton of money to get the job done, but what could be worth so much?
Back at Frank’s childhood home, he’s still having violent fantasies about Claire while metaphorical bloody tap water drips from the drain in his kitchen. On the phone he’s dealing with Russia’s boycott. He has a new plan: If Petrov already thinks the U.S. is responsible for setting up Milkin as a dissenter, then why not just run with it? His team advises against such a tactic, but Frank is determined to follow through with it. It’s a big gamble, but that’s Frank Underwood’s game.
NEXT: All falls down
So, what exactly was that printing job? Well, as it turns out, Frank kept an old photo in his security deposit box that showed his father standing alongside a member of the KKK, and Leann had the picture printed out on canvas, with the slogan “Underwood 2016,” and draped across a huge billboard in Gaffney.
This, of course, starts a huge media frenzy on the day of the primary, when Frank is supposed to lock down a win in his home state. His whole team goes into damage-control mode, threatening Oren into apologizing in front of the cameras while Frank explains the story behind the photo. He says that his father met with the KKK one time because they influenced the head of the local bank, and his father needed a loan to save their family farm. He tells this story to the black congregation gathered at church, but the damage has already been done.
When Frank asks Doris and Celia to stand by his side, they refuse. It’s a stirring moment as Celia and Doris go off on Frank for not understanding the immensity of the situation. The scene is all the more effective considering we’re only a few days removed from Donald Trump refusing to dismiss the support of the David Duke for his presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Frank’s team is rabidly looking for the leak. Seth suspects Meechum, but it looks like he’s really just covering his own ass as he’s seen (presumably) sending out a picture of Frank with a Confederate reenactor, only adding fuel to the already raging fire.
While all of this is happening, Lucas is trying to meet with Dunbar so that he can once again explain why Frank Underwood is such a depraved person and someone capable of murder. After snagging a rental car after delivering a sexual favor — House of Cards loves few things more than putting decent people through the ringer — he sneaks into Dunbar’s campaign event using his old reporting skills. Eventually, he gets a short, secret face-to-face with Dunbar, but she writes him off as crazy. It’s not until later that she reconsiders what Lucas may have to offer.
Dunbar might not need a ton of leverage to get rid of Frank, though, as the picture causes his numbers to drop, allowing Dunbar to win the South Carolina primary. It’s a devastating blow — what kind of president can’t even win their home state? — and one that he’s eager to have explained. He wants to know how the picture got out.
That’s when he goes through the safe deposit box and sees his mother’s earrings, which Leann put in there after she snapped the photos. Frank snaps and says he knew it must have been Claire but that he didn’t want to believe it.
When Claire enters the room, her plan snaps into place. Frank loses it on her while she calmly listens and assures him that his campaign was in danger anyway. Then she proposes a solution: They’ve always been stronger as a team, so they should run together, with her as Vice President. Frank once again shows his true colors when he reacts, yelling at her about how she doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of the position, that she’s totally out of her mind.
Claire stares at him and waits. When he says that there’s no way he’ll do it, she says that she can either campaign with him or completely ruin him. She picks up the phone and calls for a car to the airport so that she can head back to Dallas. She’s not bluffing, and Frank better learn that real soon.
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