With Will Conway gaining popularity, the Underwoods work on establishing a plan to ruin his campaign and reassert their political dominance
Credit: David Giesbrecht/Netflix

It’s nice to see that the Underwoods are back to being themselves. While driving a wedge between Claire and Frank did serve to shake up the show late last season and near the beginning of this season, a big part of the show’s appeal is how Claire and Frank steamroll everyone who gets in their way. It may not be pretty, and we may not agree with their tactics, but it certainly makes for more compelling TV than anything else the show’s done recently.

“Chapter 46” sees the Underwoods back to their scheming ways because they have a new foe to take on. With Heather Dunbar dropping out of the race, all but securing Frank as the Democratic nominee, the focus turns to the Republican party, where Will Conway, the Governor of New York, is making some serious waves. He’s a likable, young, handsome candidate with a transparent (in relative terms) home life that resonates with voters.

Before getting to Conway though, “Chapter 46” focuses on Frank and Claire setting up the rest of Frank’s campaign, including a plan to find someone to be his running mate. Frank offers the job to Blythe, pleading with him to accept, but after the chaos of being acting President, Blythe has no interest. That’s okay, because it’s exactly what Frank wanted.

Frank dangles the potential nomination of Blythe in front of his advisers and members of the Democratic party. They know Blythe will never bring voters to Underwood’s side, so they offer to give Frank a list of candidates they think will better suit their needs. Frank takes it all into consideration, but it’s only a matter of time before he swings everyone toward what he wants. When he and Claire deliver a practiced routine, asking for an anti-gun Supreme Court nomination, it’s clear that they have everything planned out perfectly.

Meanwhile, the only real hole in Conway’s campaign is the fact that he’s linked with search engine PollyHop. It’s something only a few people know, and Frank is hoping to get it out in the public so that the citizens and media can tear him down for violating their privacy. Leann doesn’t think that tactic will work though and suggests working with the data scientist she knows, Aidan — a.k.a. that guy who ran numbers for her a few episode ago — so that they can get their own metadata up and running. If they don’t, they’ll lose the election.

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Doing so is more complicated than it seems though, because Frank would need to get approval from the NSA to do domestic surveillance. Furthermore, part of Conway’s campaign is based around fighting ICO, a terrorist organization occupying oil fields in Syria. Frank agrees that ICO is a threat, but if he orders a strike against them, he’s essentially losing the leverage he needs for the NSA to grant him approval for domestic surveillance. But if he doesn’t order the strike, he’ll appear weak on terrorism, giving legitimacy to Conway’s platform. It’s a tough spot to be in, but the Underwoods usually have a way of working out of them.

NEXT: Bad cop, Worse cop

The first wrench thrown into Conway’s plan involves a reporter asking him about his connection to PollyHop during a campaign stop. Conway ignores the question, but it’s caught on camera, meaning that it’s all over the internet in no time. When Conway asks his staff to find out who the reporter is, they can’t figure it out. He wasn’t credentialed by anyone within their staff.

That leads to Conway calling Frank and accusing him of planting the reporter. Frank laughs the accusation off, though I wouldn’t put such a tactic past him; he’s usually a few steps ahead of everyone else. The version of Frank that takes this call is the version we all love to cheer for. He’s vile, of course, but there’s nothing better than watching him spar with someone who thinks he can go toe-to-toe with the President. Conway is boisterous, telling Frank that he should be scared. Frank has a simple, but scathing reply: “It take a lot more than height and arrogance to intimidate me.” Drop that mic, Frank!

Anyway, after Doug and Leann meet with Aidan, there’s tension between the two presidential advisers. Doug thinks using metadata is dangerous and that allowing the media to take down Conway is the best option, while Leann is convinced that no matter what, they should have the NSA approval and metadata in place just in case things go wrong.

Their whole operation is thrown for a bit of a loop when Conway tries to influence Frank’s decision in regards to ICO. Conway convinces the general to give his resignation to Frank, which, if accepted, would prove that the Underwoods are too passive when it comes to national security. Frank sees right through the plan though and instead orders the strike on ICO.

That pisses Conway off and forces him to make a decision about admitting to the PollyHop partnership. And admit he does. He creates a live webcast where he admits that he’s partnered with PollyHop, but insists that he’s only using it to see metadata, to get a better understanding of the people he’s going to represent as president. Coupled with the carefully curated wholesome family image, the video becomes a viral hit.

That means that there’s no way the media is going to be able to take down Conway; the people still adore him, and don’t seem to care that he invaded their privacy. Leann and Doug still can’t agree to what’s the next best option, but Frank is ready to make a decision. He calls off the strike on ICO, once again allowing his NSA approval to potentially come to fruition. As Claire states later, it’s their ability to go one step further than everybody else that will win them this election.

Really, “Chapter 46” is about performance in politics. It’s about how candidates navigate an area between their true selves and their projected self. Conway is performing just as much as the Underwoods, and that’s perfect because it puts these people at odds with one another. It’s been a long time since the Underwoods have had a formidable foe, but Conway may fit the bill. Get ready for a fight, because it’s coming. As Frank and Claire say at the end of the episode:

“We’re going to destroy them.”

“Yes we are.”

Hold on tight, folks. Things are starting to ramp up, especially if that meeting between Tom and Janine ends up going anywhere. The Underwoods think they have Conway in their sights, but they better watch their backs as well.

Episode Recaps

House of Cards

Ballots, betrayal, and barbecue combine in Netflix’s original drama, which stars Kevin Spacey as cunning congressman Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his equally ruthless Lady Macbeth. Based on a 1990 BBC serial of the same name.

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