With Tom's scathing article being published, the Underwoods try to regain power by instilling fear in the American people
Credit: David Giesbrecht/Netflix

The season 4 finale starts with a pretty great cold open, as ICO leader Ahmadi is shackled, hooded, and dragged out of captivity while tympanic drum rolls ripped straight from Hannibal‘s sound design work to create serious tension. The hostage crisis is about to come to a head, and the cold open assures us it’s going to be intense.

Picking up where the last episode left off, Frank takes control of the call. The terrorists try to get Conway on the line, but Frank is forceful. He tells the captors to let all three Millers go in exchange for the opportunity to speak to their leader, Ahmadi. The terrorists refuse and Frank gives them one last offer. Let the mother and daughter go and they can speak to Ahmadi, or else their conversation ends. Frank gives them 10 seconds, and the terrorists refuse to reply.

That means that Frank needs to regroup and figure out exactly what the next steps are. First, Claire is in charge of readying Ahmadi for a potential call with the terrorists. She’s holed up with him in a government safe house in Virginia, offering him a shower and fresh clothes. It’s all part of a plan to get Ahmadi on their side, to get him to tell the terrorists to let the Millers go. In exchange, the U.S. will allow Ahmadi and the Ba’athists to return to power in his true home, Iraq… or so Claire says.

Meanwhile, Conway is truly losing his grip. He can see the presidency slipping away. There’s an article out there, orchestrated by Frank, that says Conway did in fact interfere with the House Intelligence Committee. It’s a huge blow to Conway, especially coming on the heels of his statement about him being “ashamed” of his military service. Now he’s lashing out as his family and trying to find a way out from under the Underwoods. No viral video will save you now, Will!

Things get even worse for Frank when Tom emails Seth asking for a comment from the president in regards to his upcoming article. The Herald plans to go live online in a few hours, but Tom gives Frank an opportunity to explain himself. When Seth sees the email he panics and tells Doug.

Both men bring the news to the president and guess what? He’s not too happy about it. After he yells and screams at Seth and Doug about letting this happen — you’re in the wrong, Frank, in case you forgot! You killed people! And a dog! — he tells them that he wants a meeting with Tom immediately.

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Back in Virginia, if that’s where Claire truly is, the First Lady/potential future Vice President is trying to convince Ahmadi to go ahead with her plan. She tells him that he has a chance to do good for his country. Ahmadi doesn’t believe her though, and as he says, his family has only ever known violence and destruction because of the U.S. Now they’re getting a taste of their own medicine, feeling the terror he and his family feel every day, and he’s not about to become a traitor to his cause.

NEXT: I’ve made a huge mistake

Back at the White House, Frank has his meeting with Tom. He basically tries to shame him into not publishing the article, calling his quotes conjecture and saying that he has no evidence. Tom is having none of it though, and it’s so nice to see someone with actual facts behind him stand up to Frank. Tom knows he has the Herald and a lot of sources behind him, which puts him in the position of power. Doesn’t feel too good does it, Frank? Later, Frank tries to strong-arm him some more, but Tom refuses to be swayed. The article will be published with or without a comment from the president.

After Tom leaves, Frank finds out that the FBI has found the mother and daughter safe and sound. At the same time, Claire convinces Ahmadi to stay out of Guantanamo and chat with the terrorists about letting the last hostage, James Miller, go. Ahmadi is an unpredictable variable, but it’s all the White House has to offer at this point.

Claire puts Ahmadi in front of a camera and the White House connects him with the terrorists. He initially asks them to let James Miller go, but then he does a quick turn. He shouts at the camera, telling them to get the video out there to the media and to kill James Miller if necessary. It’s a huge backfire, as the video makes its way to the media and the crisis escalates. Add to that the fact that an FBI raid on a cabin turns up nothing, and suddenly the Underwoods aren’t as in control as they thought.

Then, Tom’s article goes online and everything crumbles. Phones in the White House are ringing off the hook. Seth is trying to figure out how the hell they’re going to spin the story. Meanwhile, Jackie and Remy are looking happy, ready for a vacation. The Conways are pretty giddy too, watching as the Underwood campaign totally derails.

Of course, Frank and Claire have a plan, and it’s potentially more sadistic than ever. When Frank stares out the window and says that he’s scared, that they’re in serious trouble now with the election only a few weeks away, Claire responds by completely going for broke. She thinks they need to create absolute chaos. “I’m done trying to win over people’s hearts,” she says, and Frank, who barely has a heart, agrees.

He wants more than chaos. “War, fear, brutal, total,” he says, that menacing grin taking over his face. Frank orders a speech from Yates and adjusts it to his needs and then sits behind the desk in the Oval Office to address the nation. The speech is pure fear mongering. He lays it on thick, creating a culture of pure terror by saying that the U.S. must respond with full force. It’s a tactic to create chaos and maybe buy the Underwoods some time, and they don’t give a damn who gets hurt or killed along the way.

The brutality is only beginning. Cathy knows that a full military offensive is unwise, and she also knows it’s just Frank’s way of trying to draw attention away from the revealing article. That leads to the final scene in the Situation Room, which is truly disturbing. Frank insists that everyone watch as the terrorists cut the throat of Jim Miller in a video that’s being broadcast all around the country. This is what Frank and Claire want. They want the American people scared because it benefits them.

Or, as Frank says as the episode and season comes to a close: “We make the terror.”

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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