As Election Day looms, the Underwoods fear they haven't done enough to win
house of cards season 5 episode 3
Credit: David Giesbrecht / Netflix

It’s the day before Election Day, and tensions are running high, even if the Underwoods are feeling confident in their fear-based tactics, believing that their path to the White House is clear. Conway, the sneakily charming man that he is, isn’t going away though. In fact, he’s enjoying a nice bump in the polls as Election Day approaches, thanks in large part to a commercial run by the Super PAC “Americans for Truth” that tells the details of Conway saving a man’s life while serving in the military.

It’s a story that Conway’s always been hesitant to talk about, and he insists that he had nothing to do with the commercial, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a story that’s useful. After all, the people love nothing more than a handsome, Caucasian war hero. To capitalize on this bump, or perhaps to just kill the tense time until the polls open, Conway is hosting one final event on the eve of Election Day. This one’s a little different though: With the help of Pollyhop, he’s hosting a 24-hour livestream where people can call in and ask Conway a question.

Looking at the livestream, Claire sees a man resorting to gimmicks to gain attention. Yates isn’t so sure though. “He makes the presidency accessible,” he says about Conway before referring to him as “modern.” It’s the first sign that there’s a purposeful contrast being drawn between Conway and Underwood. It’s the idea that while the Underwoods have been at this a long time, their confidence has blinded them to the fact that Underwood is an older man running an old-school campaign against a younger man with more modern tendencies. How that helps or hinders the Underwood campaign remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the Underwoods are doing everything they can to minimize Conway’s slight bump. They have people calling into the livestream to push him on the commercial and the story, as they believe he’s hiding something. As the episode unfolds, it becomes clear that Will is hiding something about that rescue mission that went wrong, but nobody knows what. Still, no matter the results of the election, surely that story, and the potential truth behind it, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Part of the Underwoods’ plan to reveal the truth behind the story is having the man whom Conway rescued call in to the show. What begins as a stirring reunion of sorts quickly becomes uncomfortable, as the man, Captain Squire, tries to get Conway to talk about the details of that day. “It all happened so fast,” says Conway, clearly uncomfortable with the memories. Eventually, the call ends, and Leann is revealed to be behind it all. She wants Squire to push further, but his brother refuses, telling Leann that they’ve done enough for the Underwoods and that they’re done with trying to expose Conway.

As Conway continues his livestream, Frank is traveling around and giving stump speeches to mobilize his base. Driving home the contrast between his age and Conway’s youthful vitality, Frank’s losing his voice and seemingly becoming sick. He’s constantly asking for water and tea with honey. But his pride stands in the way of letting Claire sub in for him during a speech, revealing a tension between them as well. The first half of the episode suggests that the wheels are coming off the wagon for the Underwoods. The back half sees the cart finally tip over.
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As the election creeps ever closer, Doug is getting worried that things aren’t going to work out in the Underwoods’ favor. He goes to visit Governor Matthews, giving him an earful about not establishing voting centers or bringing in the National Guard, all promises he made in exchange for help with his slag heap. Doug tries to call his bluff and intimidate Matthews, but as he reports back to the president later, he doesn’t believe they can rely on Matthews going forward.

It would seem that everything is spiraling out of control for the Underwoods. Catherine is bringing plans to Frank to help build up fear, but it’s too little too late. While Doug barely walks away from a double bourbon at a dive bar after having an uneventful sexual encounter, Frank and Claire have a late-night chat, with Yates asleep beside Claire, about all of their election worries.

Frank is starting to wonder if they did enough to secure the election, which is a crazy thing to think when you look back on everything terrible they’ve done. But, while watching Conway’s livestream alone in his bedroom, Frank seems slightly envious. He sees a man with stamina, charisma, and charm. In essence, he sees who he used to be, and there’s certainly the feeling in this episode that sometime soon, Frank is going to have to reckon with the man he’s become and whether that man fits into this world of politics.

With Conway getting all the publicity, Frank makes one last move late at night. He calls into the 24-hour livestream and tells Conway that he can ask him any question he wants. Will responds by asking about why he was never given a chance to complete the mission and save Mr. Miller after successfully negotiating the release of his wife and daughter. Frank does what he does best and makes the question about Will, saying that the terrorists could tell Conway was weak, meaning that Frank had to step in and take control.

What Frank doesn’t realize though is that his brash confidence and Southern charm is no longer working, on Conway or on the voters. The next day, as the polls open, turnout is low, and enthusiasm for either candidate severely lacking. Claire and Frank try to take solace in their ritual of watching Double Indemnity while acting out the scenes, but it’s of little comfort. Frank’s call into South Carolina reveals low numbers even in his home state.

In the Oval Office, Doug begins taking belongings out of the president’s desk drawer. He carves his initials into the bottom of the drawer, perhaps the final mark of the Underwood presidency. “We’re not going anywhere,” says Frank as the episode comes to a close. While the election results aren’t yet confirmed, things aren’t looking good for the Underwoods. Will they weasel out of another tough spot and find a way to win? Or does Frank’s cry that they’re “not going anywhere” signal that Conway is about to become president and have to deal with the wrath and fury of the Underwoods?

On to “Chapter 56.”

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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