House of Cards recap: 'Chapter 56'
With Election Day now in full swing, House of Cards is hitting its first real stumbling block of the season. It’s been fun watching both the Underwoods and the Conways do their best to secure an election win, and the backdoor dealings up until this point have felt fresh and intriguing, removed from previous seasons where the focus has been on a larger scale. So far this season, everything has felt intimate and urgent, all in service of building toward a tense and very significant Election Day. That day is here, but “Chapter 56” is in no way the intense or cathartic episode one might hope for, or that the season would suggest it’s been building toward.
At the conclusion of the last episode, things weren’t looking good for the Underwoods. Low voter turnout and bad numbers in the southern states made it look like Conway was well on his way to a victory. At the top of “Chapter 56,” the words “The End” appear as the first image, the closing credits to Double Indemnity rolling without any viewers, Claire and Frank long since gone to deal with the chaos of Election Day. It’s a fitting image to start, as this day could be the end of the Underwoods in the White House.
Even the Conways, often conservative and cautious in their approach to just about everything, are practically celebrating at home. Hannah calls Will “President” after they make love — it’s more sweet and charming than it sounds when typed out — and the campaign manager is confident that there’s no real path for the Underwoods to win this election. The numbers just don’t work in favor of the current president.
Of course, the Underwoods aren’t just sitting idly by and allowing Conway the hard-fought victory; they have a plan. They call Doug and Leann into a closed-door meeting, and when the two leave, Leann mentions something about Aidan. That likely means they need him to do some sort of hacking to help with whatever this plan is. The one thing we know: It’ll be a gross abuse of power. It’s the Underwoods’ M.O.
Quickly, part of the plan takes shape. Frank calls the governor of Tennessee, a man named Mitch, and tells him that the White House has raided the home of a suspected terrorist — you’ll remember that Catherine’s files on this suspected terrorist turned up nothing, but that doesn’t stop Frank from using it here — and that they found materials for making bombs. They suspect that he could attack polling stations at any time, which leads to the polls being shut down.
It’s just the first part of the plan. While their true objective isn’t clear right away, the Underwoods are doing everything they can to create more chaos. Claire gives a speech urging people to still go out and vote despite the terror threats, which is basically a thinly veiled way of saying, “Don’t go out and vote, it’s dangerous!” The Underwoods seem to be playing both sides, urging people to vote and yet fabricating dangerous situations that lead polling stations to close as results are contested.
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What “Chapter 56” doesn’t quite understand is that all of this political maneuvering isn’t all that entertaining. Sure, the shady dealings of the Underwoods are often the drama that drives the narrative, but this episode is largely made up of people talking on phones about polling stations. It may be reprehensible that the Underwoods are trying to create chaos and fear of a terrorist attack so that the election results are questioned, but simply having the act be reprehensible doesn’t qualify as good drama.
I mean, how many scenes of Aidan frantically hacking into something do we need? Or how many calls with governors? Here, it’s Doug putting the pressure on Aidan, telling him to fabricate NSA documents to make it look like there’s the threat of a terrorist attack at the polling stations in Ohio. The idea is to use those fake documents to convince the governor of Ohio to shut down voting for the day, therefore creating more chaos around this election.
This episode is all about the Underwoods making a joke out of democracy. They’re engaging in voter suppression and all sorts of other illegal activity, while also accusing other people of voter suppression, because they have no other path to winning. All that’s left is forgery and intimidation.
Everybody seems to play their part perfectly. ADCT Greene pressures the Ohio governor to close down the polling stations while Frank gets to sit back and pretend that he doesn’t want that to happen. Then, Frank calls Conway and concedes victory. It’s an unofficial way of conceding, but the media still picks up on it, and it seems like this election season is going to finally come to an end.
Then, everything goes sideways for the Conways. The governor of Ohio announces on air that based on information he’s received about a potential attack, he’s closing down polling stations and instituting a curfew for all citizens. From there, things just continue to unravel, to the point where six states are being challenged for not having certified results, all while results all across the country are being challenged with lawsuits claiming voter suppression.
This is what the Underwoods wanted. Once they realized they had no chance of winning, they wanted the results to be questioned. They wanted the election to look like a complete mess. They got their wish. As Claire and Frank watch the chaos unfold with smiles on their faces, Will and Hannah look on with devastation, unsure of how to proceed now that the White House is no longer theirs.
Oddly enough, the episode doesn’t end there, but rather with a flashback to before Frank and Claire called Doug and Leann into the Oval Office near the beginning of the episode. Now, we’re privy to their conversation. Frank wants to make sure Claire is ready to do anything to claim the White House as their own, and she agrees. But what does that mean exactly? Well, as Frank begins to list off all the years the Underwoods could claim the presidency and vice presidency — moving from 2016 right through to 2032 and presumably beyond — there’s a suggestion that becomes clear: The Underwoods might be looking to create so much chaos that they can wipe out term limits and take full hold of the government.
The Underwoods have always been dictatorial in their behavior. Now, they might actually become dictators.
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.