Nine weeks after Election Day, the White House is still in shambles

By Kyle Fowle
May 31, 2017 at 09:00 AM EDT
David Giesbrecht / Netflix
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It’s been 9 weeks since Election Day, and nobody is sure what’s happening. Well, that’s not entirely true. The House and Senate are on their way to deciding the president and the vice president, respectively, but nobody really knows how it’s all going to play out. There’s chaos everywhere in Washington, as the government deals with an undecided, uncertified vote that’s left everything at a standstill. All of this is established during an opening monologue from Frank, as he muses on the beauty of “flipism,” the idea that major decisions should be decided by the flip of a coin. Frank may tout the benefits of such a philosophy, but there’s no way he’s leaving this vote to chance.

“Chapter 57” suffers from a structure similar to its previous episode; much of the episode is focused on phone calls and meetings. There are plenty of times when House of Cards has made that compelling, but that’s not the case with the last two episodes. This election is dragging on, and it’s killing the momentum the season kicked off with.

There are some interesting stories developing in this episode though, even if the whole arc about Conway and Underwood trying to secure votes in the House is a slog. For instance, Conway begins the episode trying out some VR technology from a friend of his that’s meant to help veterans deal with PTSD. It’s a real-world treatment that’s done a lot of good, but Conway isn’t ready. He seems in denial about his trauma, brought back up again by this election, and it’s threatening to put a wedge into his relationship with Hannah.

Even more interesting, in a very abstract way, is the scene where Frank meets with Eric, the man who played Augustus Underwood during a reenactment in season 2. The two bond over the president’s replica battlefield before Eric reveals that everything he said about Augustus Underwood was untrue. He just wanted to have a good story when meeting the (then-)vice president. Frank laughs it off, and the two continue to chat about war and elections and the protesters chanting “Not My President” outside the White House gates. Eric tells an apparently true story about Augustus waking up a full 24 hours after being pronounced dead. It’s a strange scene with seemingly little purpose, but in that way, it’s fascinating. It’s so far removed from the rest of the episode that it makes an impact.

Of course, there’s also the connection between the Augustus story and the fact that Frank is trying to bring himself back from the dead. He essentially lost the election, but now he’s trying to sway the House to vote for him. That means Doug and Leann are meeting with every congressman possible in the hopes of convincing them that Frank Underwood is best for the country.

There’s one issue, though, that has the Democratic congressmen worried: a split ticket. In other words, they’re worried that Conway’s position is safe and that the House will certainly vote for him, meaning that if the Senate votes for Claire as VP, there will be a split ticket with one Republican and one Democrat, and everyone believes that’s bad for the country. Unity and clarity are the goals at this point.
(Recap continues on page 2)

One story line that hasn’t gained much traction this season is Tom’s story about the potential crimes undertaken by the Underwoods. It’s been present throughout the season as a talking point, but not exactly a significant factor within the narrative. Now that might be changing. In “Chapter 57,” Lisa, Rachel’s former girlfriend, comes to Tom with more accusations about the Underwoods, but specifically with information about Doug Stamper. She urges Tom to keep digging, but he’s hesitant, believing there’s already enough for the president to be taken down.

Lisa doesn’t care about Frank though. She wants justice for Rachel, and she wants Doug held responsible for his actions; remember, while we never saw Doug kill Rachel, it’s heavily implied that he ran her over with his car before burying her in the desert. Who knows if it will amount to anything — Sean, that traitorous bastard, brings the information right to Seth as a warning, so clearly he thinks there’s something there — but at least the story is continuing to play out.

Outside of occasional sidebars like that one, and a scene where Claire stalks Yates by having his driver film Yates’ date with another woman, “Chapter 57” is about Frank trying to secure enough votes from the House to become president. He and Doug believe they need to swing three state congressmen to do so. The problem is that those three congressmen are part of a progressive block that doesn’t see eye to eye with Underwood.

Frank tries his usual tactics to sway the block, meeting with Congressman Romero, the figurehead of the group, but nothing works. He intimidates and humiliates, and yet the results remain the same. It looks like the House will be voting for Conway. That causes Frank to lash out at Doug and question his loyalty, a shocking betrayal of the man who’s literally covered up murder for him (R.I.P. Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo).

Eventually, after Aidan tells Leann that he’ll leak incriminating information about the Underwoods if she doesn’t get the authorities off his back, the votes begin to happen. Claire tries to get Donald Blythe to avoid a filibuster and keep Republicans off the floor, but he refuses, which causes Claire to go full Frank Underwood and rip into him and his incompetence. Blythe doesn’t seem bothered though. He knows the powerful position he’s in, and he knows that the Underwoods are scrambling.

So, after all of this vote wrangling and yelling about loyalty, what happens? The House vote ends up being inconclusive, meaning that neither Conway nor Frank is acting president. That means that the Senate vote to determine the vice president is all the more important now, as whoever’s voted in will be acting president.

Thus, “Chapter 57” sets up a showdown between General Brockhart and Claire Underwood for the vice presidency. As the episode ends, and Claire stands front and center staring into the camera with purpose and determination, something tells me we’re on our way to another shady Underwood win.

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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