As Claire takes over the presidential duties, the Underwoods' relationship begins to fray
RECAP: House of Cards Season 5, Ep. 6
Credit: David Giesbrecht / Netflix

It’s official: Claire Underwood is the president of the United States of America.

Okay, maybe she’s not exactly the president, as she’s only acting president until somebody decides whether it’s actually Frank or Conway, but still, it’s a good look for her. House of Cards has essentially spent nearly two seasons building up Claire as the Underwood destined to take power in Washington, with Frank’s influence and charm slowly dwindling. It may not officially be time for a full Claire Underwood presidency, but Washington is about to get its first taste of what it’d be like.

As Claire receives the nuclear codes and really takes in the immensity of her power, the whole team discusses plans to win over congressmen over the weekend before a vote on Monday. There are a few options going forward: Either the House votes for the president as the Constitution calls for, or votes are once again held in Ohio and Tennessee, the two states that couldn’t certify their results some nine weeks ago.

Neither option is great for the Underwoods. It would seem that Frank’s approval rating within Washington and across the country is sliding into oblivion. Sure, Frank is still walking around like he’s the most powerful man in D.C., but it’s clear that he’s losing his grip on everyone around him. As one congressman tells him later on in the episode, nobody is hearing his footsteps anymore. They’re no longer scared of Frank Underwood, and if Frank Underwood doesn’t have fear, then he has nothing.

While the weekend of wrangling votes is underway — yes, “Chapter 58” is another episode that’s largely focused on Frank telling people to vote for him while Conway remains dismayed that this is happening — two conflicts arrive. First, Catherine informs Claire and Frank that a research facility in Antarctica has been taken over by an unidentified military group. She suspects the Russians, but nobody is sure. Second, the Congressional Black Caucus is meeting to decide who to vote for when it comes to the presidency, and for the first time in a long time it seems like the Democrats are losing their support.

Navigating these conflicts is no easy task for Frank, especially because he technically doesn’t have any power. All he can do is sit idly by. But Frank doesn’t do well with sitting idly by, and as the episode unravels, so does Frank. He begins to see that he’s losing all of his influence, and that Claire is stepping into the role of president nicely. At the top of the episode, he turns to the camera and says that he’s proud of her, but it isn’t long before his body language suggests that he’s uncomfortable with Claire’s win.

The reason Frank is so restless is that he sees Claire doing a good job. Up until this point, the Underwoods have positioned themselves as a team who can only accomplish their goals when working together. But now, Claire may be proving him wrong. People are starting to see that she’s the one with the bright future, and the favorability numbers among the public back up that claim. Thus, even as “Chapter 58” once again devolves into a dull exploration of the various intricacies of a contested election, the dynamic between Claire and Frank becomes more interesting.
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As if a potential Russian takeover of Antarctica and dealing with hesitant congressional voters weren’t enough, the Underwoods also have Aidan MacAllan on the run and leaking information about their past crimes. The first of what he promises will be many leaks sees him unveiling the truth about the gas station explosion that the Underwoods used to drum up fear of a terrorist attack. The leak reveals that the explosion was due to a gas leak, and that this had been determined well before the FBI was called in to explore any potential terror threats. And yes, the beautiful serendipity of a leak about a trumped-up (gas) leak is not lost on me.

Essentially, the walls are quickly closing in on the Underwoods, and at some point Claire will have to decide if Frank is worth keeping around. He’s toxic, and it’s clear that she hasn’t yet been infected. But if she stays too close, she could derail her own career, which is still promising at this point. She hovers over the name of her husband on a security clearance form, showing the slightest hesitation before initialing and giving him access. It’s the first sign that Claire is considering moving forward on her own and cutting political ties with Frank.

Of course, that can’t happen just yet. They still need to present a unified front in order to sway voters. They turn to Congressman Romero for help with the Black Caucus, all while considering holding a vote in Ohio and Tennessee if need be. But these moves are revealed to be rather pointless. Romero is reporting everything back to Conway’s campaign manager, seemingly looking out for himself, and there’s no guarantee that going back to a vote in Ohio and Tennessee will guarantee the Underwoods a win.

Conway knows this too, which means he should have a clear path to the presidency, but he’s dealing with his own issues. The VR treatment and the unearthed memories from Captain Squire have shaken Will, and some sort of PTSD is seemingly setting in. He’s snapping at Hannah, fumbling a meeting with the Black Caucus, and even screaming at the pilots of his plane when they refuse to let him take over the controls. Conway is so close to the presidency, but the process is wearing on him and his mental health.

With all of these problems and potential conflicts floating around, “Chapter 58” feels like a bit of a table-setting episode. It’s an episode that comes close to wrapping up the messy election story line while also setting up stories for the rest of the season. So, there’s Sean and Tom looking further into the connection between Lisa Williams, Rachel Posner, and Doug Stamper, with Tom finding some information in a storage unit that holds Zoe Barnes’ stuff. Then there’s Seth, also worried about Doug and his connection to whatever the paper is investigating, going through Doug’s phone and finding a phone call to an “Anthony Moretti.” As we know (but Seth doesn’t), that’s the man who was bumped from the transplant list in order to save the president’s life, and also the deceased husband of the woman Doug is currently having very sad booty calls with.

On top of all of this, it would seem that Russia is becoming a problem again (hello real-world parallels!). It’s revealed that President Petrov actually has Aidan MacAllan, and he’s not afraid to intimidate and blackmail the Underwoods with him. It would seem that the Underwoods are sinking, losing political favor while the uncertainty of the White House and its leadership is allowing Russia to gain more power.

The question is: How will the Underwoods deal with all of this? Will Frank end up winning the election and regaining power? Will Claire cut ties with her husband in the hopes of keeping her position of power? Will Conways be able to hold it together, or will he admit that he needs help? These are questions without easy answers, but as the episode comes to a close, it’s clear that Claire is taking control of their destiny, no matter what. After striking a deal with Conway’s campaign manager to hold a full-ticket election in Ohio and Tennessee — meaning a vote for both president and vice president, to avoid the situation of Conway as president and an Underwood as VP — Frank lies on the floor of their bedroom with a sore back. He’s useless, immobile, and powerless, as Claire walks around him and away from him.

We may just be seeing the end of the Underwoods as a power couple.

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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