Another election is on the way. Sure, this whole season has been one long, drawn-out election, with more twists and turns than a drama on The CW, but now it’s time for the real election. Finally, there will be a decision made between Will Conway and Frank Underwood as Ohio and Tennessee set their sites on a re-vote. All’s not necessarily well in the White House though, as Frank and Claire begin the episode arguing. Frank is livid about Claire’s deal with Mark Usher, Conway’s campaign manager, and specifically irritated that she agreed to let Conway pick a Supreme Court justice. Frank sees the move as weakness that spells disaster for them even if they do reclaim the White House.
It’s part of a pattern of behavior that’s emerging with Frank. He’s lost his presidency, and while he’s mostly been able to coexist with Claire as acting president, there have been moments when he clearly questions her authority. At the beginning of “Chapter 59,” both Claire and Frank are briefed in the War Room about the potential location of a terrorist by the name of Ahmed Al Ahmadi, brother of Yusuf, the leader of ICO; last season, Frank refused to release Yusuf, which led to the beheading of Jim Miller. The generals believe Ahmed is in Damascus, but they’re divided on how to approach the situation. Some want to attack now and send a message, while others believe following him could expose more connections to ICO.
In a meeting like this, we get a peak at the shifting dynamic of the Underwoods. While they’re still mostly on the same page — they both consider an attack to be the best way forward, as it sends a message that the U.S. is done living under the shadow of terror — there are moments when it’s clear they’re battling for control of the room. Claire is trying to keep Frank in the loop while also asserting that she’s the final authority at the moment, while Frank tries to tone down his stubborn side that tells him he needs to be the sole voice of power.
Their dynamic is truly tested when Claire and Frank, along with visiting Deputy Undersecretary Jane Davis (played by Patricia Clarkson) and Catherine Durant, are ushered into the PEOC (Presidential Emergency Operations Center) after a truck loaded with radioactive material is reported missing. While the administration knows the truck left Atlanta as scheduled, the GPS is now offline and nobody knows where it is. There’s fear that it could be connected to a potential ICO attack, but that’s speculation at the moment.
The potential for disaster is huge, and it’s in this real crisis that something interesting emerges. All season long, the Underwoods and their staff — namely Leann and Doug — have been using fabricated fear for their own gains. Here, they find themselves on their heels and terrified of the real-world attack. “Wait, is something really happening?” says Leann to Doug, revealing that they’re willing to ring the alarm of terrorism when it suits them, but are perhaps unequipped to deal with actual emergency situations.
Of course, not even a real terror threat goes by without the Underwoods finding something that works to their advantage. Here, that’s Jane Davis. She tells Catherine and Claire that she’s worked with many third parties in Damascus who have had relations with ICO, and that she could likely determine the location of Ahmadi. Davis never states it outright, but she’s basically pitching herself as useful to the Underwoods, suddenly emerging as a potential big player in this season and the impending election.
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While Claire and Frank are dealing with the potential crisis, Doug is working to gain some leverage on the Conways in the election. Leann has told him that there’s audio out there of General Brockhart saying he’d actively tell his soldiers to disobey the president’s orders should he put soldiers on the borders. That line came after his on-air interview leading up to Election Day, and obviously the mic was still hot. Now, Doug needs that tape. If the Underwoods’ approval rating is slipping, a clear sign of insubordination from within the Conway camp would certainly help with their chances in winning some voters back.
But, back to the crisis, which takes a strange turn: If you thought that something real and bipartisan was happening in Washington for once, you were wrong. As Frank and Claire begin to note the pushback from the general on their refusal to evacuate D.C., they put the pieces together and determine that this emergency is all a fabrication meant to keep the Underwoods from making moves before the new votes in Ohio and Tennessee.
Essentially, they determine that the general is a longtime friend of Brockhart’s, and that this is his way of trying to make sure the Underwoods don’t recapture the White House. He was hoping that the Underwoods would evacuate D.C. after learning of the potential threat, but Frank calls his bluff. He storms out of the bunker and intimidates another general into fixing this mess. Suddenly, the truck is found, the crisis is averted, and Seth gets to tell the media that the whole thing was an unscheduled drill.
Outside the bunker, the Underwoods are using this faux crisis to gain some sense of control. Claire has forced the general to resign, though he refuses to implicate anyone else in the trumped-up terror plot. How deep does it go? Did Brockhart, Conway, or Usher know about all of this? Surely those questions will be answered over time. At the very least, I suspect Usher knew a thing or two about what was happening. He’s proving to be the real foil to the Underwoods this season, not Conway.
While the crisis winds down and everything returns to normal — House of Cards normal, that is — a few other stories continue to put the focus back on the Underwoods and their past crimes. Sean is meeting with Laura Moretti and asking about Anthony, then relaying the information back to Seth. Meanwhile, Tom has uncovered more details about Doug’s supposed carjacking, realizing that the apparent location of the incident is only 15 minutes away from Rachel Posner’s last known address. It would seem that Tom is closing in on the truth about Doug Stamper and what he did to Rachel, while Sean, on the other hand, is trying to angle his way into a job at the White House. For every person fighting the good fight, there’s one trying to get into bed with the enemy.
Like so many episodes this season, “Chapter 59” ends with an election on the horizon. Is this the one that will finally give us a president and finally move this season away from repetitive storytelling? There’s certainly hope, but nothing’s ever certain with the Underwoods. They have the Brockhart audio, Usher knows they have it, and that could mean more messiness before this is all settled.
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