House of Cards recap: 'Chapter 60'
“No women or presidents allowed.” That’s the mantra that kicks off “Chapter 60,” as Frank Underwood, cloaked in a flowing, hooded red robe and wearing a weird beaked mask, attends a weekend in the middle of the woods for the most powerful and elite men in the country. Frank turns to the camera and boasts about how powerful he is, bragging that he’s managed to bring a national election down to one vote in a single state. What he leaves out is that he had to do that because nobody likes him and his poll numbers were in the toilet. But hey, you do you, Frank.
At this retreat are all sorts of men with the type of influence that Frank believes can help him sway some votes in Ohio; in other words, it’s a bunch of rich (mostly) white dudes sitting around in the woods drinking whisky and smoking cigars while chanting about setting themselves free. The burden of privilege is heavy, you know? Anyways, Frank is palling around with guys like Raymond Tusk and Pollyhop’s Benjamin Grant before running into both General Brockhart and Mark Usher. Frank’s curious about why Usher didn’t use his invite on Conway, but he leaves that alone for now.
Back at the White House, Claire is dealing with a crisis. She’s woken up in the middle of the night, casting a longing glance over the empty bed next to her — a longing for Yates, it should be said, and not Frank — before being summoned to the Situation Room. She’s told that a Russian research vessel has begun to sink in the Antarctic. Catherine posits that the vessel was likely looking for oil, but that’s something to deal with later. For now, she wants to know the acting president’s plan for potentially rescuing the crew.
The only problem is that Petrov denies any access to the vessel. Clearly there’s something on board that he wants to keep safe from the Americans, and he’d rather let his people die than allow Claire to save the day in exchange for Aidan MacAllan. Claire urges Petrov to reconsider, to think about how this will look to his people. “I tell my people how things look… and that’s how they look,” he says, an eerie statement that resonates in the real world today, where perception often trumps fact. Claire considers making the rescue anyways, but Petrov sends a warning: try anything, and he’ll begin releasing info about the Underwoods disrupting the voting process.
While Frank and Brockhart can barely hide the tension between them at the retreat, Claire is meeting with Jane Davis to discuss a tariff and trade deal with the Chinese. While the two of them sit down with the Chinese president, Jane reveals that China is willing to help with the rescue, and that there’s an American on board the ship. While they all come to an agreement on the tariff deal, it’s contingent upon the rescue mission. That leaves a lot of questions. What are the Russians hiding? Why are the Chinese so eager to get on that boat? Are they lying about an American being on board?
Claire is skeptical about all of this, so she holds off on the rescue mission. Catherine is mortified that they’re not working to rescue everyone immediately, but Claire doesn’t want to tip the advantage in anyone else’s favor. Considering just the setup, it’s an intriguing story to tell, as Claire navigates her first crisis without Frank by her side. And yet, the story doesn’t really end up going anywhere, as we’ll see a bit later on.
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Meeting in the Situation Room, Claire learns that the American on board the vessel is a Geophysicist by the name of Thad Peterson. They have audio from a cell phone on the ship, and apparently Peterson’s wife has claimed that the voice is in fact him. Claire is still hesitant though, not really sure where the Russians and Chinese stand and curious about what their motivations are.
The problem is that “Chapter 60” never really expands on this hesitancy and never really digs into the issues facing the acting president. This should be a big moment for Claire, removed from the influence of Frank and forced into a difficult diplomatic situation with two combustive forces in Russia and China. Instead, everything resolves itself rather neatly, and that’s true of the episode as a whole.
Let’s start with the vessel rescue though. First, Claire negotiates a 1 percent raise in the tariff deal in exchange for the rescue. She agrees to let the Chinese on their boat and even states that they can pretend the Chinese are leading the mission, therefore getting the credit. The episode then immediately cuts to Claire being informed that everybody was rescued, but that it appears there was no American on board and that the Chinese lied. But then Jane comes in and says that what the Russians and Chinese wanted was technology that they shouldn’t have had… and that Thad Peterson was that technology.
It’s all a little too convoluted to truly unpack. The mess of loyalties and who wants what is hard to make sense of, and the quick resolution means there’s little time explore any consequences further. But this has been a problem with the season in general, as it’s boasted a propensity for swiftly moving through conflicts, a number of coincidences, and a sprinkle of pure luck, allowing the Underwoods to continually get the upper hand.
At least Jane Davis remains an intriguing, elusive character. It’s very unclear what she wants and who’s she working with — “I work with everybody,” she says — and that brings an unpredictable element into the back half of this season.
Still, Jane’s mysterious presence, and even the slowly progressing investigation from Tom and his Herald team, don’t do enough to make up for the convenient and lazy storytelling on display elsewhere. Just as Claire’s conflict with the Russians and Chinese is suddenly resolved, so too is Frank’s problem with Conway and Brockhart.
As Frank prepares to leave the retreat after making a thinly veiled pitch about how he should be president because Conway is too modern — though all signs point to Brockhart basically being the one controlling everything at this point, another under-explored story — he’s approached by a drunk Benjamin Grant. He says that he regrets making a deal with the likes of Brockhart and Tusk, and he hands Frank the audio of Conway screaming at his pilots.
Just like that, Frank has the upper hand again. It’s infuriating in its convenience. Frank even says so, telling Claire that this was all too easy. Okay, House of Cards, just because you acknowledge that it was too easy doesn’t mean you get a free pass.
Anyway, after a cringeworthy scene in which Yates tells Claire that he loves her, the Underwoods meet with Usher in the Oval Office. They tell him about the new audio recording and then, somewhat surprisingly, recruit him for their own cause. Even more surprisingly, he agrees. He just jumps right in with the Underwoods and begins to make plans for how they can leak the two audiotapes for maximum impact. It’s all too neat and tidy. And if you don’t know by now, neat and tidy doesn’t suit 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.