“Chapter 65” begins with a whirlwind of activity. I guess it’s to be expected when the president of the United States suddenly resigns, having told absolutely no one about his plans to do so. With the committee adjourned for the day, Frank waits to confront Romero about what just happened. The congressman is wary about Frank’s motives, saying that he’ll continue to work with the committee and send along charges to the DOJ. Then Frank utters a single word: “Rochelle.” We don’t really know anything about her, but bits of a conversation from a previous episode suggest that Romero either witnessed or was part of a group sexual assault on the girl in college. It’s a name that’s meant to keep Romero quiet. So it goes on House of Cards; from Zoe Barnes to Rachel Posner to “Rochelle,” women are used as empty, sexualized storytelling devices and bargaining chips.
Back in the residency, Claire is pissed. She can’t believe Frank would make a sudden decision without running it by her first. But Frank insists that this has been his plan all along. He says that every single thing that’s happened since his visit to Elysian Fields — that retreat for high-powered men — has been part of his plan. At that retreat, he was reminded that there’s immense power in the private sector, and that gave him an idea. He could construct his own downfall while raising Claire up, giving them power in both the public and private sectors.
It’s all a little far fetched and convoluted, and a too-easy way to write off many episodes worth of conflict — “I meant for that to happen” isn’t the most exciting or creative way to resolve story line conflicts — but at least we’re finally past all the nonsense about who will be president. House of Cards follows a similar structure every season, giving us a premiere that’s compelling, followed by 10 or so episodes of those compelling stories being drawn out for way too long, and then finally a finale that sets up the next season’s story lines. It means that most of the season is dull and repetitive — if you look at the character arcs this season, there’s barely a few episodes’ worth of meaningful material there, stretched out over an obligatory 13 episodes, a problem Netflix has with its Marvel shows, too.
Still, Claire Underwood is president now, thanks to Frank bringing about his own downfall. He tells Claire that he was the leak, along with Doug, and that this is what’s best for them. That’s when Claire reveals her own sinister, secretive actions, telling Frank that she killed Tom Yates. Now these two have been completely honest with each other, both understanding what they’ll do to secure power. They’re allies for now, consolidated in their power, but things aren’t exactly going to be easy moving forward. Claire not only needs to pardon Frank for all potential crimes so that he doesn’t go to jail, but she must worry about her own cabinet and policies now that she’s the president.
Behind the scenes, it would seem that Mark Usher and Jane Davis are the ones pulling the strings, working to keep Claire as clean as possible because it keeps them in positions of power. So, Jane is negotiating to have Leann installed as chief of staff because she trusts her, and Mark is working to find suitable candidates for vice president, all while Romero calls for disbanding the Judiciary Committee. Frank’s plan seems to have worked… for now.
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While it’s good that the show is finally moving in a new direction with Claire as president, and the final scene sets up a big feud for next season, there’s still the sense that House of Cards is stalling, and it’s ruining the potential of some story lines. Again, the narrative arc in this season is simple: The Underwoods steal the election, but their relationship is fraying, and Tom Hammerschmidt is breathing down Frank’s neck with allegations of murder.
That’s it. There’s really not much else, and yet House of Cards has tried to fill 13 episodes with that story. As if that weren’t drawn out enough, Tom’s investigation ends up going nowhere. He interviews Doug about Zoe Barnes, but Doug remains elusive. He won’t admit to anything, but he’s also implicating himself in a way that draws attention away from the president. I get that House of Cards is pushing this story into next season so that the murder of Zoe Barnes can hang over Frank’s head like a guillotine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating to stick with a story across 13 episodes only to have it end with an ellipsis.
The other story line that’s been haphazardly thrown around all season is the hunt for Ahmadi and the potential for U.S. troops in Syria. “Chapter 65” quickly resolves that story as well, as Jane tells Claire that they have a location for Ahmadi, and that they also have proof of a chemical attack in Syria potentially aided by the presence of the Russians. Claire debates with Jane, Mark, and Frank on the idea of going to war but eventually decides it’s what’s best. It’s what Jane has wanted all along, believing that it makes Claire look strong right off the bat.
As the episode nears its end, Claire begins to feel the sheer scope of her power, and a few important connections within her administration are revealed. First, there’s Leann, who, after being brought back into the fold, is quickly pushed aside yet again once Jane has the NSA files stolen by Aidan. Jane casually bringing up the “extent to which you stole the election” to Claire is maybe the episode’s best moment. That or the one where Jane tells Claire that Frank’s liver could fail at any time, insinuating that they could poison him, too, if need be.
Anyway, Leann is more than pushed out. While on her way to see Doug, who himself is under house arrest, she’s run off the road by somebody; from the looks of it, Jane and Frank have coordinated the attack in order to get rid of any loose ends, despite Jane pushing for Leann to come back. She’s sneaky, that one. Of course, we technically don’t know that Leann is dead. Yes, we see her mangled car on the highway, but we never actually see a body, and that’s TV’s way of saying, “Maybe they’re not dead.”
With Leann taken care of and Doug taking the heat off of Frank, all that’s left is for Claire to announce the death of Ahmadi, her plan to bring troops into Syria, and the pardon she’ll give to Frank. After meeting with Mark Usher, who suggests that he become the vice president — he knows about Yates, so he certainly has leverage — she delivers her “we got him” speech. While it makes Claire look strong and decisive, there’s one problem for Frank: She doesn’t announce his pardon.
In a final montage building off of that speech, House of Cards sets up next season’s stories. There’s Frank being unable to get ahold of Claire on the phone and saying that he’ll kill her for not pardoning him. There’s the tour guide Tom Yates slept with noticing that he hasn’t been around and that she can’t seem to reach him on his cell. There’s the tossed-off death of Eric, who climbs the fence outside the White House during a war protest, only to be shot by the Secret Service on site.
Then, most importantly, there’s the tease of a big showdown with Claire and Frank. Claire continues to hang up on Frank’s calls, nothing stopping her from taking full control of her future and leaving Frank behind. “My turn,” she says, in typical melodramatic House of Cards fashion. It would seem that the Underwoods have run out of people to attack. All that’s left is to go to war with each other and see who comes out on top.