House of Cards recap: The Shepherds put the pressure on Claire
Claire deals with an environmental crisis, and heat from the Shepherds
After asserting herself more than once in the season 6 premiere, President Claire Underwood begins the second episode doing the very same thing. She’s flying on Air Force One, and she’s on a call with Governor Olmstead of Ohio. Claire wants him to declare a state of emergency for some unknown disaster, but Olmstead balks at the idea. He says it’d be ridiculous to overreact and create a panic, but what the president wants the Ppesident gets. She reminds Olmstead that he would have handily lost his election if it wasn’t for the Underwoods and their shady election business, and that little reminder is enough to get him to concede and declare the emergency. “That was textbook Frank, wasn’t it?” she says with disgust to the camera, but she knows she’s been dealt certain cards with Frank’s death and that she has no choice but to play them.
The disaster turns out to be environmental, as there was an explosion at some sort of plant, and chemicals may be affecting the water in Belmont, Ohio. While Annette and Bill vent their frustrations to the vice president about Claire still not signing the bill that would loosen the regulations on corporation (it looks like Usher and the Shepherds have been a cohesive unit for awhile), Claire visits Belmont. She tours the contaminated area and hears one particularly terrifying story about a child who started to bleed from the nose and ended up in the hospital after drinking the water. Claire’s newly installed press secretary—on the president’s orders—makes sure to mention that Arcas, the company whose plant exploded, is owned by Shepherd Unlimited. Claire purposely gets their name dragged into this disaster; it’s an easy point for her to score.
After another flashback to the young version of Claire, this one showing her mother shaming her for not “doing as she was told” with the boys (it’s the very height of victim blaming), we’re back to Belmont, and the political and personal sparring between Claire and the Shepherds begins again. Annette is in Belmont helping with the recovery, and when Claire shows up and starts talking about corporate responsibility and regulation, the tension is palpable. Both women try to score political points for the media gathered, so Claire removes her hand from Annette’s when she attempts to raise it in a show of solidarity between government and private business.
This feud isn’t going away any time soon. Even cable news has latched on to it, with CNN discussing Claire’s “recoiling” from Annette. Tom Hammerschmidt makes his first appearance of the season, sitting on the panel discussing the recoil. He’s not so interested in that though, and would rather be talking about the fact that he has it on good authority that Frank Underwood was going to be indicted before his death and that Claire was going to pardon him, but not before getting a divorce in order to remove herself from the drama.
Of course, Claire is the president now, so there’s no chance of the drama going away. In fact, “Chapter 67” sees a lot of potential enemies and problems rearing their heads. While the premiere saw a president fully in control of her message and, for the most part, the people around her, the second episode shows that there are a lot of people who want Claire Underwood to fail miserably, and sooner rather than later. One of those people is Doug, who manages to steal his therapist’s cell phone and call the U.S. Attorney to announce that he’s recanting his statement about killing Zoe Barnes. “The case that’s going to change your life is the prosecution of Claire Underwood,” he assures her. Man, Doug Stamper really loves Frank, even though the man can’t control him anymore. But perhaps that’s about to change, as we’ll see later on. (Recap continues on next page)
“Chapter 67” gives us a little more information about the Shepherds, specifically what type of people they are. Their son, Duncan, is the one feeding divorce questions to the media, trying to keep the conversation on Frank and his misdeeds. He’s so slimy and creepy and dressed all in black so you know he’s up to no good. Apparently the whole Shepherd clan is power-hungry and incredibly off-putting. Still, Usher insists that Claire needs to make amends with them, especially after the “recoil” in Belmont. She has her chance at a charity fundraiser that hands out scholarships to young girls, and she reluctantly plays the game, raising Annette’s hand onstage after a terse, strange meeting with Bill. It’s his information about Doug recanting, which comes as a surprise to Claire, that gets her to play ball…at least for now.
Bill coldly influencing Claire isn’t his only bit of shadiness in this episode. We learn a lot more about what Seth’s doing for the Shepherds. It turns out he’s running the Shepherd Freedom Foundation, which is the kind of vague, all-encompassing conglomerate name you’d expect from such heartless corporate overlords. The foundation’s latest con is getting the people of Belmont, and populations in other areas where disasters have hit, to sign up for an app that supposedly sends them notifications about evacuation procedures and such. “You’ll hear about it before it even happens,” says Seth. The truth is that the app is just a way for the company to get a lot of information about people; they’re handing over their information when they agree to install the app, giving the company access to their phone data.
While Claire insists that “the reign of the middle-aged white man” is over, it’s clear that those men aren’t going down without a fight, like dinosaurs flailing at the incoming asteroid. They’re going to cling to their power with their pasty white hands, and they’ll cling even harder knowing that a woman is coming for them. The truth of the matter is that Claire is surrounded by enemies, mostly men, who want to take her down. Like Frank before her, she has to find ways to stay afloat, maybe making some friends out of those enemies. So, she starts with Doug Stamper of all people.
After Doug discusses his options regarding recanting with the U.S. Attorney, he heads home to his apartment to find Claire waiting for him. She makes it clear that she wants to be done with Frank, that both of them can be free of him and his influence. Claire’s first 100 days have been dominated by the ghost of her husband, and the Shepherds keep dragging his name into the media, so Claire is ready to shift the conversation, and for that she needs Doug’s help. It’s no easy sell, because Doug is eerily loyal to Frank ever since he helped him get sober, but she just may convince him. She reveals Frank to be manipulative and a liar, telling Doug that killing LeAnn, who Doug was romantically involved with, was Frank’s idea, even though Claire said she didn’t need to die. As a parting gift she gives Frank’s cuff links to Doug; “he wanted you to have them” she says, and while that’s likely not true, it does show that Claire is willing to use Frank’s tactics to get what she wants.
Having Doug potentially on her side might not be enough though. If “Chapter 67” tells us anything, it’s that the Shepherds are extremely powerful, and not afraid to play dirty. From Annette’s story about sleeping with Frank, and how inadequate he was in bed, to Bill’s condescending influence over Claire, the Shepherds are willing to cross any line and any sense of political decorum to further their agenda. They’re heartless in a way that even outdoes Frank Underwood, and that’s saying something. So, Claire has no choice but to sign the bill at the end of the episode, but only after she once again says that Frank was killed by somebody, that she found him dead in his bed after he showed up at the residence drunk and angry and she was forced to lock herself in the bathroom. What happened that night? Would the Shepherds really kill a man who was going to work with them? Is Claire simply trying to find a way to pin his death on her rivals?
There’s a lot of questions coming out of “Chapter 67,” but one thing is for sure: the walls will start closing in on the Shepherds at some point, and who knows what they’ll do then. Remember Janine (Constance Zimmer)? She’s in Ohio talking to one of the Arcas workers who downloaded the app, and he reveals that a similar leak and explosion happened before, but employee complaints were pushed to the side. The company knew it would happen again and did nothing. Now, two men are dead and an entire town may be contaminated. If Janine writes that story, Claire might just find a way to get back the control she so desperately needs.
- House of Cards final season premiere recap: One nation under Claire Underwood
- The House of Cards series recap: Everything you need to know before the final season premieres
- Corey Stoll reflects on the beginning of House of Cards — and Peter Russo’s ‘beautiful’ ending