As of right now, this final season of House of Cards is unraveling in the most simplistic, and often dull, way possible. Each of the first three episodes follows a very similar pattern: Claire is presented with a choice where her opinion differs from that of the Shepherds, a few subplots swirl around in all their convoluted glory, and then Claire comes to her decision, usually conceding to the Shepherds’ will. ‘Chapter 68’ is no different, as Claire begins the episode meeting with Judge Abruzzo. The Shepherds want him appointed, though Claire can’t stand him. Will she appoint him and once again cave to Bill’s demands, or will she find a way to get what she wants? It’s yet another bit of “uncertainty” that doesn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things.
In the meantime, ‘Chapter 68’ presents a number of new revelations, and the first comes after Claire’s meeting with Abruzzo. After she tells Mark Usher that she was “emasculated” by Bill guiding her hand while she signed the deregulation bill, she mentions that Bill Shepherd is sick. Initially I assumed she meant “sick” as in creepy and weird, but it turns out he’s sick as in his health is failing. This comes completely out of nowhere, but at least it adds some sort of wrinkle of conflict here, something beyond the back and forth power grabs from the Shepherds and Claire.
Bill being sick doesn’t stop him and his sister from being weirdly intimate with each other while discussing options for dealing with Claire; they’re so handsy. I still don’t completely understand their motivations—once Claire is out, what’s their plan? What do they ultimately want besides a vague sense of power?—but they’re clearly set on destroying the President. Bill mentions that Seth has proof that Claire has had three abortions in her lifetime, and that she lied to the American people about one of them, but Annette isn’t willing to use that against her rival just yet. She still thinks there are other ways to get to Claire. Why they don’t just play that hand and be done with it, I don’t know.
Part of the Shepherds’ strategy is gobbling up everything in sight, from newspapers to former members of the Underwood administration. Cathy Durant, somewhat recovered from Frank pushing her down the stairs in the White House, is set to take a job as part of a think tank that the Shepherds help fund. Claire meets with Durant to try and persuade her to decline the job, probably because of what Durant knows about the Underwoods; that’s information that the Shepherds would love. Claire comes away thinking she can’t control Durant, so she does the next best thing: asking Jane Davis to have her killed.
Durant knows she’s doomed. When she shows up at an empty restaurant for what she assumes is a friendly meeting, she runs away when she sees Jane alone at the table. She calls Jane from her car, angry that her former friend would betray her and side with Claire, but as Jane says, once these wheels are in motion there’s not much anyone can do. It’s such a strange storyline—Durant hardly seems like a threat, even saying she’s more than happy to “forget” her time in the White House—but the Underwoods have never been ones to allow loose ends to keep walking around. So, Durant ends up dead from an “embolism,” and that’s one more person Claire doesn’t have to worry about.
She tries to rope Doug into all of this, the way Frank used too, but nothing really works. She tried giving Doug Frank’s cuff links, and the previous episode made it look like he might actually side with the current President. “Chapter 68” confirms that they’re just too far apart, that Doug will never betray his loyalty to Frank, even after watching the video of LeAnn’s car crash, the one orchestrated by Frank. So, Claire says goodbye to him and the two-part ways, but you have to think Doug isn’t done with her just yet. Surely he’ll be coming after her sometime soon.
While Claire is dealing with threats from a lawyer representing members of ICO, the episode checks in with Doug. Removed from Claire, he’s starting to plan for a new future. He meets with Congressman Cole, a young guy making a name for himself in Washington who Doug believes may have a shot at becoming President some day. They have a tense conversation when Doug asks him about what kind of dirt he has in his past—something involving the pensions of workers at O’Hare, apparently—but they leave with a better understanding of each other. There’s no telling if this is really Doug’s next move, because it just doesn’t seem bold enough, but perhaps it’s part of a larger plan that’s still brewing.
Speaking of larger plans, the Shepherds are well on their way to being true oligarchs. They’re buying up every newspaper they can in order to control the media, and that leads to Duncan meeting with Tom Hammerschmidt. Now, Tom’s already upset that he has to work for some faceless corporation called “Gardner Analytics,” so to say that his meeting with Duncan, where the kid offers to construct some evidence about Claire asking Frank for a divorce in exchange for a pardon, doesn’t go so well would be an understatement. Tom may be the only honest soul on this show, but the temptation to really stick it to the Underwoods must be appealing to the man who’s spent so much of his career trying to prove their corruption and propensity to, you know, kill people.
For once, Mark Usher attempts to keep the Shepherds from getting their way. While basking in their post-coitus glow (sorry), Mark and Annette talk about letting Claire have this one, letting her be “the President” for a minute so that she doesn’t cause more issues somewhere down the line. The problem is, Bill is having none of it. When Mark mentions giving Claire her justice pick, Bill regales him with a lengthy story about a long lost brother that turned against the family, sued a company they owned, and was not only promptly written out of the will, but was forced to live on an island in Maine. Maine, people! Anyways, Mark understands the point of the story: do what Bill Shepherd says and everything will be fine.
So, Mark goes to Claire, who seems to be watching Rosemary’s Baby in the screening room where her and Frank used to watch movies, and tells her that she has to choose Abruzzo for the appointment. Claire, of course, doesn’t accept that idea just yet. So she calls Annette in for a meeting, and tries to reason with her. She says they can cut Mark out and just talk directly to one another, and that they’ll accomplish so much more, but that such a relationship starts with Claire having her freedom of choice.
Bill is livid, once again, because of Claire’s stubbornness. He brings up the abortions again, but Annette still refuses to use that as a political play. “Fine,” says Bill, “use the other thing.” What other thing? The final few minutes of the episode dance around what this could be, twisting the storytelling into all sorts of shapes in order to sustain the surprise reveal at the end. Everybody talks around the subject. Annette goes to Mark and says “show it to her” while ominous music plays. It’s so over the top, but not nearly as over the top as the final scene, where Mark stops Claire in the street during one of her night runs and brings her to a van on the side of the road. He opens the door and shows her the dead body of Tom Yates. Statement made, and now the ball is in Claire’s court. Another decision has to be made.