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November 04, 2018 at 12:13 PM EST

At the halfway point, House of Cards has struggled to do anything too unique or compelling in its final season. The season premiere boasted some promise, with Claire’s no-nonsense approach to her detractors providing a good foundation for the show to work from. But the next two episodes wallowed in the same kind of convoluted, stakes-less storytelling that the show too often deploys. “Chapter 69” isn’t a perfect episode by any means, and it doesn’t exactly get the season back on track, but it does engage in some interesting storytelling. More specifically, it works as a pseudo-bottle episode. The action isn’t contained to one room, but the episode takes place almost entirely at Cathy Durant’s memorial service, and the result is some of the best tension of the season.

On the way to the service, Claire is still upset about Abruzzo. We’ll have to assume that she’s made the appointment or has agreed too; at least that’s the implication, as she tells Mark that “he’s won.” Yates’ body presumably changed her mind. When they arrive at the service, it isn’t long before things start to get tense, and everyone gets paranoid. Not only does just about everyone suspect something fishy about Durant’s death—Doug makes a point of asking her husband what time she died—the Washington elites are scrambling to get a deal done between Russia and the U.S. when it comes to Syria. Everybody is trying to have their interests heard, and Petrov being at the service comes as a surprise to many.

Claire and Mark are informed that Russian troops are on their way to the border, and that a conflict with U.S. soldiers will happen by dawn if no deal is reached. Petrov himself seems to welcome the conflict. He knows it’s the U.S. that largely has to play the role of peacekeeper, even if the truth is that both countries are trying to protect their own financial interests; like “the imperialists” they are, says the Russian President. Throughout this episode multiple subplots rear their head. There’s the question of how Durant really died, the looming conflict in Syria, and sudden questions being asked about Tom Yates’ whereabouts.

Doug seems especially curious about Durant. He asks Assistant Director Green to find out what she was doing in the time leading up to her death, a question that he immediately brings back to Claire. I’m still not entirely sure whose side he’s on, if any, but for now he’s gathering and sharing information in both directions. On the topic of Yates’ death, there’s a rumor going around that the new press secretary, Kelsey, slept with him. That’s becoming the focus of the narrative, despite it being nobody’s business, while Claire concocts a story about someone stealing his identity and traveling around Prague.

It seemed clear-ish at the end of the previous episode that Durant had been killed on the order of Claire and Jane, but “Chapter 69” puts that into question. Suddenly everyone has their suspicions. Claire thought Doug did the deed, and says she has no idea how Durant died. She seems genuinely frustrated by not having the answer, not like she’s playing it up to hide her own role in the murder. To be fair, the truth of who knows what doesn’t matter all that much, because the end of the episode provides a major twist that makes all of this talk about Durant’s death seem foolish. (Recap continues on next page)

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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.
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