Claire ruffles some feathers in her first 100 days as President
Claire steeping into the role of president was always going to be controversial, because the Underwoods are a controversial couple. Add in Frank’s death and the fact that the United States has its first ever woman as president, and you can begin to imagine the kinds of people who aren’t too happy about it. The new and final season of House of Cards begins there, as Claire sits behind the desk in the Oval Office while a Secret Service agent details the latest threats against her online. The threats are “four times” as many as Frank got, and their viciousness knows no bounds. “Lots and lots of the c-word, unfortunately,” says the agent before detailing one threat that suggests Claire should be chopped up into pieces and her body parts arranged to resemble the American flag.
While many of these threats are perhaps unlikely to take place, however repulsive and terrifying they are, there’s one that the agent, and Vice President Mark Usher, considers credible. Claire is set to deliver a speech at a military base later that day, the Fourth of July, and an anonymous soldier who says they’re part of those being deployed to a war in Syria promises to kill her while she delivers her address. Claire refuses to cancel the plans though, quickly asserting that she is in fact an Underwood, and no threat can keep her from wielding her political power.
It’s clear, at least here at the beginning of the season, that Claire is still haunted by Frank. It’s nearly a literal haunting, as a random, unidentifiable knock—two times, just like Frank used to do—comes from somewhere inside the president’s chambers. In a cheesy, on-the-nose bit of imagery, Claire finds a bird inside the walls of the house and lets it go out the front door. “Francis, I’m done with you,” she says, underscoring the theme of release just in case you somehow missed it.
With that out of the way, Claire makes a stop on her way to the military base. She visits with Bill and Annette Shepherd (Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane), two extremely wealthy and powerful business people (and also brother and sister) who Frank made some promises to before his death. Namely, he promised that he’d sign a specific bill that apparently has taken “a lot of years and a lot of money,” according to Bill, to come to fruition. Bill and Annette also seem to think they can dictate Claire’s policies and her government appointments. Bill flat-out tells her that an endorsement of the “tax and spend” Lieutenant General Nancy Gallagher in an upcoming election is unacceptable to him. He doesn’t seem to understand who he’s dealing with though, because Claire couldn’t care less about what he thinks.
“Chapter 66” then checks in with Doug Stamper. He’s holed up in some sort of posh mental rehabilitation center, undergoing psychological treatment to determine how mentally sound he is after admitting to the murder of Zoe Barnes as yet another show of loyalty to Frank. Seth visits with him, but it’s not a friendly visit. He mostly taunts the man, as he can’t believe that Doug is still going to bat for Frank. One thing is clear: Doug will not waver. When he meets up with his psychiatrist later on, he sticks to his script about the murder. The psychiatrist, who just so happens to be having regular calls with Claire to keep her updated, says that Doug is either insane for committing the murder or insane for saying he did when he’s innocent. Either way, Doug despises Claire, and I’m sure she’s more than happy to keep him locked away. That presidential pardon he’s hoping for might not be coming any time soon.
Claire arrives at the military base, and her speech is focused and impassioned. She speaks of fighting tyranny on all levels, be it abroad or at home, and vows to not let oligarchs take over Washington (which is surely a shot at Bill Shepherd). She also breaks the fourth wall at this point, letting us know that, unlike Frank, she’s going to tell us the truth. I won’t hold my breath.
With the speech delivered, Claire shakes the hand of various service members, and the way the camera follows her along the line leaves us questioning if the threatened attack is about to happen. There’s no physical attack, but one soldier does come at Claire with a quick remark, asking her if she has a plan for this war that “won’t get us all killed.” “Would you ask me that if I was a man?” she responds, and that’s that. These interactions, both the ones online and the one here in person, seem to clarify that this season is moving in a very different direction. House of Cards has never really been good at reflecting the current political moment, shooting for exaggerated theater instead, but this premiere is certainly dabbling in feminist perspectives.
Claire’s sense of triumph and safety is immediately taken away when she leaves the speech and someone tries to assassinate her. A sniper round hits the car, and while it doesn’t penetrate the glass of “The Beast,” it’s shocking to see the threat become real. Claire says it’s “the first sign of real respect I’ve gotten in 100 days,” but she’s also putting on a brave face. The attempted assassination shakes her a bit, but she also has some ideas about who’s behind it. The Secret Service thinks they found the culprit, an ex-military man who shot himself after the failed attempt, but Claire isn’t so sure. She tells Nathan Green, the Deputy Director of the FBI who was always Frank’s right hand man, that she thinks the Shepherds, or in her words “powerful families,” might be behind the attempt, and that they likely killed Frank too. Whether Claire truly thinks this or is using it as the first steps in a plot to take down Annette and Bill is unclear.
Either way, Claire is going to be battling enemies on a lot of fronts. Mark Usher clearly doesn’t agree with a lot of what she’s doing, and he seems to be vying for more power. Annette and Bill aren’t going away any time soon, and then there’s a reporter by the name of Melody Cruz who’s asking tough questions about Frank’s troubled past and the presidential pardon he didn’t live to potentially see. Claire initially thinks she’ll be able to control Melody because she’s new to the press pool, but once she starts asking those questions, the president is quick to distance herself.
That’s a smart play, as it turns out, because Melody shows up later in the episode, this time at a Fourth of July party thrown by Annette’s son, Duncan. We don’t know much about the guy, but we know that he’s working for his mother to take down Claire Underwood, and that he’s anxious to execute some sort of plan that Annette won’t yet give the go-ahead to. Melody interacts with him for a moment, and it’s clear they have some sort of nefarious agenda. She laments that Claire won’t talk to her; “She will,” he confidently replies.
Throughout all of this, “Chapter 66” teases one other bit of personal information. It looks like this season will feature flashbacks to Claire as a young girl, maybe 10 years old, and from what we see here, she has a lot of trauma in her past. The flashbacks are vague, but they show a number of boys cutting up Claire’s clothes and stripping her naked. She runs away to a barn, and when one kid tells her he’s sorry and puts his eye to a hole in the barn, she rams a broomstick through it. How was Claire shaped by her childhood experiences? And what does that mean for those willing to bet against her right now? Time will tell, but for now we get one last tease of what she might be capable of: “A man like Francis doesn’t just die” she says to the camera before smirking, and the episode cuts to black.
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