Watching House of Cards requires learning to interpret very coded language. Polite manners can’t hide the characters’ true motives, and no one is better than plotting revenge through a smile than President Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). And in season 6, she’s not only ruling the Oval Office, she’s not-so-subtly manipulating everyone around her, including the Shepherds, by dropping the ultimate bomb: is Duncan (Cody Fern) actually Claire’s biological child?
Let’s back up. Duncan Shepherd is, ostensibly, the son of Annette Shepherd (Diane Lane), who is one sibling half of the Shepherd shadow corporate operation looking to advance their agenda. In the show, Duncan is 25, and is meant to embody a younger, more technologically-savvy type of Washington operative. In “Chapter 70,” Duncan meets Claire at the White House for an off-the-record, totally secret meeting to discuss their mutual goals — though both of them have their own goals in mind. Claire, sensing a point of weakness, cooly instructs Duncan to ask Annette “where he comes from.”
Duncan, confused, brings up the subject after being chastised for taking the meeting with Claire. Annette stops, glares at Duncan, and brusquely changes the subject to Claire’s own abortion at 16 weeks. He drops this line of questioning while Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) digs into his creepy, invasive app.
Later, in “Chapter 71,” we learn the real truth about everyone’s parentage. Yes, Claire is pregnant with the late Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) child, but that’s not the only mommy shocker. Duncan isn’t Annette’s child at all — his biological mother is a housekeeper who had a one-night fling and became pregnant. We don’t know anything about this housekeeper, or his biological father; they’re meant to be ancillary, used only to drive a wedge between the Shepherds.
And Claire’s calculation proved correct. With Duncan furious with Annette for keeping his parentage a secret, and Bill Shepherd (Greg Kinnear) denouncing Duncan as not “one of us,” this fractured fam just saw their power take a nosedive. All hail President Underwood II.
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