R29 Binge Club: House Of Cards Season 6

Photo: courtesy of Netflix.
The king is dead; long live the queen. That is the mantra for the sixth and final season of Netflix’s House Of Cards, which arrived Friday, November 2. Clare Hale (star-executive producer-director Robin Wright) is using her maiden name — by the way, “maiden name” is a painfully outdated phrase — as the president of the United States. Claire’s husband Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) abandoned the position during 2017’s season 5, leading to Claire’s “My turn” ascendancy. Then, after Frank’s portrayer Kevin Spacey was outed as an alleged serial sexual predator, the Cards team decided to go ahead and kill his character off entirely. Good riddance.
This is where we pick up in House Of Cards’ last season, about 100 days into Claire’s presidency and fairly divorced from last year’s plot. No, you didn’t have to stumble through all of season 5’s 13 episodes to understand this one. But, reading this story will help.
This time around, not only is this world’s first woman president dealing with inescapable misogyny and the mess her criminal husband left behind, but also the entrance of Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill Shepherd (Greg Kinnear), a sibling pair of conniving and ultra-rich political puppet masters. Annette is a formidable foe. Bill is the worst. But, we all know the indomitable Claire Hale can more than handle them — she can crush them.
Let’s see how she does it.
Episode 1, “Chapter 66”
Welcome to a new administration, friends. The is the theme of season 6 premiere “Chapter 66.” Claire Hale is not Frank Underwood, and Robin Wright is not Kevin Spacey. As you settle into a world where Claire is House Of Cards’ undeniable star, it’s impossible not think about both truths. Especially when our new POTUS announces in a fourth wall breaking admission, “Here’s the thing, whatever Francis told you over the last five years? Don’t believe a word of it. It’s going to be different for you and me. I’m going to tell you the truth,” and freeing meddlesome birds instead of killing them with her bare hands (as Frank, of season 1 dog slaughtering fame, would do). Claire even ends the episode by giving Francis’ ring the middle finger, while wearing it.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We open “Chapter 66” with extremely detailed news of death threats against Claire. People want to skin her alive, dismember her, and arrange all the body parts in the shape of the American flag. All of a sudden, it’s sounds like we’re reading an American Horror Story script rather than watching House Of Cards. But Claire’s steely determination reminds us where we are. Despite the mounting danger, President Claire Hale will still go out into the world and speak to a bunch of about-to-deploy service people on the Fourth Of July, damnit.
Yes, even when one of the would-be murderers claims to lurking on the military base Claire is scheduled to visit.
Before Claire heads to the base, we learn some important initial details about her upcoming war with the Shepherds. Her new vice president Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) is her middle man between the wealthy siblings. Claire does not like having a middle man. The Shepherds were seemingly financing Frank’s foundation prior to his death. The Shepherds want Claire to sign a bill. Claire does not want to sign the bill. The Shepherds don’t like a political candidate in their state. Claire plans to support that candidate by name in her July 4th speech. Claire and the Shepherds can’t agree on anything.
Once Claire leaves the White House we get some more show-don’t-tell style exposition. First Claire goes to the Shepherds’ pre-fireworks party. Clearly these three go way back. Claire and the Shepherds are arguing over Nancy Gallagher, a retiring lieutenant general, Democrat, and soon-to-be politician against private contractors getting military deals. Nancy is the candidate Claire and the Shepherd cannot agree on. Frank also had a mysterious “agreement” with the Shepherds, where he very obviously promised to put Claire in the family’s pocket in exchange for foundation funding. Claire, however, made no such agreement.
So she goes to her official appearance at the base and throws her full support behind Nancy. Claire’s act of rebellion goes well, save for a military woman who questions whether the president “even has a plan.” Ever the cool cucumber, Claire shoots back, “Would you have asked me that if I were a man?” Of course, the answer is no.
Back in the car, Claire’s situation goes from tense to near-deadly when a sniper takes a shot at the president’s vehicle. The bullet misses Claire’s head by inches. The shooter, a dishonourably discharged military member then killed himself, or at least that’s what the scene suggests. Bill orchestrated the whole thing. I told you Bill is the worst.
Following the attempt on Claire’s life, she questions whether Frank’s death was actually a subtle assassination, suggesting this season will also be part murder mystery. It sure seems like the Shepherds were involved, from Annette revealing Frank told the siblings a number of secrets, apparently about Claire, to the reemergence of Frank’s ring. Towards the end of the episode, Annette tells Claire she and her brother finally visited Gaffney, Frank’s hometown and the place he was probably buried. Seconds later, Claire finds the ring Frank was buried with on his bed.
The Shepherds exhumed Frank’s body, ripped a piece of jewellery off of his cold, dead hand, and then had that item placed in the presidential quarters. That is some Bond villain nonsense.
The most dangerous card: For now, Annette’s mysterious son Duncan (AHS prince of darkness Cody Fern), if only because he is played by TV’s antichrist.
Frank’s obsessed lackey Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), who falsely confessed to killing Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) last season and was promptly placed in a mental health facility, comes in second. Doug really, really, really hates Claire… and his psychiatrist just so happens to be calling president with nighttime reports on Doug’s therapy sessions. This can’t end well.
The flashback: In the first scene of House Of Cards season 6, a young Claire Hale is told to “stop!” by a boy. Later in the episode, we find out why: He and a bunch of other boys want to cut Claire’s dress off with a pair of scissors while standing in the middle of the woods.
In a disturbing moment, we see Claire running away from the boys, clad in just her white underwear, holding her ruined dress in front of her body. It’s difficult not to be reminded of Camille Preaker’s (Amy Adams) own forest trauma from Sharp Objects.
In the last part of the flashback, Claire hides out in a barn and fashions a belt to hold her dress to her body. One of the boys shows up to apologise for assaulting Claire and tell her she can leave her hiding spot. She responds by picking up a broom and stabbing her attacker in the eye with it (he was looking through a hole in door, which was perfectly broom-sized).
Don’t fuck with Claire Hale.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Episode 2, “Chapter 67”
“The reign of the middle-aged white man is over,” Claire says towards the end of “Chapter 67.” No one would call this show subtle. This is a loud, woman-powered series that is deeply exhausted by the idea of old white men thinking they’re still sitting at the head of the table. That’s why Frank Underwood is dead. That’s why Mark Usher is a lap dog rather than a guard dog. That’s why Bill Shepherd is a demon Claire will inevitably vanish.
Claire is forced to make that announcement as tensions with the Shepherds start to bubble over. At the top of the episode, a natural disaster has hit Bellport, OH. The state’s governor wants to avoid declaring a state of emergency after a Shepherd-owned oil refinery explodes, leaking poison into its town. Governor Olmstead would prefer to simply pray the winds stay in their favour. “And [they’re] subject to change. That’s how wind works,” Claire reminds the governor. Claire is a queen.
After some light manipulating — Olmstead definitely stole his election, and Claire reminds him of as much — a state of emergency is declared. Off to Ohio Claire goes to meet with the families affected, help how she can, and generally exasperate the Shepherds. They want her to sign their bill, but she’s too busy trying to save the world and shame awful men to care.
Speaking of the regulatory bill, the actual politics of it appears to be purposefully vague. Last episode, Mark and the team tried to come up with a PR-friendly acronym with little bearing on actual policy. In this episode, Bill yells at Claire to sign it without actually explaining its purpose. Is the bill about the environment? Safety? War? Who knows? And that’s the point — the bill is just a metaphor for Claire and the Shepherds’ opposing viewpoints and omnipresent battle of wills. The bill could be about officially confirming the sky is blue, and, if Bill wanted Claire to agree, she would try to set it on fire.
Everyone is aware of this animosity, which leads to a very memeable battle in Bellport. Once Claire is finished proving how dangerous the town’s H20 supply is to a group of men trying to convince her otherwise — she offers them a glass of fresh-out-of-the-sink tap water, they all avoid it like the plague — everyone heads to a gymnasium where the citizens of Bellport are gathered. Annette is there to do damage control for the Shepherd brand. The wealthy socialite tries to hold hands with old friend Claire as a show of triumph. Claire recoils from Annette and the very public diss quickly becomes a leading news story.
So, Claire is forced to make a public amends with Annette at a gala later that week. While the party should be about patching things up with the Shepherds, two far more interesting things happen: we learn Annette and Mark are hooking up, and Annette and Claire have their most revealing interaction so far this season. Annette hooked up with Frank back in the day! Claire has known all along! Annette heavily alludes to Frank being closeted, and Claire tells her to shut up! Then they do a bizarre series of shoe-less movements from their shared girlhood. Have they both been practicing?
Bill also threatens Claire in a kitchen while mumbling about Frank’s will, but it’s deeply forgettable. Give me more quiet ballet-inspired feats between Robin Wright and Diane Lane instead.
Unfortunately, we are not given such gifts. Rather, Claire is forced to acquiesce to the Shepherds. First by allowing Annette to get a redo of her triumphant hand-holding, this time without the subsequent recoiling. Then, Bill shows up in the Oval Office and literally forces Claire’s hand on the metaphor bill. Bill drags Claire’s hand across the signature line. We can now assume he will eventually lose his own hand for such a transgression.
Outside of the Claire-Shepherd’s-FUTURE bill drama (yes, it ends up with the FUTURE acronym), two storms are brewing in the House Of Cards world. First, Doug is out of the mental health facility, has recanted his murder confession, and is intent on getting Claire prosecuted for her own crimes. Claire would rather no one goes to jail, and then she and Doug can merely live their separate lives. The only person standing in their way, according to Claire, is Secretary of State Cathy Durant (Jayne Atkinson), who Frank pushed down the stairs last season. Cathy knows many of the crimes the Underwoods and Doug committed. With Cathy eliminated, everyone can be truly free, Claire proposes. Doug is left with Frank’s cufflinks and a lot to think about.
Also, young Duncan Shepherd has an evil app that allows the entire Shepherd family to stalk all of the data on its users’ phones. Cards will make you nearly as afraid of technology as You does.
The most dangerous card: Mark Usher, as Frank predicted last season. This is a man caught between two mistresses — something has to go horrifically wrong.
The flashback: Young Claire quietly sits between her parents as they bicker over their daughter’s assault from the episode prior. Claire’s dad is furious that Claire was attacked. Her mother, jealous of her own daughter, is furious at Claire. “A boy lost an eye!” she seethes, alleging the little girl “dared” those boys to assault her.
“Pretty girls have a responsibility to their beauty,” Mrs. Hale yells, adding to the victim-shaming and demanding to know why Claire won’t do as she’s told. “Why indeed?” Claire asks in the present, continuing to infuriate misogynistic villains decades later.
Episode 3, “Chapter 68”
Politics is all about who you know, and this episode proves it. “Chapter 68” is an exploration in all of the tenuous alliances that will dominate House Of Cards season 6. Over 52 minutes you’re left asking who’s playing whom, who’s double-crossing whom, and whether anyone is ever telling the truth. So let’s go through the big ones.
Claire & Doug
One of the most confusing relationships at play exists between Claire and Doug. During the last episode, Doug told the US Attorney the real criminal case was against Claire. Then, Claire popped up in Doug’s house talking about freedom and needing to eliminate Secretary Of State Cathy Durant. Now Claire and Doug are sitting in presidential vehicles together plotting to pull Cathy’s security detail and discussing the most casual way to end this very Southern woman’s life (“It needs to look like complications from her fall,” Claire says. Cathy’s “fall” was more of a tumble caused by Frank throwing her down the stairs).
Despite Claire and Doug’s scheming, the latter is still talking smack about the former to potential new clients like Illinois congressman Brett Cole (Boris Kodjoe) and intimating she’s a husband killer during car chats with FBI deputy director Nathan Green (Jeremy Holm). Doug even tells newspaper man Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) he and President Hale are on “different paths.” Later, Claire tells Nathan to personally follow Doug in case they need to “find him alone” at some point. That is a fun euphemism for murder.
Following Claire’s conversation with Nathan, we learn why people keep bringing up the secret of Frank’s will: In a handwritten, seemingly rushed, document, Frank left Doug everything. Claire doesn’t know why her husband would do such a thing right before dying (technical cause of death: natural causes supposedly brought on by liver medication overdose) so we definitely don’t, either.
Claire, Cathy, & Jane Davis
There is a lot going on here. With the problem of Cathy Durant looming large, Claire decides to force the enigmatic Jane Davis (the always fantastic Patricia Clarkson) to help her. What does security expert Jane Davis do exactly for the government? We will never exactly know, but it involves power players, travel, secrets, and hating the Russian government. If you told me Jane Davis has killed 1,000 men over the course of her career, I would believe you.
So, Claire meets with lawyer Rafiq Nasser (Darwin Shaw), who represents fictional Syrian terrorist group ICO. We have never met Nasser before, but House Of Cards acts like we have. Season 6 has no time for exposition. Nasser suggests another terror attack is possible if American corporations cut ICO out of “Syria’s future.” Because Claire meets with Nasser, Jane is forced to return to the Oval Office to chat with Claire. Jane claims the White House’s goals are the same as the Shepherds’ when it comes to Syria. Hmm. Claire basically tells Jane the Shepherds are trash and asks her mysterious pal to come live in the White House for a while.
Clearly Jane accepts, since Claire asks her to kill her good friend Cathy over breakfast a few scenes later. Jane is like, “I could never!,” and then promptly invites Cathy to a murder lunch at the world’s most empty restaurant. Cathy quickly realises Jane aims to assassinate her and hightails it out of the world’s worst lunch date. It is one of the funniest moments of House Of Cards this season. From the safety of the car, Cathy calls Jane to wish her a painful death. Jane responds with a shrug and an “LOL, no.”
By the end of “Chapter 68,” a not-quite-alarmed Cathy is dragged out of her home by men in suits. The door is left wide open. Is she being kidnapped? Did Jane set this up? Or is something else afoot? It’s unclear. Yet, Claire is notified that Cathy had an “embolism” due to her “fall” and died, which doesn’t line up with the abduction viewers witness at all. Someone is lying here.
Claire, Mark & Annette
As I said earlier, Mark is a man with two mistresses. Yes, he does want Claire to listen to the Shepherds since he’s sleeping with Annette. It’s also possible the family has dirt on Mark since they have dirt on everyone. But, Mark also wants the Shepherds to give Claire some room to lead since it appears he genuinely believes in the president’s ability to govern. Throughout the episode, Mark ping pongs between both Claire and Annette, defending both women to the other one.
But, the battle is escalated to a war when Claire tells Annette she will not be bullied into choosing the Supreme Court justice they want, Vincent Abruzzo (Ron Canada). The president informs Annette of her decision and then lets it slip she knows all about her son Duncan’s juvenile record for “prep school drugs,” as Jane calls them. After Claire threatens to out Duncan’s misdeeds, Annette forces Mark to unveil an ultimatum: Agree to nominate Abruzzo, or the police will find Tom Yates’ (Paul Sparks) body. Mark shows Claire Tom’s frozen corpse in the back of a van to emphasise his threat.
This is when Cards reminds you that Claire fatally poisoned her lover Tom last season and then dumped his body at Mark’s house. Clearly, the Shepherds have had Tom’s body on ice ever since in case they needed to intimidate the president. At last, Claire agrees on Abruzzo.
Although the Shepherds have now used one of the biggest guns in their arsenal with their corpse reveal, there are still others. Chief among them is the that fact Claire, America’s first woman president, had three abortions over her lifetime. Bill Shepherd’s favourite weapon is misogyny.
P.S. Bill Shepherd is very, very sick, as we see and Claire senses.
Poor, Poor Kelsey
Even sweet press secretary Kelsey (Kristen Sieh) is being manipulated. Claire lies to Kelsey’s face about the whereabouts of Tom Yates when the president absolutely knows she personally murdered the writer in the middle of sex.
The most dangerous card: Annette. Not only is she dealing with decades of Claire Hale jealousy, but her son is now being (rightly) threatened. You do not want to mess with a boundlessly entitled, morally compromised billionaire’s maternal instincts.
The flashback: Young Claire and Young “Annie,” aka Annette, doing their ballet movements as teens, seemingly at boarding school. These two were giggly roommates passing joints back and forth once upon a time. Now they’re trying to ruin each other’s lives on the public stage.
Growing up is the worst.
Episode 4, “Chapter 69”
Welcome to House Of Cards’ bottle episode. While most of this season is built to make D.C. look like an ever-expanding hellmouth of schemers — where even was Duncan’s premiere episode July 4th party? — “Chapter 69” traps everyone in one suffocating locale for most of the proceedings: Catherine Durant’s wake. The result is an endless stream of death glares across entire rooms.
The major players here are Claire, Doug, Jane, Mark, and looming presence Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), the extremely tall Russian president. Former Underwood staffer Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), now on Team Shepherd, would also like to feel included, but everyone spends the hour trying to avoid him. The Shepherds, as secretive as they are, would never show up to such a public function — this is what they have Mark and Seth for.
Having all of these political animals in one room together would usually be stressful enough. But the tension is intensified by the fact that 100,000 Russian troops are headed towards the Syrian border. American troops, like the ones from Claire’s July 4th army base appearance, are already in the country. As Petrov tells Claire, their two respective countries are “only moments away from crisis.”
Amid the impending crisis, Claire plays the dutiful Shepherd pawn. She lets Mark talk to Petrov alone. She lets Mark and Jane investigate Russia’s troop movements and motivations. She lets Jane promise her she will “chip away” at the Shepherds if Claire agrees to her Russian retaliation plan. Even in a meeting about the pizdets in the Middle East, Claire sits quietly in the background as everyone runs their mouth, and Seth bursts in squarely uninvited.
“Playing incompetent is so exhausting,” a smirking Claire admits to the audience.
The people in Claire’s orbit, Mark especially, are terrified that Claire is so compliant. Just after the halfway point of the episode, everything makes sense. Claire is the one who invited Petrov to the funeral. Her plan is to give the Russian president oil, gas, and ports in Syria along with 20% of the resources passing through them. That is a major break for Russia. While Claire claims her deal is simply fuelled by peace, it’s actually an attempt to put a chokehold on the Shepherds’ corporate future in the region.
“My husband was a means to an end,” the president admits to Petrov to cap off their private peace talk. Claire Hale: American gangster.
Although Claire is the one wheeling and dealing here, it’s Jane who has the two most intriguing conversations. Her first is with Mark. During a lengthy whisper fest, it is suggested the pair used to sleep together; they have some dark secret with Doug’s new client rising congressman Brett Cole, whom we meet for the first time this season; and all three used to work together. Were Mark and Jane involved in the pension scandal the Shepherds are using against Brett? Or is this an entirely different bit of skullduggery? Jane and Mark’s conversation also reveals Annette, not headstrong Bill, has some unexplained grudge against Russia.
Jane’s second fascinating encounter arrives towards the end of the episode, when Petrov bumps into her. The antagonistic chemistry here is off the charts. A betting woman would put her last ruble on the assumption angry sex has been had between these two.
Besides all the political intrigue afoot, the other main drive of Cathy’s funeral is figuring out how she died in the first place. Claire, Doug, and Jane all confirm they weren’t involved. Cathy’s husband Stan (Gregg Edelman) seems fairly calm, while her out of towner brother Hunter (John Ellison Conlee) is devastated. Hunter’s retelling of Cathy’s sudden fatal illness only makes the tragedy more suspicious. While we know Cathy was hurried out of her home by suspicious men in suits, Hunter tells Claire and Doug that his sister called him complaining of a migraine-level headache and soon suffered an embolism in her car. Hunter then got on the next flight to D.C. in order to be with his sister. By the time Hunter landed, Cathy was dead and already prepped to be cremated. An autopsy wasn’t even completed.
“Stan made it happen so fast,” a teary Hunter laments. Immediately, Claire and Doug look at each other. After years of orchestrating D.C. subterfuge, they know the story of Cathy’s death doesn’t add up.
And that’s because Cathy isn’t dead! As the final scene of “Chapter 68” proves, Cathy faked her death. While everyone is mourning the Secretary of s=State and conspiring against their perceived enemies, Cathy is holed up in some random dimly lit apartment with a bottle of red wine and a burner phone. She demands an unknown man is watched until he arrives in Switzerland. “I’ll be the one to intercept him in Annecy,” Cathy declares. Then she promises the person on the other end of the line they’ll be taken care of once the money is wired.
With that declaration, a very much alive Cathy hangs up her phone and slides it into a pot of boiling water. Cathy Durant just might be the real gangster of this story.
By the way, Nexis Securities keeps coming up as a controversial defence contractor. Nexis is owned by one of Bill’s friends, as we learn with a throwaway line in the season 6 premiere. They are also the ones who sent agents to Claire’s residence in Gaffney and are trying to get contracts in Syria. Don’t trust Nexis.
The most dangerous card: Cathy! Death faking, phone boiling Cathy!
The flashback: None here. There’s too much present-day, macabre drama for the past.
Episode 5, “Chapter 70”
Going into this episode, you need to remember how tired Claire is of feeling the puppet strings of the Shepherds burrowing into her back. First, Mark showed her Tom Yates’ body in the van. Then, the family tried to run the show over the imminent Russian conflict in Syria when they weren’t even in the room. Clearly, this stifling situation will only get worse — and Claire can’t live like this.
So she goes with the most extreme option possible in “Chapter 70.” Essentially, Claire must kill her political career to resurrect a brand new one. One that is immune to the Shepherds’ influence. That is why we start the episode in the middle of Claire’s period of “hiding.” As we learn through various different news stories and interviews, following her controversial deal with Russia — the one she brokered specifically to harm the Shepherds — and off-screen pardon of Doug, she has entered a reclusive period. The president, countless journalists and pundits lament, hasn’t left the residency in 24 days.
There is a photo of a mascara streaked and wailing Claire to prove it.
Then, House Of Cards actually takes us to Claire’s chambers. This is when our suspicions are confirmed: Claire is faking the whole thing. This is the extreme version of her “playing dumb is exhausting” routine from Cathy’s funeral. As usual, Claire is thinking more than anyone else. Her new persona is inspired by all the men who have ever tried to control her, all of her regret over marrying Mister Francis Underwood, and America’s greatest anti-woman fears. Also, some Visine.
It is astonishing how quickly everyone, from Mark to Jane, believes steely Claire has crumbled into a teary, despondent, and lazy mess. The implication is that no one is surprised this is what happened when a woman is at the wheel.
Claire’s behaviour pushes her rivals into deciding to invoke the 25th amendment’s 4th section. That is the clause that explains what to do if the president cannot fulfil their duties but will not step aside. First, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet needs to agree and announce the president is “unfit” for office. Then the Congress must decide if the VP, who is now acting president, will officially take the office, and the original president will be impeached.
The Shepherds love how murky the rules are on this section and urge Mark to start the process. Soon enough, the veep is meeting with high ranking government officials in dark corners of fancy parties. If someone were to guess what emergency Illuminati meetings looked like, this would be it. As multiple people suggest over the episode and even earlier this season, the cabinet is already loyal to Mark at this point. Theoretically, this kind of cloak and dagger plotting should terrify Claire. But, she’s the one who secretly pushed everyone into this corner for her own designs.
Towards the end of “Chapter 70,” the rebellious cabinet has amassed in a White House conference room to sign the letter that would begin Claire’s impeachment proceedings. Mark has yet to arrive, but is on the way. Such a move in Claire’s own home would be brazen, but the president lulled everyone into false sense of security by refusing to exit the residence for nearly a month. All of these people were very confident Claire would never stumble out of her bedroom, let alone into their conspiracy cave.
Of course, Claire ruins all of their scheming fun. First, she convinces poor Kelsey that Mark colluded with Russia and murdered Tom Yates when he got too close to the “truth.” If Kelsey wants to avenge Tom’s death, she’s going to have to tell the exact story Claire has massaged into a believable, highly-incriminating-for-Mark tale, the president explains. It’s the feminist thing to do. Kelsey agrees.
Claire strides into the impeachment meeting, which is made up of about 98% old men, and cooly asks to see the letter they’re all planning to sign… and fires them. Goodnight and good luck, everyone!
Thanks to Claire’s tear-stained long con, Mark is now accused of collusion and murder, the entire disloyal cabinet has been removed, and no one is connecting Claire to the Shepherds.
Still, the Shepherds attempt to get their hooks back into Claire after the president tells Duncan to ask Annette “where he comes from.” The suggestion is that Duncan isn’t Annette’s biological son, or he’s the child of incest (Annette and Bill do seem especially friendly). The moment Annette learns of her old friend Claire’s motherhood-related betrayal, she plans her own: publicising Claire’s abortion at 16 weeks of pregnancy. Annette even comes to the White House to gloat to Claire about her latest scheme and the fact Frank’s loose lips made it possible.
As usual, Claire still gets the last laugh. Annette can try to attack Claire how ever she wants in the press, because the president just pulled one of the biggest feminist coups in American political history. Claire’s new cabinet is 100% made of women — and they’re all different ages and colours. “I just wanted to see your face,” Claire tells a flabbergasted Annette before shutting the door in her face. That is what you call a mic drop.
Elsewhere in the Cards universe, Doug tracks down his psychiatrist and learns the truth of Frank’s will while Janine Skorsky (UnReal’s Constance Zimmer), one of the very few journalists who has avoided getting murdered over the years, digs deeper into the criminality of Duncan’s very criminal app.
The most dangerous card: Claire. Hale. She is the true Scammer-In-Chief here.
The flashback: A teenage, cigarette-loving Claire is in the midst of an existential crisis near the woods when she should be performing the titular role of Lysistrata. A panicky brunette tries to get Claire to come inside and do the play. Claire responds by speaking about death, taking off her costume, giving it, and the role, to the brunette, and running off into the forest.
It is very likely that earring-stealing, anxiety-ridden brunette is Annette Shepherd.
Episode 6, “Chapter 71”
This episode has everything: reminders Burn Notice was a thing, maternity twists, stolen dogs, Godfather-style hits, and more. But, before we get tinto “Chapter 71’s” multiple murders or the latest Shepherd family drama, we need to talk about the latest Hale-Underwood family drama. Claire Hale is pregnant! Claire Hale is pregnant with Frank Underwood’s baby. Oh, boy (or girl), I really didn’t see that one coming.
Yet, upon second viewing, I realised Cards showed us the nursery Claire is preparing for her imminent little bundle of joy. Early in the episode, she stands in the room, which is filled with decorating options and carefully plotted paint swatches on the walls, and tells President Petrov over the phone, “[I’m] just planning for the future.”
Still, Claire’s pregnancy isn’t confirmed until the end of “71” when she unexpectedly vomits, the international pop cultural sign of being with child. At last, the president tells Doug she is expecting. The news isn’t happy, it’s practical. Doug has finally revealed he knows about the contents of Frank’s last will. Claire reveals the will doesn’t matter since the Hale-Underwood prenup says all of Frank’s assets would go to his offspring if he were to have any. Claire is carrying one such offspring.
The greatest trick of the pregnancy reveal is that Cards first makes you believe Claire might be vomiting because she had three people murdered in course of a single montage. Let’s go over why each person was killed, and, as usual, check in with the Shepherd family circus.
Cathy Durant
This one is easy. Death-faking Cathy, who is hiding out in the French Alps with her husband, is a threat to Claire on multiple levels. The former secretary of state is also a threat for President Petrov. So, they locate Cathy and have a sniper gun her down. The level of clinical precision is chilling. That is one problem eliminated for Team Hale.
Jane Davis
Jane is a very peculiar case. Honestly, it is difficult to understand the logic of having Jane abducted in the first place during the prior episode, but it seems like Claire simply needed the wheeling and dealing foreign policy expert to be taken off the chess board during her “Chapter 70” coup. The last time we see Jane free during that episode, she is insulting the president. Then all of a sudden Jane’s sex rendezvous is cut short in favour of being forcibly placed in a terrifying safe house.
“Chapter 71” confirms Claire, rather than some hostile foreign government, is the one who put Jane in that safe hose. Now that Jane has been held in captivity, seemingly by adversaries, the government has no choice but to “burn” her for security reasons. Now Jane can’t work anywhere. Another Claire Hale enemy ruined.
With no job left to do, Jane dedicates her time to getting ex Mark out of Claire’s dangerous orbit. Jane tells Claire what shared dark secret she and Mark have — Mark essentially bullied congressman Brett Cole’s mistress into dying by suicide during his first campaign — as leverage to force him out of the very dangerous White House. Jane also admits to helping Cathy escape. Then she repeatedly pleads with a stubborn Mark to just leave the chaos of the White House behind. He didn’t even want to be vice president.
After Claire visits Mark to criticise him over Cole’s mistress’ death, he calls Jane. She’s at that mysterious medical treatment facility from season 5 complaining of the worst migraine of her life. She collapses, and Mark eventually finds her dead. Although it seems like Jane didn’t really have to die, the fact that she aided in Cathy’s disappearance and lied to Claire’s face about it was apparently too great a betrayal to abide. Unfortunately for Jane, she fell into that “destroy” pile Claire mentions while leaving Mark’s house.
Despite the shady circumstances of Jane’s death, Claire confirms in an aside to the camera she killed Jane.
Tom Hammerschmidt
Tom is unquestionably the most upsetting death of House Of Cards season 6, and the events don’t exactly add up.
Doug breaks into Tom’s home for very little reason and steals his dog. Tom is forced to flee to a motel with Janine as she writes her Duncan Shepherd app exposé, which the Shepherds desperately want to destroy. Doug and Tom eventually meet to exchange the story for the dog. Doug then gives the story to Claire, ensuring the Shepherds will go down for the app and the Bellport tragedy in Ohio. Janine has a cagey face-off with Shepherd errand boy Seth, who doesn't realise the story is already gone. Claire goes to Tom’s house to call Doug a liar for anything damning he may have said about her. Tom doesn’t exactly believe Claire’s story and promises further investigation into her involvement in Frank’s misdeeds is coming.
That evening Tom is murdered in a “robbery gone wrong.” We know it’s that same day because the journalist is still wearing the same shirt. The shooting is obviously a hit masquerading as an accident. Tom’s final words to his dog (“Just have fun, okay?!”) will never not be heartbreaking.
The whole Tom-Doug-Claire ordeal brings Tom to the Oval Office, where he finds a USB drive hidden on a box with his initials carved into it. This can’t be good.
The Shepherds
The mystery of Duncan’s parentage is finally solved. Duncan’s biological mother is a local housekeeper. His father isn’t Bill, as Duncan’s eyes ask when he returns from his head-clearing walkabout. Instead, Duncan’s bio mom simply had a one night stand with some random man.
With the truth out in the open, Bill, whose health is deteriorating fast, refuses to call an already heartbroken Duncan “one of us.” Bill and Annette’s relationship is forever ruined. And right after Bill creepily calls his sister “honey.” How sad.
The most dangerous card: Claire Hale doing her best Michael Corleone impression. With just two episodes left, it looks like our leading lady is going to hold onto this title.
The flashback: No flashbacks here, just unmitigated death.
Episode 7, “Chapter 72”
You win some, you lose some. That is the lesson Claire Hale learns with “Chapter 72,” which jumps at minimum a month ahead of “Chapter 71.” The president gains a lot of wins in the episode, while suffering some debilitating losses and soon-to-be losses, including a mounting assassination plot. With so much going on as we head into the series finale of House Of Cards — now just one episode away — let’s break down the good, the bad, and the other for Claire Hale.
The Good
Things are going so well. Claire is our first pregnant president, and the people love her for it. Mark, now out of the White House and firmly on Team Shephard, complains that Claire is currently polling at around a 70% approval rating and is only expected to improve towards the election. Widespread public adoration in new for a president who was nearly dragged out of office a mere two episodes ago.
Congressman Cole, a Shepherd pawn, introduced legislation to limit Claire’s powers at some point between “Chapter 71” and “Chapter 72.” The ruling on the legality of the bill reaches the Supreme Court, where Shepherd-demanded judge Abruzzo from earlier this season is poised to rule as the deciding vote against Claire. But, she blackmails him into recusing himself from the case. All of Claire’s abilities as president will remain.
Annette attempts to murder Claire’s baby by having the president’s OBGYN put a labour-inducing drug in her IV. Claire is only 26 weeks pregnant at this time. Still, the baby survives — and we find out she’s a girl!
Claire finally gets to put Duncan in custody for the evil app. After Annette’s baby killing scheme, such a victory against the billionaire’s own son must be especially gratifying for Claire.
Melody Cruz, Claire’s greatest media critic and former Shepherd puppet, is nice to Claire in an interview.
The Bad
Annette is putting together a wide-sweeping assassination plot against Claire following Duncan’s arrest. Annette looks genuinely pleased that Claire has pushed her far enough away to even make assassination a viable conversation. Nine people attend the initial meeting to figure out how to kill Claire. One person even brings charts and graphs to project the nation’s economic fallout after a presidential death. A very bitter, bearded Mark is quite into all the surreptitious murder talk.
Claire loses two major allies. One makes sense: Nora Cafferty (Susan Pourfar), who is fired. At the top of “Chapter 72,” Claire starts screaming about dragging Congresspeople out of the House chambers and firing the US Attorney. Nora is rightly disturbed by Claire’s sudden authoritarian leanings and shares those apprehensive feelings with Claire. Claire tells her to get the hell out of her house.
Nathan’s choice to abandon Claire for Team Shepherd, however, makes less sense. Claire’s willing foot soldier talks to Seth once, and all of a sudden he’s fully turned against the president? Not only does Nathan lie to Claire about Doug’s whereabouts, but he also personally brings Doug to the Shepherd meeting where everyone is planning Claire’s assassination. That’s too big of a personality evolution, too fast.
Claire realises Doug took something from the Oval Office last episode: a USB drive which is actually Frank’s audio diary. An off-the-grid Doug has been listening to it while digging for Rachel Posner’s body. Healthy choices all around.
The Other
Speaking of Doug, what is everyone other than Claire up to? Mostly just being cogs in the wheel that is Claire Hale’s Washington. Except for Bill. His health is even worse after the time jump. The billionaire has graduated from private feverish yelling to public incoherent rambling that either alienates powerful people like Brett Cole or inspires waiters to tell him off in front of entire parties of people.
At least both Shepherds have legally adopted Duncan, at least 28 years after his birth. That means Duncan’s parents are a brother-sister pair who call each other “honey” and tenderly hold hands. You know, normal rich people stuff.
Doug Stamper is back in D.C. and ready to take on Claire (that’s why he shaved).
The most dangerous card: We’re in the final two hours of House Of Cards. There’s no way the answer won’t always be Claire from here on out.
The flashback: Welcome to the day Claire chooses her power-hungry life with Frank over a simple one with any old guy. We’re seemingly towards the end of Claire’s college career, and Frank has proposed. Claire’s other boyfriend Reed (David Corenswet) isn’t too happy about this turn of events and announces Claire is going with him instead.
Claire seemingly acquiesces and has sex with Reed in what appears to be his dorm room. Then, when Reed falls asleep, she calls Frank and heads over to his place. Reed had no idea he was having goodbye sex, not let’s be together forever sex.
Episode 8, “Chapter 73” — The House Of Cards Series Finale
Welcome to the end of the line, House Of Cards friends. We have made it the series finale of this wild show. And at least we survived. The same can’t be said for old Doug Stamper.
Looking back at “Chapter 73,” the thing that really hits is you is how little its first 45 actually end up being. Over that time, the series throws out a lot of plot, which we should probably go over just so you’re sure it wasn’t come Netflix-induced fever dream.
The only scene that truly counts in the first 80% of the series that ends up connecting to the final, bloody, and inevitable showdown between Claire and Doug is the very first one moment of the episode. Doug sits so sit, I actually thought the video wasn’t playing until he he breathes, “What would Frank do? Given that she is carrying his child?” The answer is, of course, try his very best not to kill Claire or their unborn baby.
With the last cold open taken care of, it’s time for Claire to announce some bonkers facts to the White House press corps. She basically yells from the that rooftops Frank stole the election and she might indict him now, even in death. Why say this now, right ahead of midterms? We will never know.
Somehow, while Claire is setting her all her political goodwill aflame, Doug has wandered into the House Of Representatives to terrify some random aide who made the mistake of fastening both his jacket buttons. Doug’s uninvited presence in the House sets him up to scream, in the middle of a hallway, that he was with Frank the night of his death and the dead president claimed he no longer had faith in Claire to do her job. Where is security? A man who only recanted a murder confession weeks ago is walking freely in one of the most sensitive spaces in the world.
Unfortunately for Claire, she is handling a different crisis, so she doesn’t even know what kind of trouble Doug is stirring up. Nathan is in her office with his wife (Gina Grinkemeyer) and baby to demand the president accept his resignation. Nothing Nathan does anymore makes sense. But it is nice he notifies Claire there are people looking to assassinate her.
Looming death isn’t Claire’s only problem. Janine is helping Doug publish excerpts from Frank’s audio diary. All of it is damning information on Claire, which makes her look complicit in his many crimes (she was). A sickly looking Bill pops up on CNBC to accuse Claire of being a monarch. Seth tells Doug to pump the breaks on the all blogs and press conferences… so Doug forces Claire to call him in the middle of the night? He spouts more of the diary as incentive for Claire to “apologise” for publicly criticising Frank and stop telling the truth about him. Minute 14 of the diary seems to be an especially bad look for Claire.
While Claire never recants her comments about Frank, Doug still calls Clare around “Chapter 73’s” mid-point to inform her of developments in the assassination attempt. This seems to be why Claire knows Nathan is lying when he calls and tells her the White House is the safest place for her. Rather, that is precisely where the people planning her death plan to strike. Again, why is Nathan trying to murder Claire out of nowhere? At least Doug — who has spent 8 episodes trying to make Claire’s life a living hell, including just a few minutes ago — informs the president the military does not support her and will likely be directly involved in the attempt on her life.
That is why a random man in uniform shows up in Claire’s office. It is suggested the bag he is carrying at the time has explosives. The would-be assailant is quickly and easily taken care of by security, ending the entire hyped up assassination plot. This is confusing, since Seth and the Shepherds act like Doug is person they’ve decided to kill Claire, which makes sense. It’s a good narrative. Doug himself says he is Plan A. It is never explained why the schemers go with a failing Plan B instead.
While all of this is intense enough for a final episode, there is separately a mounting nuclear war plotline. In the situation room, Claire announces an ICO faction attempted to buy a nuclear device in Pakistan. Then she talks to Petrov about about nuking ICO before they can nuke America, after US soldiers invaded the Russian-controlled Syrian coast. The relation between terrorists trying to buy nukes in Pakistan and troops heading to the Syrian coast is questionable, since there are two whole countries between the two respective nations. This leads to Claire announcing in the middle of the second press conference of the episode nuclear action is on the table. Then in a second situation room meeting, Claire proves she is intent on a nuclear attack in Syria and ignores her critical advisors.
It would be nice to believe Claire is simply using her nuclear war talk to bring her would-be killer out of the woodwork, but she doesn’t find out the culprit is military until after she leaves the meeting. The assassin ends up being the serviceperson ordered to give Claire the nuclear briefcase she genuinely demanded
Amid this tornado of a nuke story, we learn how the Shepherds have crumbled. Bill is dying of cancer alone somewhere in his beloved Midwest. He has taken to rambling on cable shows about Claire’s possibly tragic fate, the importance of “family,” and how he used to have dinner at 6 p.m. every day. House Of Cards hates Bill. But he does get to say “house of cards” in French while talking about a painting. That’s a fun Easter egg. Duncan is still in jail. His mother, who attempted to kill Claire’s unborn child just last episode, tries to play fake nice with the president. Claire calls B.S. Annette and Mark are sleeping together again until Mark decides to leave D.C. before the assassination. Everyone in this little circle of hell ends the season, and the show, utterly alone.
This brings us to the final scene in House Of Cards history. With the assassination easily sidestepped, Claire and Doug are forced to have one honest conversation in the Oval Office. Everyone has been emptied out of the White House amid the murder paranoia, and only Secret Service and essential staff remains, so these two can speak freely Doug hands Claire a list of the people who were in on the assassination plot. They talk about Frank, the baby, Rachel Posner, until, finally, Claire says she forgives Doug.
Because Doug killed Frank. All of his obsessing over Frank’s legacy and Claire’s disrespect is guilt. Doug is guilty because he killed Frank before he could kill Claire (for a full explanation on why Doug would do such a thing, click here). Doug tricked Frank into overdosing on his own medication and has been twisted up inside ever since. Now, he just wants Claire to admit Frank “made” her. The president refuses, so Doug pulls Franks letter opener on her and holds the weapon to her throat. Although Doug draws blood, he doesn’t kill her. Probably because, as we pointed out in the cold open, Doug would never be able to kill Frank’s baby. So, he can’t kill Claire right now either.
Claire has no such qualms when it comes to Doug and turns the knife on him, stabbing him in the stomach. He falls to the floor and collapses in Claire’s lap like a sick child. She coos reassurances to the dying man until she suffocates him. Doug, who has bled out at this point, doesn’t fight back. Finally he seems at peace.
“There. No more pain,” Claire says as the last villainous man in her life is dead. Then she looks slyly at the camera, the end. Fade to black.
After all of the yelling and falling and banging of Claire’s final scene, it’s impossible not to ask the question that should plague House Of Cards: where was secret service?
The most dangerous card: Claire Hale, that letter opener, and her bloodied dress. Was there ever another options?
The flashback: Not a one, President Hale is only looking forward from here on out.

More from TV

R29 Original Series