Warning: Major spoilers ahead for House Of Cards series finale “Chapter 73.”
Heading into Netflix's House Of Cards series finale, “Chapter 73,” it’s easy to assume the Netflix show may never answer its final season’s biggest mystery: Who killed Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey)? After all, the series-ender has to deal with the Shepherds’ plan to assassinate Claire Hale (Robin Wright, who directed the episode), Claire’s plan to possibly drop a nuclear bomb to stave off a terrorist attack, and Claire’s pregnancy. Where is there time to unravel a massive murder mystery in there?
Well, the answer is in the final seconds of House Of Cards. In the last scene of the series, we learn none other than Frank’s slavishly devoted right hand man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) murdered President Underwood, killing off the Kevin Spacey character for good. It’s a truly unexpected twist that deserves an explanation, especially since it leads to Doug’s own murder.
So, why did Doug go and kill the only person he ever loved?
The simplest answer is that Doug, who has already killed once after murdering Rachel Posner (Emmy-winner Rachel Brosnahan), loved Frank’s legacy too much to let his idol ruin it by murdering the sitting president, Frank’s wife Claire. “He was coming here to kill you,” Doug admits to Claire. “I couldn’t let you destroy him.” It’s a strange thing to say to an almost murder victim, but in Doug’s twisted and obsessed mind, that’s the kind of logic that makes sense.
Obviously, Frank was beginning to get sloppy with his schemes. In House Of Cards season 5 alone, he casually pushed Cathy Durant (Jayne Atkinson) down the stairs in a deeply bungled murder attempt. If Frank tried and succeeding in killing Claire, the commander in chief, there is no way he wouldn’t have gotten caught. So, Frank would have been found guilty of the highest form of treason, while the late Claire would become a feminist martyr. Any legacy Frank had left would have inevitably disintegrated.
To stop all of that from happening, Doug confirms he used the liver medication Frank already had on hand to cause an overdose. Doug's admission confirms the exact cause of death we hear about earlier in season 6 from FBI director Nathan Green (Jeremy Holm) was precisely correct, despite how far-fetched it sounded. As we find out here, Doug had no idea how long it would take for the pills to kill Frank. Therefore, any of the bizarre details around Frank’s death, from the disgraced president dying on the floor to his rambling beforehand, weren't intended. It was all a side effect of Doug’s desperate last-ditch effort to save his boss’ place in history.
The fact that Doug murdered Frank to “protect the legacy from the man,” then explains why Doug spends season 6 almost maddeningly fixated on securing a pardon for Frank to the point of obsessively memorizing the late president’s audio diaries. Doug killed his sole loved one to ensure everything they built together would stand the test of time. Every single time Claire called Frank a criminal on the national stage, she was nullifying Doug’s biggest sacrifice.
While this explanation for Frank’s death seems mostly out of left field, there is a single bread crumb that hinted Doug could be the killer. Early in “Chapter 73,” Doug tells a pack of reporters he was with Frank in the former president’s suite at the Hay-Adams hotel the night he died. Prior to Frank’s overdose, Doug alleges, his boss told him he no longer had confidence in Claire’s ability to govern. At the time, Doug’s story sounded like a lie he was using to publicly criticize Claire, especially since Doug should have been in his post-murder confession mental health facility by then. But, we now know that account is likely totally true — and what led to Frank’s death.
Doug’s story about the evening of Frank’s murder also clarifies a few things. First, it helps us understand why Frank gave Doug everything in his last-minute will. Then it explains why everyone was wondering what Frank's last words to Doug actually were. The resolutions to both mysteries trace back to that fateful Hay-Adams conversation. Frank was planning to murder Claire; of course Frank had to change to whom his assets would go in the event of his death. Doug was the last person he trusted. And, it appears the last thing Frank said to Doug was that Claire needed to die. It’s possible Frank wanted Doug to pick up his murderous intentions if he failed.
Well, Doug nearly does make Frank proud in “Chapter 73’s” final few minutes, when he demands Claire agree that her dead husband “made” her. Doug is so intent on getting his confirmation, he holds Frank’s letter opener — which President Underwood gave his lackey in the season 5 finale — to pregnant Claire’s throat and draws blood. In Doug's mind, it's the least he can do for the man who “saved” him so many years ago with a job and a purpose at his darkest point.
Yet, Claire turns the weapon on Doug and stabs him in the stomach. The move is an instant death blow. An exhausted Doug dies in a bloody Claire’s arms, finally at peace for murdering Frank.
All along, the Shepherds and their nefarious plots were just a red herring of a distraction. Clearly, House Of Cards was always going to come down to the tragedy of Doug and Claire.
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