House of Cards specializes in serving up the kind of tension that you can slice with a knife. And now Madam President Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) has assumed the Oval Office in season 6, she’s bringing her frosty smile and no-nonsense ambition with her — and trailing along on her skirt pleats is a shadowy operative from her past. Annette Shepherd (Diane Lane), half of the Koch brothers-like brother and sister duo, isn’t just trying to push her own agenda on the newest President Underwood; she’s a former friend, and the two go way back. In fact, their history is likely the only way Shepherd can get away with her subtle brand of cruelty.
Underwood and Shepherd went to high school together. As teen besties, they perfected their inside jokes and experimented with drugs. In one scene, we see their version of a secret handshake: the Texas Dip, with tendus and a bow as they pass each other a joint. Clearly, they went to their debutante ball together.
Later, Shepherd and Underwood express their more fraught relationship with their hands, as Underwood is seen recoiling from a victory handhold between the two. The recoil becomes the subject of primetime cable news fodder, giving Underwood’s enemies more reason to not take her seriously. “Don’t recoil from me again,” says Shepherd, through gritted teeth and a smile.
In fact, through gritted teeth is generally how the two communicate with one another. Shepherd, using a friendly tone of voice, casually tells Underwood that she slept with her husband, the late Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in 1998. President Underwood, not taking the bait, replies “I know” with that same loaded tone. Shepherd, a step ahead, launches into a faux-concerning missive about how she pities the Underwoods’ marriage.
Nearly every conversation between the two is a cringe-worthy exchange that reveals the extent of Shepherd’s true influence over Underwood II’s reign. It’s impossible to determine Shepherd’s motives because she speaks in odd, coded generalities. But it’s clear that present-day ambitions take precedent over decades of friendship. And whatever the Shepherds want, they will stop at nothing to get.
Looking for more theories, recaps, and insider info on all things TV? Join our Facebook group, Binge Club. The community is a space for you to share articles, discuss last night’s episode of your favorite show, or ask questions! Join here.