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House Of Cards abandons reason as season five concludes

“That doesn’t make any sense, Francis.”

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Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey/Netflix
Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey/Netflix
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House Of Cards

"Chapter 65"

Season 5 , Episode 13

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House Of Cards

"Chapter 64"

Season 5 , Episode 12

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The final two hours of this House Of Cards season are full of surprises, almost all of them laughable and completely devoid of logic. The show has never placed a high priority on plausibility, but you know even the writers are a little embarrassed by how far they’ve gone this time when they give Claire a line like “That doesn’t make any sense, Francis.” She could be describing many of the events of the last two episodes (both directed by Robin Wright), which culminate in a moment that’s been at least two seasons in the making, finally arrived at via some of the clunkiest plot mechanics in series history.

“Chapter 64” sets the tone in its opening two minutes, when Frank wraps up a chat with Durant by telling her she’s going to have to take a fall and then pushes her down a flight of stairs. Somehow he’s gotten even less subtle in his murderous impulses; at least when he pushed Zoe in front of a train, he was wearing a disguise. Even if he made sure he was out of camera range in this White House we know is wired for surveillance from top to bottom, is it really worth the risk of having his lame “fall” joke recorded? And how does he know exactly how much damage this fall will inflict? What if she lands in such a way as to merely twist her ankle? And what happens when she wakes up? I know, I know, I’m asking these questions of the wrong show, but sometimes the brazen contempt for the viewing audience grates more than others.

Not to be outdone, Claire meets in secret with Tom Yates at Usher’s house. With the secret service idling outside, Claire confronts him about his tell-all manuscript. (Did Yates never sign any kind of NDA when he was hired to write Frank’s memoir?) Once she’s ascertained that he hasn’t given it to any publishers, she throws him one last bone, during which he expires because she’s poisoned him. (Maybe she should have asked if he’d saved a copy of the book in the cloud first, but House Of Cards loves to hold onto its potential threats to Underwood power in case they’re needed seasons later.) Again, this raises logistical questions the writers can’t begin to be bothered answering—Does she really trust Usher this much already? What if he’d come home with company?—but the important thing is that Claire has now crossed the murder line. She’s ready to be president.

That’s what happens in “Chapter 65,” in which it is nonsensically revealed that the leak in the White House, the one who has been orchestrating Frank Underwood’s downfall all along, is none other than Frank Underwood himself. Here’s what you have to buy in order to swallow this egregious twist: Frank determined that his enemies in Congress would never stop coming after him, and therefore the only way to survive was to bring about his own downfall. But he’s also decided that he doesn’t really want to be the president anymore, because true power lies outside the White House, in the private sector where he can manipulate events without all that pesky oversight. He arranged everything so that Claire would become president, but he will only sign his resignation letter if she agrees to pardon him. Kevin Spacey gets another big scenery-gorging speech in front of the congressional panel as Frank decries the corruption of the system and implicates himself and everyone else in the room for making the rules from which they all benefit. This is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t account for all the murdering.

Loose ends are accounted for in typical House Of Cards fashion. Stamper proves again that his loyalty knows no bounds by taking the fall for Zoe Barnes’ murder (at least until next season when the writing team figures out a way to reverse it). Jane Davis continues to manipulate every single event around the world, this time finding Ahmadi just in time to give Claire a big administration-launching win. Leann gives Davis the election-theft data from Macallan and gets her gun back in return, but it’s a moment of false hope for her. Frank tracks her GPS and is able to watch live as a car speeds up behind her. (He closes his laptop before impact, telling us that sometimes you already know how the movie ends, but we still get a look at the smoldering wreckage later.)

Frank doesn’t get the closure he’s looking for, however, as Claire declines to pardon him, at least for now. “I’ll kill her,” he sneers at us, but Claire gets the last word in the Oval Office: “My turn.” House Of Cards has been trying to arrive at this destination for a long time now, first pitting Claire against Frank last season and then briefly giving her the reins earlier in this one. It took so many plot contortions to get to this point, it feels like the writers started with the last scene and worked their way backwards from there. The net effect is to make this entire season feel like one long stalling tactic. At some point, House Of Cards has to stop teasing the battle of the Underwoods and give it to us for real.

Stray observations

  • Frank’s hotel room can’t physically exist in that location, can it?
  • This season had even more head-scratching subplots than usual. Frank’s fling with Eric went nowhere, and the character is dispatched with a shrug as he’s killed scaling the White House fence at a war protest. The rise of Sean Jeffries gave us another empty climber with a hard-on for power and no real moral compass, which is nothing new around these parts. Hammerschmidt is a blowhard who never really gets any closer to nailing Frank.
  • Usher proposes himself as vice president, while Davis declines a cabinet seat, preferring to work in the shadows. Presumably these will be two very important characters going forward, but I wish the writers would dial back Davis’ all-knowing, all-powerful status a bit. It’s too much. But then again, is anything ever too much for House Of Cards?
  • The answer to that question is no, and the proof is yet another florid Frank monologue to the camera about how he values power above all things. We know, buddy. We know.