A constitutional crisis occurs on HOUSE OF CARDS when Tennessee and Ohio refuse to certify their election results, throwing the vote for Vice President and President to Congress. In the meantime, Claire is sworn in as acting President while Congress is deadlocked on the Presidential vote. Can Frank and Claire manipulate their way into keeping power, or is Conway inevitable as the next President?
Frank’s underhanded dealings to halt voting in two states on election day has saved him from certain defeat, but it’s also raised serious constitutional questions about how to clarify a victor when Tennessee and Ohio refuse to certify their results. It’s up to Congress to vote separately for the Vice President and the President, but Franks waning influence can be seen as he struggles to whip up enough votes to put him over the top. A lot has changed since he was whipping votes in Congress himself, and the faces are different. His unpopularity is evident as once reliable associates begin distancing themselves from Frank.
To complicate things for Frank, Claire has already won the vote to be Vice President, and everyone is worried about what a split ticket would do to public confidence. Frank’s lust for power momentarily blinds him to how clear it is to Claire that Frank can’t get enough votes to break the tie in Congress. The longer it goes on, the more likely it appears Frank will lose. In order to have a fighting chance, he and Conway need to agree on a special presidential election for Tennessee and Ohio in order to get certified results. It buys time to maneuver and work behind the scenes to put a finger on the scale of the outcome, which is something the Underwood’s are masters of.
Frank can no longer act as the President, because his term is up, and Conway hasn’t been elected, so he’s out of the running as well. There needs to be a caretaker President, and the rules state the Vice President must be sworn in as acting President. As Claire becomes momentary President, the rush of power she feels is exhilarating. Not only does the job feel right and fit her, but it’s also something she has her future sights set on. Her presidency is only until the special election decides things, but her ascension does create tension between her and Frank. He’s technically no longer the President, so she doesn’t have to take his advice or let him sit in on meetings, but no one in the White House is really sure how to act around either of them. When it comes time to make decisions, she’s skipped over at first for Frank’s opinions on matters, but she bucks against this and asserts her own will over time.
A female President on a technicality isn’t really the progress anyone hopes for, but then again Frank became President through a technicality and he held onto the position. Is it possible Claire could too? She’s far more popular than he is, and likely would have won the election outright if she’d gone head to head against Conway. She knows this, and Frank does as well, which is why her as acting President makes him so uncomfortable and testy. He sees his own power dissipating while Claire’s grows. She’s the future, and though her eventual run for Presidency when his second term is up was the goal, seeing her in the position now is a shock to him. Frank is all about legacy, which is why he takes such a big interest in his great Grandfather’s role in the Civil War, and also why he finds his own diminishing legacy so uncomfortable to deal with.
Hammerschmidt continues to investigate the Underwood’s, which is how the key to unravel everything walks into his office. Rachel Posner’s former roommate comes to Hammerschmidt to ask him to look into Doug Stamper and the disappearance of Rachel. At first he blows her off as just an attention seeking fraud, but the deeper he digs into her story, the more dirt comes up on Doug, soon linking him to Rachel. Through his own leads, as well as looking through Zoe Barnes earlier investigative materials, Hammerschmidt begins to connect the dots on Doug’s involvement with Rachel, the cover-up of her connection to the arrest and death of Peter Russo, and her disappearance. Doug is aware of the investigation, and feels the walls closing in on him. Along with the stress of the unsolved Presidential election, there’s the clear feeling Doug is on the verge of cracking up.
The uncertain election has a profound effect on Conway, as he becomes angrier and angrier, lashing out at people and saying things he shouldn’t in public. The situation is so bad Usher hides Conway from the public eye, instead thrusting the VP candidate, General Brockhart into the spotlight. It’s implied the stress of the campaign along with PTSD has left Conway unhinged, so Brockhart is promised he’ll wield the power if they’re elected, and Conway will be nothing but a figurehead. Between lashing out at his wife, some pilots on their private plane who refuse to let him take the wheel, and some racially insensitive and rude remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus, it seems Conway is finished.
With only two weeks until the special election, a truck containing radioactive material goes missing in Atlanta. There’s worry it may have been hijacked by ICO to use as a dirty bomb in the Washington D.C. area. Everyone is in the dark about the motives or whereabouts of the truck. One of the Generals in the bunker advocates strongly that they evacuate all of Washington D.C. but something doesn’t feel right to Frank, and he soon discovers this General, and a few others, conspired with General Brockhart to make the Underwood’s look bad by feeding them a false terrorism narrative. Frank discovers the coup attempt and stops it dead in its tracks, forcing the General to resign. A damaging recording of Brockhart surfaces, and Frank holds onto it to use as leverage.
Difficulties hit Claire from the minute she’s sworn in, as Russia takes the opportunity to seize an American research station in the Antarctic. Just like in real life, Russian Green Men (unverifiable soldiers) have taken over the installation, giving the Russian President deniability. The kneejerk retaliatory move is to slap sanctions on the Russians, but Petrov has the American hacker Aidan Macallan as a bargaining chip. If Claire doesn’t agree to Petrov’s terms, the Russians will leak damaging information Macallan has on the Underwood’s to the press. Claire must navigate these perils without Frank, as he’s off at Elysian Fields (a private camp for the ultra wealthy and powerful), with only the help of Jane Davis (Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade). It’s unclear which side Davis is playing, and whether she’s a friend or foe.
Frank shows up at the private camping event to feel things out. These attendees are the powerful men who can sway the election in Ohio and deliver a win for either side, and it’s fronted by Raymond Tusk, an old nemesis. This group is clearly pro-Conway at the moment, but Frank is able to win some of them over, while at the same time making General Brockhart look stupid. The biggest thing Frank takes away from the gathering is there’s something wrong with Conway, General Brockhart is really the focus, and an audio recording of Conway losing it on the plane. Between this recording and the one of General Brockhart, the Underwood’s have enough ammunition to shift the momentum to win the special elections, but they also sway Usher, Conway’s Chief of Staff, to switch sides and help them retain the Presidency.
- Hammerschmidt is investigating Doug’s relationship with Rachel, but another reporter named Jeffries is looking into Laura Moretti and Doug’s relationship. Will they uncover that Doug is responsible for her husband’s death by robbing him of the liver donation he was first in line for?
- Tom has been seeing other women, and Claire seems a bit jealous. Frank has compromising pictures of Tom having sex with a woman in the pressroom, what is he planning on doing with them? Tom and Claire declare their love to one another.
- Seth hates Doug and wants to do anything he can to get him in trouble or reveal his true self. Will he end up working with Hammerschmidt to take him down from inside the White House?
- How will Conway react to losing the election and his credibility? What happened to him to cause this PTSD? What did he do or see?
- Will LeAnn’s connection to Aidan be her downfall, or will she clean up the mess she’s made?
Season 5, Episodes 5-8 (S05E05-08)
House of Cards Streams on Netflix
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Jeff Iblings | Contributor