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Episode 5 Recap & Review is here.

Clearly there are multiple SPOILERS ahead so don’t read unless you’re up to speed with the nefarious Frank Underwood.

In something of a first for House of Cards, we have an honest politician speak of rights and wrongs, here outlining everything that’s wrong with the Underwoods. Heather Dunbar decides not to tell a lie about meeting with Lucas Goodwin and goes on public record with all that she knows. Clearly we won’t be seeing much more of her then. She either became woefully conscience-stricken or thought honesty would help her political aims. Regardless, Doug sums her up perfectly and succinctly; “She’s done”.

Claire Underwood, relishing the opportunity at hand
Claire Underwood, relishing the opportunity at hand

Before all this, we glimpse a look at Frank’s fevered dreams as his liver fails and he begins to die. In a nice shock, both Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo appear to him in the Oval office, much to his surprise. Is this his conscience speaking to him as he fades out? Does that mean Frank has a heart after all? Wouldn’t that be turn-up for the books? He’s clearly utterly horrified at seeing them again, even if it is all a bad dream.

Ice cold Claire is clearly not that troubled at the prospect of imminent widowhood; she’d probably think it would help her own political ambitions if we could only get a peak behind the mask. Talking of which, she’s managed to convince Acting-Prez Donald Blythe to send her to the Germany G7 summit to provide ‘support’ to Secretary of State Catherine Durant; Cathy is horrified, as well she might be. Unelected, without a mandate, without any authority whatsoever, Claire acts as Presidential as she clearly feels, running meetings and having a very unofficial showdown with Russian Premier Petrov. “You’re an amateur Claire…play the President if you like” Petrov spits. Unbowed, Claire stays strong; “you’ll take whatever we shove down your throat”. There was a small possibility that Mrs Underwood might have put-out for the letching Russian earlier – anything to further her means – but, at the cut, does this show Claire might have the ‘right stuff’ after all? Not even news of Frank finally receiving a live transplant got her to turn back to the States.

Petrov mistakenly underestimates Mrs Underwood
Petrov mistakenly underestimates Mrs Underwood

And just how did Frank get to the top of the list? Why Doug of course. Aghast at the President not being bumped up the transplant list – due to some pesky laws and troublesome ethics, neither of which Doug respects or, lets be honest, understands – Doug simply does what he does best. Blackmail. This time the Secretary of Health and Human Services is on the receiving end and is as concerned as everyone else in Washington about keeping her job. Which she won’t if the President isn’t moved to the top of the transplant list. Another man will die as a result? As far as Doug is concerned, so what? She’s not happy, but then who is after a confrontation with Doug?

And so as Claire wins in Germany and Frank is on the brink of being saved, Heather Dunbar implodes in spectacular fashion. All she has to do is deny that meeting with would-be Presidential assassin Lucas Goodwin and she can use what she knows to help her campaign. But no, she’s got that most terminal weakness of any politician, never mind one in the House of Cards universe – scruples. Meeting with litigators, she eschews the suggestion of having her lawyer present and goes on record, saying the videotaped deposition can be released to the media. And as Frank lies in hospital and Claire sorts out the energy crisis, and Petrov to boot, she attacks the Underwoods, believing that simple truth will have currency in this world. She’s done alright.

Frank has survived the transplant and is quickly returned to the White House to recuperate. He’s different; he looks much older, with a shock of white hair and he seems almost tranquil. Have these visions of his past wrongs forced him to undergo a sea change in his outlook? Even if so, that would look to be purely academic. He now needs Claire more than ever and implores her to stay; “I said you were nothing, in the Oval, without me. It’s the other way around.” That’s a striking admission from Francis and an indication that big changes may be afoot. It seems obvious that President Underwood will continue to reign in the Oval Office. We’re just not sure which Underwood that will be at this stage.

Frank, back in business. Just how will this experience change him, if at all?
Frank, back in business. Just how will this experience change him, if at all?

At the almost half-way point for season 4, the first act is effectively brought to a close. All traces of Lucas Goodwin and his research and theories are now pretty much out of the picture and the stage is set for the probable ascendency of Claire. How Frank will react to this is a delicious prospect. As is seeing how Claire’s many enemies will plot and manoeuvre. She’s certainly made enough of them.