Episode 12 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.
House of Cards mastermind and showrunner Beau Willimon is leaving the series after season 4. When a President exits the Oval Office for the final time, it is customary for them to leave a letter for the incoming, the contents of which are never made public. Willimon has left his in plain view, plot points and resolutions dangling left, right and centre.
With the hostages still in danger, Claire is despatched to a Government safe house to meet with ICO leader Yusuf Al Ahmadi, on temporary leave from Guantanamo Bay. A proto-deal is put together; he will order his fellow terrorists to release the family they are threatening to behead in exchange for concessions and the eventual reinstatement of his faction to power in Iraq. He seems to acquiesce to the offer and plans are made for a video hookup to the kidnappers.
At the White House, the full details of Tom Hammerschmidt’s investigations and subsequent story are coming to light, leaving Frank to wonder how on earth he can possibly contain it. Livid, he unleashes his fury on Seth. In a last-ditch effort, he orders that Hammerschmidt be brought to the Oval Office.
The meeting does not go as hoped; the story will run and, with the hostage situation requiring all his concentration and time, Frank seeks solace and advice from Claire.
Once more in the situation room, Frank and the assembled security staff talk with the kidnappers. Playing hardball, and threatening to speak with them no more if they don’t release the mother and daughter, Frank secures their freedom. But when the hook-up to the link with their leader is instigated, Ahmadi goes off script and tells the kidnappers to release all the audio and video files they have and kill the remaining hostage. This they pledge to do, live over the internet for the world to see the following evening.
Efforts to locate the terrorists end in failure and a broken and disillusioned Frank sits glumly in the White House residence that evening. Three weeks to the election, Hammerschmidt’s story about to hit and an American’s imminent death at the hands of his terrorist countrymen make Frank think this is it and he confronts his end, and perhaps even a prison sentence. Claire is less pessimistic; “I’m done trying to win over people’s hearts,” she says calmly. What exactly was she proposing? “War – fear, brutal fear.” To save their own skins, and keep the only thing that has ever mattered to them – power – they casually and quickly decide to offer the perfect distraction. The nation at war.
And thus less than an hour later, in a countrywide broadcast, Frank promises just that. “We are at war,” he says, promising to wipe ICO from the face of the earth. “Soldiers will die, civilians may die… but we will triumph. It is not a war we will lose.”
With their own personal house of cards teetering, The President and First Lady gather to watch the live broadcast by the terrorists. As he has his head cut off, all present flinch and look away. All but Frank and Claire, who watch impassively, unemotionally, before finally both stare directly into the camera. At us.
It was a decidedly different season ending to that we’ve had before on House of Cards. It was also brutal, and it could also be argued that the whole ICO/ISIS storyline leading up to it’s horrific denouement was in poor taste. Inhumane acts such as the one that closes out chapter 52 are, sadly, a part of the world we now live in. House of Cards has always occupied it’s own universe and so was there any need to hue so closely to reality?
Regardless, it was still a mightily watchable hour and a Donald Trump wet dream at times; one can only hope he doesn’t watch this and take it for realism. And what next for Frank and Claire? The inevitable seems certain but the how, when, who and where will all be covered next year. With a new showrunner and head writer, we can also expect a change in tone.
Maybe Doug will smile?