Dear Netflix, a.k.a. our new overlords,
You must know that reporters recapping your shows are going to watch some episodes at work. In the future, if you could use a warning that there is going to be very graphic sex in an episode’s very first scene (complete with extremely loud noises even headphones can’t hide), it would be so appreciated.
A recapper who sincerely hopes no one was walking past her desk at the unfortunate moment
Oh, Episode 5: We’ve got Civil War re-enactments, blackmail, cyber-terrorist plots, and hey there, a threesome involving autoerotic asphyxiation. The latter takes place in the opening scene, as you might have guessed, and serves absolutely no purpose except to tell us that Chinese leader Xander Feng enjoyed some extracurricular activities during his visit to Spotsylvania aside from threatening Frank Underwood and doing corrupt financial business.
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Frank is out of D.C. in this episode, sent to Spotsylvania, Va., to help a group of Civil War reenactors commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Overland Campaign, a series of bloody battles. Frank looks really bored by it all in the beginning; then again, he’s watching people fake-kill each other and the real thing is nothing special to him. Plus, Frank isn’t just there for the muskets and Confederate uniforms. Spotsylvania is also his meeting spot to negotiate with Xander Feng, a Chinese billionaire and business partner of entrepreneur Raymond Tusk, the president’s closest pal and Frank’s most threatening enemy of the moment.
The gist: The president really wants a bridge over the Long Island Sound. Feng has the money to make that happen. The U.S. currently has a lawsuit against China in the World Trade Organization over currency manipulation. Frank, well-versed in the way of favors, tells Feng that of course the U.S. will drop the lawsuit if all goes well with the bridge. TWIST! Feng doesn’t want Frank to drop the lawsuit. In fact, he wants Frank to push for the suit. Turns out, he and Tusk stand to make a few more billion dollars if the currency manipulation lawsuit goes through. But that’s, um, corruption, so the people China can’t know that he wanted it to happen – it needs to look like America bullied him with the suit.
Frank seems really confused by this, and that’s fine because not everyone has a firm grasp on international economic disputes, okay? Either way, he thinks Feng is definitely shady, and sees an opportunity to screw up Feng’s plan and drive a wedge between him and Tusk. Then the president will find out and be so mad at Tusk that he’ll totally ask Frank to be his new BFF and share all his secrets. That’s what they’re fighting about again, right?
So Frank tells the White House the opposite of Feng’s request. He also has communications director Connor leak the story about the dropped lawsuit to Ayla Sayyad – a new reporter introduced this episode – and Feng is furious. Even Stamper, Frank’s right-hand man and generally the worst, tells Frank that purposefully causing problems with Feng will send the whole Chinese-American Summit into chaos. Frank looks like he might enjoy that premise.
Stamper meets with Feng, who tempts Stamper – a recovering alcoholic – with a $40,000 bottle of alcohol and threats. He says if Frank fails to cooperate he will simply “bypass him…for their mutual friend Mr. Tusk.” Tusk strikes again!
As all this madness is happening, Frank makes a startling discovery – the Civil War reenactors have a surprise for him. They have located the exact spot where Frank’s great-great-great-grandfather, Augustus Elijah Underwood, died fighting in the Civil War. Frank has never heard of this and doesn’t believe it, but it’s true. Corporal Underwood died at age 24 when his skull was bashed in by a rock during a battle. Frank is morbidly fascinated and demands more details, immediately developing a kinship with the young man who is playing Augustus in the reenactment. Later, he asks Augustus to show him the exact spot where his great-great-great grandfather died.
While Frank might be sentimental about his new family history, the last part is all a ruse to have a secret meeting with Feng in the woods. The president, furious that the bridge deal might not happen, instructed a quarreling Frank and Tusk not to have any “back channel” talks with Feng. They both agreed, but Frank meets him anyway, and tells Feng that neither he nor the president will be Feng’s “puppets.” Feng is NOT PLEASED, and informs Frank that the bridge deal is officially dead. Frank doesn’t care. Feng reminds him that he has billions of dollars at his disposal. Frank laughs in his face and reminds him that he has the entire government at his disposal. “I wield constitutional authority,” Frank boasts. “Your money doesn’t intimate me.” Feng then spits on the ground where Frank’s dead relative was killed. It’s a very touching moment.
So while we’re still not entirely sure why Frank had to ruin everything, given that the president is now furious, it seems to work in his favor: The president yells at both Frank and Tusk on a joint conference call like an angry dad (“I am very disappointed in you two!”), blaming them for the bridge deal falling apart and losing control of Feng, and hangs up on them. Frank shrugs it off, figuring he did enough damage to ruin the president and Tusk’s relationship just a little. It works – Tusk is stunned, and admits it’s the first time the president has ever hung up on him.
Claire Underwood is back in D.C.,and she’s facing her own problems. At first, she’s off an impressive start, continuing her crusade standing up for sexual assault victims after last episode’s shocking interview. She sets up a task force with a congresswoman and the first lady (the first time we meet the president’s wife) to shine a spotlight on issues of military sexual assault, and agree to meet with the Joint Chiefs to discuss.
Initially, the Joint Chiefs who meet with Claire and the congresswoman aren’t willing to take their concerns seriously, especially when Claire suggests bringing civilian oversight into military courts with these type of cases. The Joint Chiefs don’t even pretend to consider the option, until the first lady makes a bold entrance into the meeting. “My husband is a civilian who oversees the military,” she says. “Are you suggesting civilians can offer no guidance?” Suddenly the Joint Chiefs are much more willing to what they have to say.
Meanwhile, communications director Connor is concerned about Claire’s lie she told during the TV interview: That she became pregnant after General McGinnis raped her, and had an abortion. (McGinnis did assault her; however, she had an abortion five years later when she got pregnant during Frank’s campaign.) Claire assures him all the evidence is gone, the doctor who performed the procedure is dead, the medical records are burned, etc.
No sooner does she convince Connor that everything’s fine than we cut to a scene of dangerous-looking man, claiming to be a Planned Parenthood staffer, sweet talking his way into a kindly old lady’s house. The lady, Mrs. Marbury, couldn’t be happier – this man has just told her that her husband, the late Dr. Marbury, is having a grant created in his name by Planned Parenthood for all his life’s work. But first, this man has to ask Mrs. Marbury to ask a couple questions: Did Dr. Marbury ever perform any illegal abortions? Were they ever on any famous people? Okay, he’ll just come right out and say it: Did Dr. Marbury ever perform an abortion on Claire Underwood?
The now very confused Mrs. Marbury says no way, absolutely not. But the man – whose real name is Seth Grayson, and he does not work for Planned Parenthood – insists that it’s true. Did Dr. Marbury keep any journals? Why, as a matter of fact he did. And conveniently, Grayson flips to a page that confirms Claire Underwood did get an abortion, and five years after she was assaulted by McGinnis. He takes the journal, telling Mrs. Marbury that he’s working for Claire Underwood and just trying to help make sure the evidence never gets out.
Oh yeah right like we’ll believe – oh, er, guess he was sort of telling the truth. After a threatening phone call to Stamper, Grayson shows up in Claire’s office, demanding that she and Frank hire him as their new communications director – the journal he just stole from an old lady is his resume. Claire is understandably completely put off by his job-hunting style, but Grayson promises she can trust him. After all, if he was untrustworthy, he would have sold the information to Us Weekly and made a buck. (Note to Grayson: Try TMZ, they probably pay more.)
Later, Frank is annoyed but obviously a little impressed at Grayson’s tactics – he recommends Claire give the guy a shot. Claire doesn’t want to fire Connor after she just hired him, but Grayson points out that they wouldn’t be having this conversation if Connor had done his job and found every scrap of evidence. Fair point. Grayson says she doesn’t have to fire Connor, he’ll just make life so miserable for Connor that he’ll want to quit. Fantastic plan. Anyway, Claire still doesn’t trust Grayson at all, but agrees to hire him.
And finally – Lucas. Oh, poor Lucas, our favorite Washington Herald editor who never goes to work anymore. He’s been a walking disaster this whole season and the trap he was headed toward finally came down on him with full force. It’s so sad too, because Hacker Gavin just started growing a conscience – he tries to warn Lucas that he didn’t have to go through with this plan to hack into the AT&T database and steal Zoe’s phone records to prove Frank is her killer.
But then a Scary Guy in charge of Gavin shows up, asking why he was trying to save Lucas. Scary Guy threatens Gavin’s guinea pig Cashew (fingers crossed for Cashew!) and compares him to Gavin, who’s also essentially a pet following orders. “If you try to bite my hand,” Scary Guy threatens, “I will put you to sleep.” After all, Stamper and Frank are behind this whole thing: The whole point of the operation is to trick Lucas into cyber-terrorism so he can be arrested and go to jail and stop telling everyone that the vice president is a murderer.
Sadly, that’s exactly what happens. Lucas takes a tour of the top-secret AT&T database center – claiming he’s working on a story about cyber security – and slips a small chip into a computer, just as Gavin taught him. Then: Hands up! FBI. On the ground. Sorry, Lucas. You’re going away for 35 to life.
Three Things to Say in Conversation to Make It Seem Like You Watched This Episode
What are the odds that Seth Grayson is actually trustworthy?
So, I guess the show is just cycling through reporters now.
Why did Frank bury his ring at the end?