The battle was messy, but the war has been won. The bright lights of the Oval Office come from all the various press as President Walker sits down to officially sign the education reform bill into reality. It’s a ceremony with solely symbolic value—so Frank Underwood’s shoutout and the outer position of Vice President Matthews for the photo ops means something, right?
The cameras go away and Matthews approach Underwood. He’s upset the DNC hasn’t consulted him on the PA governor’s race and he’s further disappointed with the choice of Russo. Underwood floats the idea of Matthews joining that campaign trail for an approval bump and moves on.
But he’s still not done with the fallout of this education ceremony. Zoe Barnes is in attendance—Slugline got credentialed!—and she approaches him in the hallway after. It’s been three weeks since Underwood has met with her and Barnes is anxious. The two set up a meeting for that night, Underwood gives her his Presidential signee pen as an apologetic gesture.
Ceremony time officially over. And for the first time in the series, an episode plays out where Underwood, arguably, isn’t at its center.
The first non-signing ceremony images are of Peter Russo and Doug Stamper, following through on the governor race promises and attending an AA meeting. Stamper speaks but Russo sits quietly. They attend breakfast afterwards, and Stamper offers him personal recovery advice that absolutely doubles as a foundation building for a real political campaign (asking him about a belief in God, encouraging him to at least believe in something). Russo leaves for the Underwood basement campaign HQ. Stamper leaves to get back to the office, where things truly get moving.
“I need money | And not in my mouth.”
Remember the call girl from the night that started Peter Russo’s demise? She remembers Stamper and his hush money, but reaches out regardless. Stamper arranges a meet at the local diner (same one he was at with Russo earlier, met the DC Police Chief with way back when). She’s wearing sunglasses, but one Corey Hart quip later she reveals a nasty black eye. She starts the conversation off on the wrong foot—saying she’ll call TV stations and that a simple Google search gave her the names: Russo, Stamper, Underwood.
“You are walking down a road you do not want to walk down. ”
“I.. won’t… call… anyone. But I need your help. I don’t have anywhere to go , I don’t have anyone to call. I had to do things—and I don’t want to do it anymore.”
Stamper lays off the gas and gives her all the money he has on him. His instructions are simple: find a quick place to stay, let him know, and he’ll figure something out. He orders her a meal and asks for her name. No, not Sapphire. Real name: Rachael.
While Stamper is handling all the real business, Russo is getting grilled by a background specialist for the good of the campaign. He’s visibly shaken—the investigator says he’s going to “scrape the shit off the shoe,” reveals Russo’s slept with 10-15 women, done speed optimum, powder, and needles—so Underwood dismisses him for the day. The next time we see Russo, he’s reunited with Stamper at another AA meeting.
Stamper is sharing again. This time, we get a monologue where he reveals his fear of losing control is largely what drives him to be as efficient as he is with his job. It’s been more than 5,000 days since his last drink (he keeps a count), but even he acknowledges it’s the one thing he knows he can’t let up on due to an inability to control it. “Fuck the zero,” he notes, resetting is his fear. Russo again is visibly moved and gets up to leave as Stamper finishes. He shows up next at the Underwood household, ready to reconfirm his commitment to the campaign.
After the meeting, Stamper is back on the hunt for a resolution to Rachael’s situation. He approaches the Police Chief—if they pull some funds from his campaign and redirect them toward Rachael “it’s a very inexpensive insurance policy.” But the chief is weary of breaking the law again (campaign finance infractions this time instead of releasing an inebriated politician) and sends Stamper away.
Stamper meets up with Rachael again, she’s staying at a local hotel. She can’t go back home (Lynchburg, VA), so Stamper offers another solution. If he can find a nice place to stay, can Rachael lay low for awhile? She agrees, promises. Stamper asks if she’s OK on money (nope) then leaves her some on the desk. Rachael starts to remove her clothes but he stops her.
“I thought you were done with that?”
“I’ll be in touch.”
The next time we see him, Stamper is back at the office and approaching his admin assistance Nancy about housing someone for him. “Just a girl in trouble who needs a place to stay. It has to be discrete.” There’s no time to think about it, no time to meet her before a decision is made, no word on how long it’ll even happen. Nancy dutifully agrees. And Stamper is off, a hushed thank you as he breezes through the door.
Russo in the meantime is at the offices. He’s working with Claire to call constituents and fundraisers as she coaches him through the game. There’s no time to celebrate the victory however, he’s got a date with a reporter from Slugline for an exclusive profile. He gives little hints of his past—cocaine use, marijuana, both in social settings—but it’s all about laying the foundation. He’s been sober for a year, why? “It’s due to two reasons. No. 1, my children who I love more than anything. No. 2, my renewed faith in God.”
The rejuvenated Russo is evident, he’s next seen at his apartment late working when there’s a sudden knock on a door. He goes to answer but Christina has already let herself in. “I still had my key.” Frank has approached her about supporting Russo in both a professional and personal sense. The tango they do here all but confirms she’s back in.
Elsewhere at that moment, we see Rachael. She’s put together a bit better, walking in a very comfortable, modest home—Nancy guiding her. She’s led to the bedroom suitable for any teenage girl. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”
Episode 7 gives us the most screen time to date for Vice President Matthews. We see a prideful politician who has come to a painful realization—he’s reached his limit and is largely window dressing. He’s on the outside during the bill signing, he’s not consulted on the Russo campaign even if it’s his home state. It’s all conveyed in a sad little aside, Matthews sneaking into the Oval Office to sit behind the desk for a moment and sign something of his own with a pen. Cliche? Sure, but still moderately moving (old people being sad is everyone’s kryptonite).
Frank Underwood may not be the centerpiece of this episode, but he’s behind the scenes on several important machinations. He gives Zoe Barnes the Russo for governor scoop a month before the campaign will officially be announced. He approaches Christina about how much she’s needed within the campaign on all fronts. He even finds time to have a check-in with Claire, who he’s noticed suffers from some shakes (aside: anyone on what this might be? It’s the second mention, Slate speculates menopause). All the while, he’s driving things for the Russo campaign too—having Russo vetted thoroughly, deciding what info can be released publicly, and handling the task of convincing the President on the decision.
And at the end of the episode, we get one of the best, genuinely creepy moments of the series. He heads to Barnes’ apartment to follow-up on the planting of the Russo story. This is his first visit after he witnessed Lucas (editor at the Herald) show up at Barnes’ front door step drunk on a previously scheduled, ultimately canceled visit. He asks if his age bothers her and she retorts with the same. They banter back and forth a bit before he reminds her it’s Father’s Day. While she takes the call, we get an Underwood soliloquy about how little each will reveal to the other but it’s probably more than the father knows. He reckons she’s speaking have an octave higher. “Telling him everything but the truth—just like she wouldn’t tell me about that young man downstairs.” He waxes on about the power of secrets, how we’re more or less what we choose to reveal.
Barnes is on the phone the entire time, she knocks when she noticed Underwood wandering around the apartment and draws a dick on the foggy window. He motions for her to come inside and the dance begins. Clothes are being removed as daddy dearest gets to hear about how she isn’t seeing anyone. Barnes is then pinned on the bed, Underwood goes below to surprise her. “Dad, I’m in a really great place right now…. I’m going to try… I’m going to try to come…. Happy Father’s Day.” A brief flurry of noises.
“Aren’t you gong to wish me Happy Father’s Day?”
“You don’t have any children.”
[Fade to black to those familiar sounds]
Speaking of Barnes, she saw Jeanine (colleague from The Herald who covered the White House) during the education ceremony and had the idea to recruit her for Slugline. She passes on the Russo scoop so Jeanine has a lead to impress with, and later we see Jeanine interviewing the reformed Russo and his newfound belief in God.