“He’s not answering my calls, he must know it’s over.”
Frank Underwood knows it too. He’s debriefing the Russo debacle with VP Matthews and the two know Republicans will never let the upstart PA politician see a race again. If only Underwood and the President had let Matthews help earlier. Now, he laments, how can the Democrats drum up a candidate with enough name recognition and a large enough donor base to start a campaign from scratch within seven weeks of an election?
Soliloquy time. “Everything hinges on these next few minutes. All of my planning…”
Brashly, Underwood suggests it straight away: why not you, Matthews? The VP laughs it off initially, leaving the White House to return to PA as the governor. Underwood isn’t done pushing however. It’s no secret President Walker and Matthews don’t get along. “The exact phrase he used was, ‘pain in the ass.'” But, no, it’s now Walker’s idea—it was Underwood’s. He’s just talking aloud… but is VP Matthews truly happy as the VP? The conversation goes from joke to “Walker put you up to this?” to finally “Wouldn’t it hurt the President, make him look weak?” Don’t worry, Underwood insists, if you make a mutual decision it’s a feat of strength. Underwood volunteers to approach the President with it and take things from here.
The meeting takes place with Vazquez around, and the first concern is there’s no historical precedent. Then there’s the question of how the media perceives it, then there’s who came up with this idea in the first place. But Underwood has the answer each time, peppering in the stakes (you might not win a second term with Matthews) and the fact that the VP was pretty loose when talking about the President on the road. But there are two goals to be achieved here—secure PA for the Democrats and find an honorable way to cut ties with Matthews before the next election. Walker wants time to think it through, seven weeks and ticking.
That night, Underwood sits down to do his favorite destresser (first person shooters) but can’t sit still. He heads to his patio and hums the first few bars of Shenandoah.
His next move is appropriately unexpected—a text to Zoe Barnes that they need to talk. She obliges, but comes over and immediately makes herself at home. Snooping through the upstairs trying perfumes and gowns as Underwood trails. She grabs the dress Claire wore to the charity ball and instructs him “go back into the bedroom.”
“What do you think she’d say if she knew I was wearing this?” Underwood dismisses it initially, saying Claire would say it looks beautiful. But Zoe continues pressing, insisting she wants it. No, not a new one just like it (as Underwood offers), this dress. “She came into my bedroom, she should know I’ve come into hers.” She proceeds to rustle Claire’s side of the bed before disrobing and leaving the dress on the floor right near it. “She can keep it, it fits her better anyway.”
There’s no on-screen sex exchanged. Underwood walks Zoe out. “Can we agree it’s time to simplify?” He agrees to honor the professional arrangement she drew up. “You still trust me?” she asks. “What choice do I have?” Zoe accepts the proposal and then takes a ride home from Meechum.
The next day, Underwood’s schedule begins with Vazquez debrief. She insists the President is torn on the Matthews predicament, but she’s less confused—it seems like a mistake. Underwood starts to go into a spiel about if she insists, but Vazquez cuts him off. She’s going to ask two very direct questions. “When you got my son into college, were you anticipating a moment like this?” He deflects, so Vazquez moves on. “Do you want to be the Vice-President?” He says he’ll serve, he denies he wanted it. But Vazquez sees through it, outlining exactly what’s going on: Underwood wants Matthews to be governor so that he can be the Vice President, setting up a possible run of his own in 2020. Underwood initially says the Matthews play is valuable no matter who is appointed, but the truth wins out.
“I must gamble everything I have,” he tells us. “If I’m honest she may use it against me, if I’m not, she won’t lift a finger… She wants to hear me say the words… [now to Vazquez] Yes. I want to be the Vice President.” And yes, he helped her son get into Stanford hoping for a return favor. She smirks, he begins to leave, stopping only for a moment to remind her what a formidable team the two of them make. “Look what we’ve been able to accomplish even when at odds. Put your mind to what we can accomplish if we weren’t.”
Back to his office and Stamper immediately wants to know how it went. Underwood doesn’t have a read on Vazquez, but more importantly Russo’s situation is still ongoing. He learns that Russo hasn’t left his apartment, but Underwood needs him to officially resign in order to put pressures on the Matthews’ decision. But Stamper doesn’t know where he is now. “There was plan here Doug. He explodes, we put him back together and then he quietly goes away.”
The next time we see Underwood, he’s greeting an inebriated Russo at the police station. Underwood volunteers to take him home as they “discuss” what should happen going forward. Underwood keeps telling him how he envisions this withdrawal going, but Russo is broken. “When has your help ever helped me? I never asked for your help when I was arrested.”
They pull in to Russo’s garage, he tells Underwood to stay downstairs but then begins falling asleep. Underwood spots a handle in the driver’s door. “I don’t want you to feel any pain, Peter. You can start fresh tomorrow, relax, you’re home now. Whatever it is you have to face tomorrow, you don’t have to face it now.” His tone gets quieter, softer, and Russo mutters how he’s “failed” everyone while he falls asleep. “No you haven’t, Peter.” Underwood takes the handle back and takes a final drink before discarding the bottle.
At this point, Underwood is talking to himself. He tells him why he and Claire never had kids, reflecting that it was cowardly in hindsight. “I see you, and you’re a brave man. Far braver than me.” He calls for Russo, there’s no response. He’s totally passed out at this point.
A handkerchief is suddenly shown wiping down the steering wheel. Underwood has it. He wipes down the bottle, wipes down the keys and sticks them into the ignition. Things are no longer passive. He takes Russo’s hand, presses it to the car’s start button. The engine runs, Underwood exists to wipe down the driver side door. He takes a dark ball cap to wear before exiting, pressing the spot’s door closed first. The scene fades to black…. Russo’s life theoretically too.
The episode doesn’t end, rather Underwood returns home. Waiting for him (seemingly in the morning now) is Stamper. “Whatever happens in the next few hours, whatever you hear, we will never speak of it.” Stamper truly didn’t know how to play chess, even he was evidently a pawn.
“Sir, I heard from Linda about a half an hour ago. The President wants to meet with you.”
As a solemn piano ballad plays, Underwood walks into Walker’s office. He states how this idea was initially absurd, but then further explains how it makes sense. Matthews agrees he went through a similar progression. They ask briefly about where Russo has been, but Underwood doesn’t know. Conversation now turns to vetting a VP shortlist.
The gathering is suddenly interrupted—Russo is dead, found in his garage with the car still running. Suicide. “I’m so sorry Frank,” Walker insists.
Underwood texts Claire about it before the news hits. We see the various reactions—the police chief, Slugline, Rachael, Zoe and Lucas, then finally Christina and the campaign in tears.
Claire returns to find Underwood and the two embrace, no words exchanged. They walk outside—arm in arm—to a swarm of press. “I find it very difficult to express everything I’m feeling right now,” Underwood begins as they make a joint statement on the Russo suicide while the credits roll.
Russo is a mess. We find him holed up in his apartment, 50+ reporters outside according to Christina who considered calling law enforcement to break in and verify he’s alive. “Is this your plan? To just hole up in here until it all goes away?” Exactly. But Christina won’t stand for that, she rips the handle of vodka away from Russo’s mouth and heads to the sink. But he cuts her off and defiantly chugs. Christina had enough, leaving Russo with only an order to call her when he’s ready to at least talk to his staffers (the people depending on him). The next time we see him, Russo sends a doorman out to secure more booze, still afraid of dealing with anything head on.
Russo surfaces in secret to sit in his car and look at the capitol. A radio report lets him know the Dems are in flux, Swathmore’s percentages and campaign money are skyrocketing while his situation is still publicly unknown. Later in the evening, he’s driving and swings by his ex-wife’s house to call his kids. His daughter isn’t very enthusiastic, his son doesn’t want to talk. “We’ve seen the news dad, there were all sorts of TV cameras at our school yesterday. Mom’s making us stay home this week.” Russo begins crying, he tells his daughter he’s in the car outside her window and it can be there little secret. “Your voice sounds weird, like it did on the radio.” She heard it on the computer, he breaks down and admits sometimes even Dad’s make mistakes. “I better go, I don’t like to hear your voice when it’s like this. It makes me sad, bye Dad.” A little on the nose, sure, but Russo has truly destroyed a few lives in recent weeks. He finally calls Christina and is ready to move on. “I’m not doing so well. I’m outside my kids house…” but he won’t commit to staying there. He dumps his phone on the road and takes off.
Russo’s next stop is the police station. “I’d like to turn myself in, eight months ago I was drunk driving and I should’ve been arrested.” And while they can’t arrest him for that, they can arrest him for drunk driving there. The cop on duty ominously says he’ll make some phone calls. Meanwhile, Christina must have told Stamper. He swings by to pick up the cell phone. And luckily the police chief candidate owes them a favor. Stamper grabs him from the police, Underwood is there ready to take him home.
Claire is still in the honeymoon weekend with Adam. They take pictures of strangers in a nearby park, go back to his studio and develop them. Throughout it all, Claire brings up her frustrations with Frank on ocsasion, but she gets frustrated when he brings it up. “He has a presence here, when you walked in yesterday he walked right through the door.”
Eventually, the Russo news surfaces to CNN. She reads it before dinner as Adam looks on. He asks whether she needs to make some calls after Claire reveals how involved they were in the Russo campaign. It spins off into the discussion they’ve been meaning to have. He’s free-spirited and spontaneous, but Claire can’t live without a plan… so of course that thematically means getting back to the Underwood compound soon enough. She eventually leaves after the news of Russo’s demise, but she’s left Adam a swan in the middle of a rearranged photo.
Zoe is still ready to dump her recent past, cleaning her apartment like it’s never been cleaned prior… before that familiar ring is heard. She heads over to Underwood’s after his insistence that they need to talk.
After that rendezvous, she heads back to Lucas’s house. She’s revealing the details of her Underwood affair (sans the identity of the man, of course). They dated for six months, knew it would end. But even though she said it wouldn’t hurt, it does. That gives Lucas his opportunity to say he would never do the same to her.