While the literal bomb in “Chapter 23” was prevented from exploding by the Secret Service, the metaphorical one being set by Frank just went off. Once he leaks to the press about foreign money funding political races in America, there’s no telling what may happen, and House of Cards—starting here but likely for the rest of the season—is in panic mode as the various politicians in the cast try to shield themselves from the blast.
That’s a big plot development, and it ups the ante for the maneuvering Frank and Tusk have been doing with Walker, but what made “Chapter 23” was all of the incidental details and stories. While House of Cards unfortunately sometimes goes too far in signaling to the audience its symbols, it’s still deft enough to often leave decoding them to the viewers. Why, for example, it was important to Doug Stamper that his crush Rachel was going to church was difficult to see until now, when we discover it’s because he’s been losing faith in his own God, Frank, and is looking for belief elsewhere. It’s that or drinking, and while his relationship with Rachel is still frightening, seeing where these demons come from has saved what seemed like a dead end in storytelling.
In the past few episodes, House of Cards has been going out of its way to remove both lingering plot strands and cast members from the first season who’ve somehow hung around this long. This began gradually, but suddenly it’s become a major part of the show. This has pointed out the disposability of characters in these roles, not to mention the almost institutionalized lack of loyalty. From the beginning Zoe was doubled with Janine, but now that both of them are out of the picture, the show has been focused on Ayla, a journalist for the Wall Street Telegraph. Not only is the role the same, but the people in it are set up to remind us of each other and become interchangeable, both to the audience and the cast. If Frank’s team doesn’t have Zoe to leak to, well, they’ll find someone else. It really doesn’t matter. Likewise, Christina’s removal signifies the lack of care both Walker and Frank had for her from the very beginning.
Doug is afraid of his doubling, as well he should be. But perhaps the most interesting new addition to the Underwoods’ family wasn’t Seth, but rather Meechum. House of Cards has gone out of its way this season to offer us more of him, hinting all along that he has a bigger role to play (likely in the final episode of the season) than mere bodyguard. Whatever he does, though, we’re reminded of Frank’s previous bodyguard, the one who hated him and lusted for Claire. Meechum is their new adopted son, in a way, but really he’s still an unknown entity. He believes, we know, that by serving them he’s serving his country, but that answer’s too pat. There’s more going on here, and for the moment this mystery has been perfectly set up.
“Chapter 23” was an episode where an awful lot happened, but it was mostly introductions and preludes. It seemed to be the beginning of the season’s third act. As such, it told us where the pieces were but very little about where they’ll end up. The episode closed and opened on Gavin, the hacker we haven’t seen for a few episodes now, using Doug to lead him to Rachel, and it’s an interesting reminder that despite the planned obsolescence of so many of these characters—the Underwoods know by now that lengthy relationships can only serve to embroil them in more scandals—the past is still there, and you can only pretend it’s gone for so long. What’s more, whether it’s through Gavin or Meechum or someone else, it’s impossible to truly make it disappear.