The opening of House of Cards is immediately memorable. While it changes slightly between the two seasons, its more obvious symbolism of night falling over Washington D.C. is impossible to miss even your first time viewing it. There’s a beauty in seeing the city in this way, but it’s not from the scenic images of a town rarely shown in twilight. It’s the lack of people that makes the opening so stunning, the city devoid of any humanity but still functioning as a glistening utopia. The lights go on, and the trains move despite never showing us a passenger, and there’s a sense of the city as a network of systems rather than a place where anyone actually lives. This lush yet barren cityscape is the place that Frank Underwood lives, and the opening offers us a sort of point of view, as he sees the way our nation is being run without any care for those living within it.
This seems particularly relevant for “Chapter 25,” which gives us a breath between the heightened drama of “Chapter 24” and what’s sure to be an intense finale. The episode is largely about Frank and Claire making last-second adjustments to the ever-changing political bomb they dropped onto the capital. The Underwoods speak with the Walkers, Tusk, Remy, Jackie and their own advisors, all of which demonstrates how well they’ve been manipulating the entire situation. At the beginning of the episode, not one character trusts them—from Cathy Durant to Garrett Walk to Remy Danton—but that doesn’t matter. Trust is no longer part of the equation; it’s simply a matter of how each character can use the others for their own gain. These aren’t people who are being manipulated; they’re political machines that need to respond in a certain way to gain an advantageous outcome.
The most noteworthy part of this is was Jackie Sharp, who deals a stunning blow to Megan and Claire’s campaign for civilian oversight of military rapes not through any intelligent dissent but simply by using television-debate buzzwords and rhetorical strategy. Why Jackie dislikes this bill has never been explored—she certainly hasn’t mentioned any reason, and from a stance of simple human ethics there’s no reason why anyone would—so the assumption is that she’s using it to find leverage against the Underwoods. What she doesn’t realize, though, is that while Claire is happy to get revenge against the man who raped her, the bill has been important to her for the political capital it’s offered her—that’s all. It’s given her a relationship with the first lady, but it’s not a passion project, and Claire is happy to disarm another weapon aimed at Frank in exchange for killing it.
This leads up to a sort of counterpart to what we saw at the end of “Chapter 24.” There, we watched as the Underwoods began a sexual threesome with Meechum, but here they propose a political threesome with another of Frank’s surrogate children. Jackie has been resisting Frank not only because she doesn’t like to be beholden to anyone, but also because she has serious issues with her previous father figure. Now, though, the Underwoods are able to convince her that she has no choice in the matter. Given what this means, the end of the season seems inevitable, though some of the steps between here and there are still murky.
Political bargaining was the centerpiece of “Chapter 25” but not the only story. Stamper returns to Rachel’s house and forces her to kick out her lover. Metaphorically, though, we’re meant to see this as Stamper falling off the wagon, and what this means for him in the finale we can only guess at, but presumably it can’t be anything good. Perhaps even worse for him is that Gavin seems to have successfully blackmailed his way out of the FBI’s surveillance. While finding Rachel is far from Gavin’s first priority, this seems to set up problems for him in the future, possibly in the show’s now-definite third season.
It was an excellent, fast-paced episode, though it felt largely like a prelude to the finale. I’m impressed with anyone who could sit through it without immediately diving into “Chapter 26,” as more than ever this was an episode that fed us cliffhangers and asked us to keep going. The momentum seems to have all shifted in Frank’s favor, though, so the question is mostly what form will the fallout take, not whether he’ll come out on top.