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‘House of Cards’ Season 3 Episode 1 Recap: “Chapter 27”

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House of Cards is back! Unsurprisingly, Frank is living it up in his new position as President of the United States. The show’s signature fourth wall breaking speeches come a lot quicker in this episode (if you recall, season two’s premiere featured an uncharacteristically silent Frank right up until he shoved Zoe Barnes in front of a train), as Frank has grudgingly come to Gaffney to visit his dead dad. “I have to do these sorts of things now. Makes me seem more human.” He then drops trou and literally pisses on his father’s grave. Man, I missed this show.

You know what is a surprise, though? Doug is actually still alive after his little run-in with Rachel’s rock last season. I wasn’t very happy about it at first because I figured Doug’s story was all played out (plus he’s a major creep), but the tight, claustrophobic way in which the scenes of him in the hospital are presented were intense. I particularly liked that the first thing he saw upon waking was Frank and Claire’s bouquet on his bedside table — “Thinking of you.” Doug has brain damage from the attack, but he’s adamant about getting better and getting back to work for Frank.

Later Claire visits Doug at the hospital, where they agree to tell the police that he was carjacked by a man, and to say nothing about Rachel. Doug’s doctor discharges him and he goes home. Through Doug’s news-watching (with a Stephen Colbert cameo!), we learn more about Frank’s struggles as President: both the Republicans and the Democrats are stonewalling him, making it difficult for Frank to get anything done. He has a new employment act he’s trying to push called “America Works.” Doug tries to call Frank on the phone Claire gave to him to talk to him about “AmWorks,” but he gets Seth instead and is told the phone is only for emergencies. What is it that Scandal calls the President’s most trusted people? The “circle”? Looks like Doug has been effectively cut out.

Doug breaks down sobbing. He contacts hacktivist Gavin Orsay to try and figure out where Rachel has gone, but she’s disappeared. He calls Seth again to get in on a meeting with Frank, who’s off chastising his team for not figuring out the “AmWorks” plan for him yet. When one of the team speaks out against the plan, saying dismantling people’s retirement funds is against the “bedrock of the American Dream,” Frank starts yelling, and it is amazing. The naysayer is immediately fired.

“We have to do the things that people won’t like, and even when we do, three out of four of them will go along with us because we’re promising jobs.”

Back to Doug, who slips in the shower and breaks his arm right before he’s supposed to meet Frank at the White House. Instead of calling 911 like he SHOULD be doing, Doug opts to splint his arm himself (so gruesome oh god) and goes to meet Frank anyway. We learn that Frank has appointed Donald his Vice President because he’d “rather him be a pain in my ass here than over in Congress.” When Doug goes in to his meeting, he tells Frank he’s working on finding Rachel and that he’ll really “take care of it” this time, AKA kill her. Doug asks for his job back, but Frank turns him down. Doug finally goes to the ER, where a nurse prescribes him pain medication — and Doug accepts it even knowing he’s a recovering addict. He calls a sex worker who looks just like Rachel to his house, where he does a weird ritual with her involving bourbon in a syringe.

Claire meanwhile wants to become Ambassador to the United Nations, and is lobbying with a Senator for his support. A later scene with Frank shows the beginnings of a divide between them. Frank has doubts that Claire can do this, and he doesn’t want any backlash from it to fall on his Presidency or his new jobs plan. It’s a remix of their conflicts in previous seasons; when Frank and Claire’s ambitions collide, someone’s always got to cave, and so far it’s mostly been Claire. I wonder how much longer she’s going to put up with that.

Frank is called to a meeting by the Secretary of Defense to oversee a military operation, and he brings Claire along. Frank approves a missile strike that may or may not have killed a truck full of children along with his intended target. When they leave, Claire tells Frank that she still wants the job, and he agrees to support her.

“Chapter 27” is a slow burn of a reintroduction to House of Cards, but one that I enjoyed. It does a nice job of setting up Frank’s shaky start as President, which is only fitting since Frank’s made a hell of a lot of enemies in the past two seasons. The bloody climb to the top was one thing, now sticking around is looking to be just as vicious. I’m still unsure about Doug’s merit in this story (though I suppose there isn’t anyone else that can resolve the “Rachel” loose end) but I found his storyline here to be remarkably engaging. It was probably all the close angles and sad Michael Kelly emoting.