There are spoilers to be found here, so tread carefully and don't fall afoul of Frank Underwood's tactics.
Guess what we didn't expect to see again? No, not Frank's vestigial tail... Seth's private life. Or at least him waking up in bed with a naked woman (actress Hailey Witt is listed only in the credits as "young woman") sitting at his desk reading stories about Cathy and how Claire was the one behind the Petrov deal on his laptop. He shoos her out, and reads the story himself. We're actually shocked she doesn't turn out to be a ninja assassin planted by Stamper.
A quick check-in on how the votes at the convention are going via CNN's John King and the hairiest news anchor in America, Wolf Blitzer. If you ever wanted a refresher on how delegates and super delegates (V Batman Colon Dawn Of Elections) work, they're here for you. Turns out things aren't all going Frank's way. And now there's added momentum for Cathy to potentially run for president.
Claire has arrived at her mother's in Texas, finding Elizabeth weak and fading. Tom Yates lurks in the doorway, but Elizabeth asks to meet him and they seem to click right away. They could, if needed, start a Perceptive About The Underwoods club.
After Frank orders Patti Walker (Suzanne Savoy) to find some way to help him hold the party together – i.e. make it do what he wants – and she heads to the convention centre and announces that because Frank and Claire won't be on the floor today, voting will be suspended. The crowd isn't pleased.
At a press conference announcing his intention to deal with ICO, Frank reveals he's headed to Washington so he can work on it properly with the full staff and using his Situation Room. A) it's a delaying tactic and B) we figure he just prefers the comfier seats. Asked if suddenly calling a security meeting that Cathy Durant (as Secretary of State) will have to attend means he's trying to silence her, he laughs off the thought.
Claire's working on her Vice Presidential acceptance speech when she hears laughter from the other room – Tom and Elizabeth have been bonding well, and he seems to really be able to make her laugh. Though the sight of him dressed in one of Elizabeth's hats pretending to be a fortune teller and making penis jokes about Rasputin is an odd one. Claire's interaction with her mother is much colder (as is their way), but they do share a brief, sweet moment.
Outside the house, Claire finds Tom sitting in the garden and they have the sort of chat that wouldn't seem out of place in a Nancy Meyers movie.
Aboard Air Force One, Frank is starting to talk about the ICO problem, and how they can get Syria to agree to any action. He asks Cathy to join him in his office, and immediately they're arguing. Cathy wants to know why her years of loyalty are being rewarded with backstabbing, and Frank feels betrayed by her recent actions. Cathy's clearly woken up to Team Underwood's ploys, but says that Frank can't offer her anything to back down. Cathy lays it out: either Claire's votes come her way, or she'll turn the convention upside down. The look on Frank's face makes it clear he wants to turn the plane upside down in the hopes Cathy will somehow fall out.
LeAnn confronts Stamper about him trying to dig up dirt on her via Seth, and offers up some mildly titillating nuggets from her past, including a mention of experimenting with a sorority sister (is this a Wild Things in-joke?) but essential tells him to back off and be a team.
Frank's been on the phone with the president of Syria, and when that's done, Cathy warns him that Jackie Sharp is pushing delegate voters on the idea of Heather Dunbar (despite her dropping out) to keep muddying the delegate count.
Tom Hammerschmidt is getting closer to the truth on Frank's dodgy dealings, and has been going crazy with the sticky notes.
Cathy and Frank are on their way to the White House and she confronts him about the Baker conversation from last episode. He insists she can stay as Secretary Of State, but his promises are ringing a little hollow to her.
Seth's in the middle of a press scrum trying to put our metaphorical fires about the voting when Stamper summons him. He knows that Seth told LeAnn about the dirt digging and – shock! – he's not pleased. But Seth appears to have grown a spine and talks back, leading Stamper to storm in to the men's toilets and break a door from its hinges, probably imagining it's Seth's face he's punching.
Claire, genuinely worried about her mother, seems unsure about the future and, on the phone to Frank, admits she's wondering if it's a mistake for her to pursue the VP job. Frank asks her to think it over and she agrees. Talking to her mother's nurse, she learns that Elizabeth has weeks, maybe days left to live, and that they can make her more comfortable if that's what Elizabeth wants.
In the Situation Room, Cathy's still being disruptive, so Frank calls a dinner break and "invites" her to stay and eat with him, ordering a Cobb salad, which he knows she hates. Meowch!
Tom Hammerschmidt has a visitor. It's Heather Dunbar! He shows her what he's got so far on Frank. It's not enough to go public yet, but she encourages him to keep digging. And suggests there might be a weak link: Remy Danton.
Claire and her mother talk about Claire's youth and how she believed she could make the sun rise. The conversation turns to Elizabeth's wishes to die peacefully, but Claire says she can't go through with it. Elizabeth insists, pointing out that it would help Claire politically, which is a little shocking given earlier encounters between the two. With Tom holding Elizabeth's hand, Claire agrees and administers the medicine that sends Elizabeth off quietly.
Stamper is in his hotel, considering the minibar and wondering if he should dive back into alcoholism (like he did last season). But Seth shows up and is still acting bolshie, barking at Stamper that he can't fire him because it'll hurt the campaign. What's Stamper going to do, threaten him with another glass? Don't give him ideas, Seth! But Doug seems quieted by this, and after Seth leaves, he donates $5,000 to Anthony Moretti's memorial fund, with his name attached.
Frank talks to a newly re-energised Claire on the phone, and now he needs to get the path to Claire's ascension in order. Which he does by calling Cathy into the Oval Office and laying down the law. He even brings up all of his misdeeds in a way that makes you think he's flipped his lid, but eventually passes it off as a joke. But the threat is very real: this is Francis in full on Underwood mode. Cathy understands. And now... on to ICO!
In Texas, Claire share a moment that ends with her leading him by the hand upstairs. Are they going to talk politics? No, silly... they're totally going to do it, though we cut to the next morning in bed. Thomas says they made the sunrise, which we suppose is not the strangest euphemism for sexy time we've heard.
Will and Hannah, in one of their brief moments this episode, record a condolence web message for Claire, but when the camera clicks off, they're both angry at the perfect timing. Fiends!
At the convention, Frank and Claire reunite as Cathy takes the stage to announce she's dropping out and throwing her support behind Claire. There is much groaning and booing, but then Claire follows her with a killer speech – surprisingly powerful and nowhere near as flamboyant as you might expect given that Thomas worked on it too. She easily wins them over by playing the Dead Mother card and even admitting to the Underwood's marriage problems. The cheers fill the hall, and a vote of acclamation is called for Frank and Claire to share the ticket. Team Underwood 2016! Woo! We're all screwed, aren't we?
A decent episode with two standout scenes for different reasons. First, every moment between Claire, Elizabeth and Thom Yates is a winner, whether it's Tom and Mrs. Hale becoming fast friends, or the quiet mother-daughter chats. But while we'll be sad to lose Ellen Burstyn from the cast, what a way to go out! That death scene was pure heartfelt beauty, albeit slightly soured by an overuse of strings on the score. It could've played out in silence and it would've worked better than anything else in the episode.
As for Frank and Cathy's big encounter in the Oval Office? It was a weird one, with Frank behaving even more oddly than usual. We get that he needed to instill the fear of God (or him) into her, but that admit-everything-surprise-just-kidding tirade was weirdly out of character for him, and didn't completely sit with what we know about him. Especially since he's not planning to kill her any time soon. She should probably stay away from train platforms, though, just to be safe.
Otherwise, business as usual for the show as it ramps towards the big finish. The Tom Hammerschmidt scenes were very All The President's Men, and we'll have to wait and see how that plays out. Finally, Thomas Yates and Claire... Gruesome twosome? The creative team did actually manage to make it work well enough, but we fear for poor old Thomas when he's no longer useful.