House Of Cards: Season 4, Episode 5 – Chapter 44 Review

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★★★★★

There are spoilers to be found here, so tread carefully and don't fall afoul of Frank Underwood's tactics.

The fallout from the attempted assassination of Frank Underwood (carried out by Lucas Goodwin, not by someone annoyed by Kevin Spacey's southern drawl) is the focus of Chapter 44. As Frank is subjected to various medical tests and scans, the president's brain soaks in dangerous fluids usually removed by his now mostly-destroyed liver. Which means hallucinations! Yes, if you thought Spacey would be using this episode as a chance to have a few days off from work, you're wrong. He sees various images this episode, including his Confederate soldier ancestor, Augustus Underwood (Malcolm Madera), who shoots him with a rifle. Thank goodness he's only dreaming in a near-death state, or that could be serious.

At a bar where the Lucas Goodwin story is all over the TV, Stamper meets with FBI contact Nathan Green (Jeremy Holm) to discuss what the agency has dug up from a search of Lucas' house. All of his writings about Frank's misdemeanours have been recovered, and sadly for Stamper, they're evidence now, so he can't just suppress them. He asks Green to email him the information. Looks like the sins of Frank's past might be about to catch up to him. Oh, who are we kidding? He's dodged worse bullets than this. Except for that time when he didn't dodge a bullet.

Claire sits at Frank's bedside, probably looking for ways to unhook the life-giving machines but outwardly showing concern. She fetches him some water as he silently mouths words in a semi-comatose state. He's probably telling a story about pigs or trees to some camera only he can see. Shortly after, Stamper and Vice President Blythe (we'd call him acting president, but he's barely acting grown up) are being briefed on the president's health situation. He needs a heart. Kidding! He can do without that. He actually needs a liver and is on the transplant list. Without a shiny new (or used) organ, he could be dead in days.

Claire meets with Blythe to discuss how he's feeling about talking to the Russian president on the phone over the current oil crisis. Blythe admits he's nervous, which you would never be able to tell except for the fact that he seems to be a human sweat factory. Claire offers to help with the call, quietly and securely, without anyone else knowing and Blythe lunges at the chance like a drowning swimmer grabs a life jacket.

In Florida, Remy is just trying to get his car fueled, but the lines at his local station are massive. And the place runs out before he gets close to the forecourt. A fellow driver refuses his offer of cash for petrol, and his mind is further unsettled by a text from Jackie, who clearly misses him. He nearly texts back that he misses her, but decides against it.

Blythe's phone call with Russian prez Petrov starts predictably badly, with Petrov quickly getting the upper hand and the acting president a stuttering mess. He's thankful, then for Lady Macbookbeth (we're trademarking that, and yes, we know the computer was a PC, don't write letters), who tells him to be confident. Of course, that, to the horror of a listening Stamper and Catherine Durant in the room, Blythe starts warning Petrov that Frank may die and he's the man in charge at the moment. Blythe sees it as a win, but Stamper and co. are not so sure.

A frustrated Kate Baldwin (Kim Dickens) meets with Seth, but gets no joy out of him about the Lucas Goodwin story. The FBI, however, has gone to visit Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), the journalist and editor who has had dealings with Lucas and the Underwoods in the past. They have a warrant for his notes on Goodwin, and Hammerschmidt, who is now largely retired, complies.

Stamper visits Claire at the hospital and they discuss how to announce Frank's health issues now bigmouth Blythe has put them out into the world via the Russians. Claire says she'll brief the press (try to hold back on the ticker tape, Mrs. U) and Stamper informs her of Lucas' notes. Claire wants a full report and Stamper demands to see the president, a request Claire grants.

After another bout of hallucinations from Frank, we're back with Stamper, who is clearly on a crusade to sort out the latest issue. He demands the resignation of Attorney General Martha Wilson and, on the phone, tells Seth that he's next on the block. Taken aback, Seth threatens that he knows things. Yeah, nice try threatening Stamper, genius. Do you like landfills? Because you might end up in one.

Claire continues her campaign to control Blythe, sharing personal stories and offering more help. He might as well be a terrified mammal caught in the grip of a powerful anaconda.

Remy's at his parents' place having tracked down some petrol for his car when LeAnn drives up. Initially it appears she could be recruiting him – and she is, but instead of a salary offer she brings blackmail material: the pictures she had taken of Remy and Jackie leaving their hotel tryst earlier in the season. Back in Washington, meanwhile, Heather Dunbar and her team discuss how they can proceed. Do they really want to attack a man lying in critical condition? They're politicians, of course they do!

Remy arrives in the residence and Claire outlines what she needs from him – he's to talk Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) into helping with her big plan to stop the Russian oil crisis that is driving up the petrol prices.

Cathy Durant is meeting Stamper to talk over their worries about Blythe when Seth bursts in. He needs to talk to Stamper now, and despite Doug's fury at the interruption, he agrees to listen. Seth's ready to help end Heather Dubar's campaign right now, and in the next scene we see how: he has the information about Dunbar meeting Lucas. Stamper's machiavellian mind whirs into action and soon poor old Martha Wilson is being cross-examined by her own deputies. If she wants to keep her job, she'll spill about her contact with Dunbar about Goodwin.

At a press conference, Claire is turning on the waterworks talking about her hubby and his need for a new liver. Stamper and LeAnn are watching, and you start to realise how much LeAnn is becoming Claire's own version of Stamper. Claire switches topics to the breaking story of Lucas' accusations about the president; all of his old skeletons are coming dancing from the closet. She puts it down to Lucas' "troubled" mind. At the Dunbar campaign, the FBI have arrived to talk to Heather. Whoops...

Remy meets with Raymond Tusk and uses what he knows about the man's dealings with Frank to strong-arm him into helping with Claire's new plan. But he's not the only one having a meeting, as Kate Baldwin has doorstepped Tom Hammerschmidt and they go for a walk with Tom's dog. She's skeptical of the stories about Lucas snapping, and thinks there's more to it.

Stamper is doing research on organ donation when Seth walks in, which is unintentionally funny, especially when a seemingly cordial conversation between the two turns into Stamper attacking Seth, nearly choking him with a glass and forcing him to pledge obedience in the future.

When Tusk and Remy arrive in Washington, they meet with Blythe to talk their Claire-driven plan to stop the Russian problem. Stamper demands that he be kept in the loop, but when he leaves, Blythe decides he'll push on without him. Later, Claire meets Stamper at the hospital, and they argue over who is undermining the campaign she or him? As they do, Frank's machines start beeping crazily. Even unconscious, he can still bring the drama. It all puts Claire in a more conciliatory mood, and she admits she does want to work with Stamper.

But she also meets with Blythe in the Oval Office to talk about the Tusk plan, having handled Tusk's objections. As he's leaving, Remy runs into Jackie and the two share a moment holding hands in a lift. They're both screwed, and not in the way they'd prefer.

Stamper's visiting Frank again, asking his boss what to do, though more reassuring himself since Underwood can't really talk. Leaving the room, Stamper offers some of his own liver for a transplant, but it won't work for Frank because A) his alcoholic past means it's dangerous, B) Frank needs a whole new liver and C) Stamper's organs would probably attack and kill normal human body parts.

As Frank experiences a full blown vision of himself striding through a forest with Augustus and a rifle, he starts to convulse... Is this the end for Frank Underwood? Probably not, but we'll have to wait and see.

Another solid entry, adding to the idea that Season 4 is on something of an upswing after a disappointing Season 3. Claire's machinations and now the assassination attempt are working well, stoking the drama and cleverly bringing old faces and plot lines back into play.

Spacey doesn't have much to do, but the burden is more than shouldered by the likes of Michael Kelly as Stamper and Robin Wright as Claire, and we're glad to see Neve Campbell's LeAnn is getting fun moments to play seemingly every episode. Servicing such a crowded ensemble can be difficult for the best shows, but House Of Cards is pulling off the balancing trick effectively here. Now, of course, the challenge will be how well the drama can be maintained when it feels like the biggest event has happened in episode four.