There are spoilers to be found here, so tread carefully and don't fall afoul of Frank Underwood's tactics.
It's convention time, and Frank is excited to hunt down a new Wolverine figure for hi.... No, wait. That would be Comic-Con. This is the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, where it's all about voting for the potential Vice Presidential nominee. And so far, things seem to be going Cathy Dunbar's way, as the Secretary of State receives the most votes from Kentucky, though Claire wins one vote, seen by all as a funny moment. OR A PORTENT OF THE FUTURE? Probably...
Claire arrives at the event in a motorcade, and is asked about receiving votes. But she encourages everyone to vote for Cathy, at least in public. Oh, and she's happy that her gun bill has passed congress, with one more step to go before it crosses her husband's desk. Thomas, meanwhile, has been annoying the Underwood's longtime speechwriters with his changes. They're just mad he changed, "I'm Frank Underwood, thank you for your support" to "Cheering hordes, like the Visigoths on the hill before the sack of Rome could not have touched the heights to which you send my heart soaring. Felicitations!" Or something like that.
Frank, meanwhile, has scheduled an event to meet Karen Williams (Susan Rome), mother of Daniel, the kid we watched shoot himself a few episodes back and the organ donor who gave Frank his new liver. He introduces her to some of the other people on the list, and no one seems to realise that now they all have organs from the same source, Frank can control them like a zombie army. Oh, tell us you don't think he'd try that if he could?
Over at Camp Conway (where they have not had a masked murder incident since that one time in 1967), Will isn't happy with how Frank is suddenly dominating the news cycle with the convention and now this organ donor stunt. People aren't watching as many videos on the Conway2016.com site (which at the time of writing still doesn't seem to work – boo, House Of Cards team), and Hannah thinks it's time to steal some of his thunder. Thor: unavailable for comment.
After a momentary check-in with Donald "Try to stay awake as he talks" Blythe, we find Frank, Cathy, Claire, Stamper and LeAnn in a strategy meeting, figuring out who they can tap to get votes for Cathy. At least, that's what Frank and Claire seem to be doing, until Cathy leaves the room. The Prez gets a call from Senator Sheer, who was the Kentucky delegate seen at the start of the episode and wants a prime time speech for his little nod to Claire. Frank turns to the camera and informs us that the main thing that separates a politician from the rest of the species... "A politician is the one who would drown a litter of kittens for 10 minutes of prime time." Pot. Kettle.
Cathy has a run-in with a journalist who has been hearing rumours that Claire was the one who got Russian pervert-in-chief Petrov to agree to the oil deal. She shrugs it off, little knowing that it'll be aiding her political doom soon enough.
Stamper has found some time to himself and is googling "strangulation porn"... Okay, he's actually obsessed with a memorial website for Anthony Moretti, who only the eagle-eyed and steel-trap mind-owning would remember is the guy he bumped off the top of the transplant list so Frank could get the liver. But it's not the site that has Stamp's focus, it's Moretti's wife. Widow. Sorry. This cannot end well.
More voting as Tennessee, Texas and others send additional votes Claire's way. LeAnn calls Celia Jones (even though both are standing on the convention floor within a few feet, we suppose they have to be on the phone for secrecy's sake) to thank her for drumming up support.
Claire and Thomas are discussing speech drafts while Frank talks on the phone. Frank and Thom get a moment to chat, and Thomas describes the aftermath of the shooting and the new liver as, "wonder what the kid would think if he knew part of him was inside the President", which is such a weird turn of phrase, our own liver shrinks slightly. To give him some credit, though, Thomas really does seem to be anticipating the Underwoods' whole "Claire to get the nomination" plan. Wonder if he's just binged ahead on the show?
Claire and Cathy meet the press, and there are lots of questions about how many votes Mrs. Underwood's getting. They laugh it off, but in private, Cathy is worried about the Brandenburg rumours. Sounds like there's a leak. Yeah, the gushing pipe straight from Team Underwood. Frank and Claire decide to talk to Cathy about Claire's chances, but Stamper has other concerns on his mind – he still wants dirt on LeAnn. Seth hasn't delivered on that front, so Stamp is angry. Poor old Seth.
We start switching between Claire meeting with Senator Baker – who clearly has no love for Cathy – and Frank sitting down with Cathy herself. Cathy's worried (well she should be) and even as Frank eases her into the notion that Claire could win while trying to reassure her she has his support, we see Claire striking a deal with Baker that would see him help to push Claire's votes over the top and Baker in Cathy's cabinet job. Yup, Cathy might as well start clearing her office the way this is going.
Conway and his running mate, General Nuisance... sorry, Brockhart, are outside the convention in Atlanta, talking up ICO and calling on Underwood to sit down and make a plan to fight the threat. They also want him to apologise for calling the General a silly head (or something like that) after he resigned. Frank, watching on TV, admires his opponent’s chutzpah and kicks off a press event that culminates in a phone call to Conway inviting him to a meeting. And, yes, an apology for Inaction Man.
The two presidential candidates head to a room in the convention centre where lunch has been set up so they can have a chat about the ICO issue. Kidding! They mostly joke around and talk about how they're viewed. Turns out ol' Perfect Will is a lot more like Frank than anyone suspected. He might not be as evil (yet), but you get a slight Palpatine/Anakin vibe from the meeting. If the emperor and Darth made each other chuckle and sat around playing a mobile game. Their joviality is interrupted when Will gets a call and retreats to the toilet to take it. Despite his best efforts, Frank can't overhear what it's about. So he calls LeAnn to see if she can get Aidan's data team to target the call. Somewhat naturally, she's worried about someone finding out. Have you met Frank and his team before, LeAnn? This is kind of their thing.
Seth also wants something from LeAnn – low level dirt about her so he can take it to Stamper. To save them both, apparently. Wonder if he meeting with Oren Chase will eventually leak? It is siting there, like Chekov's Gun.
The third ballot kicks off, and Claire starts to climb in the charts. As Frank and Will watch on the TV, Conway suggests Claire could win. Frank scoffs in such a way that he agrees. There's a surprise when Louisiana tries to give votes for Cathy Durant to be President, not Veep. And now we learn just who called Will when he disappeared into the bathroom. She's maneuvering to work with Will. Frank is seriously angry, but pulls on a smile for the press.
With Stamper at his side, Frank demands that Cathy show up for a meeting, but she's refusing. Now she's in his bad books, which as we all know, never ends well for people.
Over a shot of the eerily empty convention hall, we hear Frank and Claire discussing what to do next. Claire says she should leave to avoid looking like she's taking advantage and campaigning for the nomination. But where... Washington? No! Texas.
The final scene is Thom and Claire on the plane, working on the speech. He asks her to read it, and there's a growing intimacy as he lifts her face so he can watch it as she talks. And we're out!
A lot of moving parts in this one, but with Robin Wright directing, it all falls into place nicely. The large scope of the convention is well off set by the back room barracking as the latest move in the Underwood plan clicks into place.
The pure highlight of the episode is that cracking scene between Spacey and Kinnaman, with the two actors clearly feeding off each other and Frank as a character finding almost common ground with someone who might be as ambitious as he is. It's informal and funny, and perfectly staged, from Underwood's little choking moment to the men bonding over video games. Yet another Stamper plot line though, continues to underwhelm. While Michael Kelly always gives good snarl – particularly when he's berating Derek Cecil's Seth Grayson – the idea of Stamper feeling threatened by LeAnn and now his apparent obsession with Anthony Moretti's widow never quite holds the attention. We're also not that convinced by the sudden intimacy between Claire and Thomas. Leffield plot development? Or Underwood ploy? Let's see...