Thoughts: Oh I really loved Claire's superbly orchestrated revenge ploy on Frank, with the very elegant final reveal and Frank's desperate turn to camera: "I knew it but I didn't believe it." But this raised one nitpicky question for me. Why on earth would Frank keep a photo of his father with the KKK in a safety deposit box? And boy he really must've believed in their political partnership to give Claire the key. Still, the episode resolves that issue, if not in an entirely satisfactory way. Nonetheless, I like the symmetry of it: at the end of the last episode Claire had a choice and made it; and now Frank has a choice too.
Running time: 52 minutes. Written by Frank Pugliese. Directed by Robin Wright.
Detailed spoiler-filled plot summary:
In the pre-credits sequence, Lucas Goodwin is hoovering a rental car and picks up a paper with Frank Underwood on its front page. Later in the episode he tries to borrow one of the cars but the guy in the rental company tries to blackmail him into sex to keep quiet about the temporary theft. Lucas acquiesces.
Frank attends a gospel church service in his home town of Gaffney with the Jones women. He desperately needs to win South Carolina. We hear Frank's speech and flashback to see him rehearsing it. He tells the Secretary of State to release some of the Strategic Reserve.
In Texas, a cowed Elizabeth steals Claire's earrings and tells her not to come back, having taken her money. But Claire takes back the earrings and says she'll do as she likes. On the plane from Texas to South Carolina, Leann shares the research showing that Frank is suffering because of high oil prices due to the Russian production cut. Once in South Carolina, Leann visits a bank, opens a safety deposit box and photographs some papers. She then hires Oren Chase to do an unspecified major job on someone. (Chase was the man who tried to set up Frank as having an affair in season one). Claire visits Frank and volunteers to do a public appearance which makes Frank suspicious.
Later Frank is on the phone to the Secretary of State and discusses the further cuts in oil production. He has another vision or flashback of the attack on Claire - at this point I'm assuming it's a fantasy. He then orders the SoS to unfreeze Milken's assets, to send him back to Russia and support his coup attempt. The next morning, the documents than Leann presumably leaked are in the press - showing Frank's father to be affiliated with the KKK on Primary day. And thus we see Claire's revenge. Stamper puts heat on Seth for the leak and he says it should've come up in op research. Stamper suspects someone close to Frank and Frank tells Stamper to keep an eye on Seth. Stamper asks for the email and phone records of everyone in the White House.
Lucas Goodwin makes his way to a Heather Dunbar rally and steals a press pass. He passes himself of as a journo looking to interview Cynthia Driscoll, Dunbar's campaign manager. He tells Dunbar about his Zoe Barnes theory and that he was set up and put into prison but she dismisses him.
Frank asks Doris and Celia Jones to stand by him when he goes in front of the press to denounce his father's association with the KKK. Claire tells Frank it could be Oren Chase who's behind the leak. Frank sends Meechum to bring in Chase who quickly confesses. Claire offers to get photos of Dunbar's campaign staff(!) so that he can identify who brought him the picture, and makes him go in front of the press. Frank also gets Mayor Clancy to endorse him. He then tells a Black congregation that he asked the clan to lean on a clansmen/bank manager to lend him the money.
With Dunbar now having to defend accusations that her camp leaked the KKK photo she considers going back to Lucas Goodwin. Meanwhile another damaging photo comes out with Frank next to a civil war re-enactor. Seth points the finger at Meechum. Frank loses his home state and refuses to put out a concession speech. Meechum brings the deposit box back to Frank and Frank confronts him. But it's fairly clear to all that Meechum is devoted to Frank. He then opens up the safety deposit box and finds the earrings he gave Claire inside. She then confronts Frank with the harsh reality that he is losing the race - gas prices, an unviable running mate - and that her approvals are higher than his. She wants to run with Frank as Veep. We then learn why he kept the photo of his father - because it was the time he was most proud of his father. He says she doesn't understand what it means to have nothing. He is faced with a choice: run with or against her.