'House of Cards' Season 5, Episode 12 recap: How far will Doug's loyalty go?

For The Baltimore Sun

Will Stamper remain loyal to the Underwoods? Will the congressional hearing be their undoing? Let’s find out — and recap Episode 12 of this season of “House of Cards.”

MAJOR PLOT POINTS

As the episode opens, Frank meets with Cathy Durant, trying to dissuade her from testifying against him. She insists on proceeding, but the conversation between the two is surprisingly cordial.

That all ends when Frank shoves her down a short flight of stairs, rendering her unable to testify, temporarily. Pressure is building against Frank from all sides, as Usher learns in a late night underground card game with congressional staffers. He is tipped off that about half of Senate Democrats are willing to turn against Frank should articles of impeachment reach them. The House is a lost cause, but Usher thought that there was a chance that impeachment would fail in the Senate, a proposition that Frank was strongly counting on in the last episode. That no longer appears to be the case, meaning that Frank's best play to remain in power might be to go to war in Syria.

The issue there is that Jane, the chief architect of the Syria strategy, is pushing for Claire to make a deal with ICO, a non-aggression pact of sorts. To that end, Colonel Ismat, a Syrian military official at odds with the government there, has a highly-publicized meeting with Frank. Jane suggests that the Underwoods have Ismat instigate an attack against the Syrina regime, giving the U.S. a justification for invasion. Once in, Jane thinks the best tact for avoiding a quagmire is to engage only with the Syrian regime, not to attack ICO.

While international storms gather, things aren't any easier on the domestic front. Claire brings LeAnn back into the fold, which is probably a decision made with Stamper's approval. Keep your enemies closer and all that.

But the most interesting storyline involves Sean Jeffries, the new deputy press secretary. Just one week into the new gig that he talked himself into, Sean is able to secure a private meeting with Frank, where he tells him that Tom Hammerschmidt has a burner phone that can tie Frank to Zoe's death. Impressed, Frank tells Sean to come directly to him if he learns anything else. When Frank tells Claire what he's learned, they decide that it's time for Stamper to take a fall.

Intrigue continues to build, as Jane confronts LeAnn. She urges her to hand over whatever it is that Aidan gave her. Meanwhile, Tom hears from the source of the leaks, who calls him. The source disguises his voice, but tells him to keep looking into Zoe's death.

The Underwoods invite Doug over for dinner, and calmly tell him that they need to shift the focus of the investigation into Frank onto him. Stamper offers to resign, but Claire tells him that they need him to implicate himself in Zoe's death. Well then.

Doug excuses himself and retreats to his office, where he pulls out a stack of birthday cards, just like the ones that the leaker has been sending to Tom. Stamper is the mole? Stamper is the mole. But did he anticipate this? Is he staying loyal even to the last moment? Are the leaks a ruse? It appears that way, as in addition to the information Tom has about Zoe's death, Stamper goes to LeAnn and tells her that he killed Zoe himself. All of this is very bad for Doug, and very good for Frank. The oldest of loose ends are finally being tied up.

Another loose end is Yates, who leaves Claire a copy of his manuscript. He redacts much of the damaging information he wrote about the Underwoods and their secrets, but leaves enough that Claire knows she'll have to engage with him on the subject. He knows too much. And so, Claire has Usher arrange a secret meeting with him. Usher leaves them in peace, and Yates demands money in exchange for his silence.

Claire pretends to miss him, and to love him, and they have drinks. After the drinks, they have sex, and that's the last thing Yates ever does. Claire spiked the drink, and Yates is left naked and dead on the floor of Usher's home. Usher has that, and another mess on his hands. He confronts Jane, and accuses her of turning the Senate against Frank. She doesn't deny it to Usher, and makes no bones about the fact that she's angling for Claire to end up as president, sooner than later.

As the congressional hearings resume, one Underwood staffer after the next appears, all towing the company line. They all say that Frank knew nothing of Aidan's actions, and that he din't knowingly do anything to sway the election. Romero isn't deterred, though, and challenges Stamper and Frank to appear before the committee, abandoning their claim of executive privilege. Usher advises Frank against that, and even offers up some dirt on Romero, so he could to take him down that way. Frank resists, and chooses to accept Romero's challenge.

But before he testifies, he goes to Jane. He knows what she's up to, and knows that she only cares about getting Claire into the presidency. Frank is willing to play ball, and asks Jane to offer him something in exchange for falling on his sword.

And fall on his sword Frank does. He appears before the House and declares himself as guilty as all the other elected officials in the room of taking part in a corrupt system. He delivers a soliloquy far too good and impactful to be recapped in brief here. Seek this out, watch it again and again. This is Kevin Spacey at the top of his game. When he's done ranting, Frank announces that he will resign from office the next day.

BEST LINES

"If it sounds like a fact, it is a fact." — Stamper

"It's unthinkable to assume the FBI would involve itself in an election." — Green

MOST EVIL MOMENT

Frank pushing poor Cathy Durant down the stairs.

BIGGEST SHOCKER

Frank's resignation. Whatever Jane offered him must have been awfully impressive.

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