'House of Cards' Season 5, Episode 8 recap: Men's retreat

For The Baltimore Sun

What is on board the Russian ship that China is so interested in? Let’s recap Episode 8 of this season of “House of Cards.”

MAJOR PLOT POINTS

With Frank away at an elitist men’s retreat, complete with ritualistic fake human sacrifice and hooded bird costumes, Claire is running the show in Washington and gearing up for the Ohio revote. That makes sense, given that she's the president, of course. Stamper is having a difficult time dealing with the dynamic shift in his relationship with Claire, who does her best to put him at ease. I need more Claire/Stamper scenes in my life. Claire is working on the final details of a key trade agreement with China, which she thinks will help her husband's case in Ohio, and calls in Jane Davis to assist her in the deal.

Another Russian crisis is also on Claire's plate, as a Russian sea vessel is in danger of sinking, with American forces the only ones in any position to save it. Petrov declines the offer of American help, because the so-called research ship was actually searching for oil, and he doesn't want the Americans to learn who or what is on board. Claire attempts to negotiate with Petrov, who doesn't want to hand her and Frank a big diplomacy victory before the re`vote. Claire pushes for Aidan's release in exchange for a low-profile American rescue, but Petrov declines, threatening to tell the world how Aidan disrupted the election. A Russian threatening to influence an American election? What a strange concept.

In negotiations with a Chinese diplomat, Claire is informed that an American is on the Russian vessel, and that China is very interested in making sure that the ship is rescued. In fact, they make it a stipulation in agreeing to the trade deal. This raises the question, why is China so concerned with who or what is on that ship? And Claire isn't so sure that they, or Jane, are telling the truth about an American being in peril.

The reason for Frank's excursion is to try to win the support of the country's most powerful men, most of whom are in attendance. The key to unlocking victory seems to lie with winning their favor, from his old enemy Raymond Tusk, to Mark Usher, to General Brockhart. Frank tries a forceful approach, but Usher, whose allegiance to Conway is tenuous at best, suggests a more measured approach, which Frank is struggling with. There is also definitely a feeling that those with influence are scheming to have Conway marginalized. With Brockhart seeming like the more stable proposition, he is Tusk's chosen one to run the country, and Frank calls Stamper to alert him to that fact. Frank thinks the key to winning is to win over Tusk, and to undermine his relationship with the CEO of Pollyhop, the social media company that's in bed with Conway.

Claire decides to play hardball with China, and agrees to rescue the crew on the Russian vessel only if China bends on the trade deal. With Petrov now removed from the negotiations, China relents, but Claire also decides to let the ship itself sink, and with it, whatever Petrov desperately wanted to save. While she wins the day on the China deal, Claire's actions irk Petrov, who refuses to negotiate Aidan's release.

Frank is able to find his way at the retreat, and makes an impassioned case for his vision of the future to the group. As he prepares to leave, he runs into a very drunk Pollyhop CEO, who says that he resents the elitism of the group, and regrets making a deal with Tusk. He passes Frank a compromising recording of Conway, perhaps handing him the election in the process. The audio is from Conway's plane, where he demanded to take the controls, and cursed the pilot. Frank plays it for Claire and Stamper over the phone, but demands that they sit on it overnight.

While waiting for Frank to return, Claire confronts Yates about the woman he was seeing in New York. He insists that he won't see her any more, because he's in love with Claire. Is he also in love with the White House tour guide? Claire also confronts Jane, now that the ship crisis is resolved. She demands to know what was on the ship that China and Russia wanted so badly, and Jane tells her that it was a technology that the countries weren't supposed to have. When pressed, Jane reveals that the technology was actually the American on board, a scientist with expertise in the oil field.

Frank gets back to Washington, and decides that their play should be to co-opt Usher, rather than release their recordings of Brockhart and Conway without bringing him into the fold. Usher has some trepidation about joining them, but Frank appeals to his ruthless nature, assuring him that it's something that all three of them possess, making them a good team.

BEST LINE

"I like dirt, and rocks, and facts." — Frank, who probably doesn't like any of those things.

MOST EVIL MOMENT

In bringing Usher on board in an unofficial capacity, the Underwoods have set up a Trojan horse in their opponent's camp.

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