Are you ready? Are you wearing your Claire Underwood pajamas? Is your Frank Underwood hairpiece glued on? Good! Now, let's get you caught up on Season 4 of "House of Cards!" This should go without saying, but spoilers are ahead.

The big news


Despite my plea that they not mess with the Claire/Frank dynamic — which has been my favorite part of the first three seasons — the Underwoods are feuding. Claire has moved back to her mother's home in Texas, where she will pursue a seat in the House of Representatives. After winning in Iowa, Frank's campaign is faltering in New Hampshire. Doug Stamper is doing Doug Stamper things, Seth is considering jumping to the Dunbar campaign, Lucas Goodwin is out of jail and in witness protection, and Neve Campbell's strange second career as a character actress in prestige drama series' continues.

Episode recap

We see a distraught Frank Underwood practicing his stump speech, adjusting lines that invoke Claire's presence. We learn that she is on her way to Texas, to her mother's ranch. Frank orders Doug to track all of Claire's movements, as they need to get her back into the fold before the press starts asking questions.

Can you imagine this happening in real life? Wait, what if first lady Melania Trump abandons her husband and takes off for Texas without warning? If there's anything that this election cycle has taught us, it's that this is definitely in play.

Claire arrives at her mom's house, but her mother, Elizabeth Hale, stays locked in her bedroom when her daughter arrives, uninterested in seeing her. We see Mrs. Hale wearing one of those blazer cape things that I can't believe are a thing.

As Frank campaigns, the press, uh, presses him on Claire's trip to Texas, and Seth asks Doug what in the world is going on. Doug promises to clue Seth in later, but Seth is frustrated that he's not in the loop on this one.

Frank arrives at his hotel in New Hampshire and questions Meechum as to what he remembers from his last encounter with Claire. "Keep me company for a bit," Frank tells Meechum, afterward, as he reclines on his bed. Frank's sexuality is the most underrated aspect of this show. It's touched on, but never fully explored. It's an interesting choice.

This scene played into that — and was fraught with tension because of it — but Frank was legitimately only asking for Meechum's platonic company as he finished some reading. "Aren't you a cutie," Frank mumbles, as he recalls what he said to a child at the campaign rally earlier. As Frank drifts off to sleep, he dreams of a vicious fight with Claire, which ends with Claire stabbing him and attempting to gouge his eyes out.

Claire takes a meeting with Leann Harvey, a political consultant. Claire reveals that she has designs on a congressional seat in Texas, which she would use as a stepping stone — first, to Texas's governorship or a senate seat, and later, presumably, to the White House. A roadblock to Claire's plan is that Doris Jones, the retiring incumbent, has endorsed her daughter for the seat. "The congresswoman would need to be convinced" that allowing Claire to run for the seat instead would be in her daughter's best interest, Claire tells Kate. "Now, a dozen consultants can tell me why this won't work, but I think you can tell me why it can," Claire says.

Frank and Doug are able to piece together Claire's plan, and Doug pays Leann a visit. After he confirms that Claire is eying the congressional seat, Doug hands Leann a phone. "It's the president," he says. Frank tells Leann that she will "walk away from this nonsense with Claire." Leann hears Frank out, but seems disturbed by the tactics employed. Neve Campbell was really good here! I enjoyed her episode in "Mad Men's" final season, as well. Who else has followed her career arc? No one jumps to mind.

Claire meets with Congresswoman Jones and her daughter Celia. Claire is surprised to see that Doug has already gotten to them and fed them false information about Claire's plans. She tells them the truth and asks Celia to wait two more years for the seat, but Doris says that her daughter has already waited too long. "It's her time," she says.

Doris adds that she would have a difficult time selling her constituency on Claire, not simply because of her race, but because of her privileged upbringing and the fact that she hasn't even been to her district in years. With Doris refusing to budge, the meeting ends, and Claire sends Doug a message. "You tell the president to stay out of this," she says. Word of the Underwood's infighting leaks to the press, forcing Doug and Frank to reach into their bag of tricks.

Claire runs into her mother for the first time since moving back home. "I told you when you were 5 years old not to come in this house without saying hello to me," Mrs. Hale says. "This house is just a hotel to you." Claire tells her mother of her plans to run for Congress, but her mother seems unimpressed. All of this weighs on Claire, who clearly has a strained relationship with her mother, but also still deeply wants her affirmation.

The president arrives at Mrs. Hale's house the next day — in some boss sunglasses, I might add — to tell Claire that Doug has discovered her mother has been receiving treatment for lymphoma for the last several years. Before he can meet with Claire, he sees Mrs. Hale, who tells him that she thought her daughter would wake up after a year or two of marriage to him. "I had no idea it was gonna take her 30," she says. "I am still white trash. I just happen to be white trash that lives in the White House," Frank counters.


Frank confronts Claire with the news about her mom and then blackmails her. He tells her to stand in front of the cameras and say that she came to Texas only for that reason, and not because their marriage is crumbling. Claire tells Frank that to go along with this, she wants assurances that he will stay out of her campaign. Frank agrees, provided she shows up for the State of the Union. "Let's get this over with," Claire says, and they address the media, together.

Claire enters her mom's bedroom, later, and sees her wig on a dresser, a necessity after rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. "I understand why you did what you did, but that doesn't make it any less hurtful," Mrs. Hale tells Claire. She seems pretty understanding given that her health and privacy were just used to cover up a national scandal.

Seeing her mother struggle to put her wig on reduces Claire to tears, and after bristling initially, Mrs. Hale hugs her daughter. "Claire, come here," she says, and wraps her arms around her. "You're stronger than he is. But you've gotta put him in his place."

Later in the day, on Air Force One, Frank watches election results from New Hampshire, where he was soundly defeated by Heather Dunbar.

In the strangest subplot in my recent TV memory, we follow Lucas Goodwin as he befriends his cellmate in prison, provides his help while his new friend pleasures himself, and coerces his cellmate to admit that he did not commit the murder he's is in jail for while Lucas is wearing a wire — ultimately earning himself a ticket out of jail and into the witness protection program. What will this all mean for Frank? Will Lucas continue to pursue a link between Frank and Zoe Barnes? At this point, I'm not interested in Lucas. I have written about this show for two years and I barely remembered who he was.


Elsewhere, Seth is frustrated that Doug has more power than he does and takes a meeting with Heather Dunbar's chief of staff, who offers him her position in a hypothetical Dunbar administration in exchange for leaking information to her. There's a fine line between underplaying and just plain bad acting, and I can't always tell which side of that line Seth is on.