One of the things that Frank Underwood does better than anyone else in this show is taking calculated risks. They don’t always work out but even when they don’t, they rarely end catastrophically. This week Frank takes some big gambits – he opens himself up to investigation while simultaneously promising the President that he will go down with the ship. There is a lot at stake but at the same time, the stakes are exactly what Frank has always played with: everything. The upside to the gambit could be huge; it could eliminate Raymond Tusk as a threat once and for all and at the same time keep Walker on the defensive for the rest of his term in office, if not beyond. Meanwhile, the conflict and trade war with China is escalating and there is talk now of a military dimension to the whole thing surfacing. There is conflict within in the Congress as well as Jackie decides that her true loyalties lie with Remy Danton instead of Frank Underwood. That too will have consequences but only if Frank is in a position to make good on his threats. He will be in no such position if Gavin finds out just how deep the rabbit-hole he has just discovered goes.
While Frank has a knack for taking the right kind of risks, there is no denying that he doesn’t take them when he doesn’t need. The mere fact that Frank is taking as big a risk as this is a sign of desperation from the Vice-President. It is a sign that he does not think he can win the confrontation with Tusk through the means he currently controls and so he has decided to throw everything into disarray in the hopes that when the dust does settle, things will be a little more favourable for him. Of course, there is a chance that they could turn out worse than they are now but from Frank’s perspective, there is simply more room for improvement than for deterioration. Consider the worst case scenario: the special prosecutor finds the administration guilty of misconduct. Frank has to bite the bullet but that’s pretty much the extent of it – yes, it means he is done with politics and all of that, but it isn’t quite the catastrophe that it could be. If the worst case scenario from your all or nothing gambit is tolerable, then maybe that gambit isn’t such a bad idea. It could go worse than that, possibly; Frank could be asked to personally take responsibility, which might even include jail time but the odds of that actually happening are extremely low. Compared to that, consider the upside – if the prosecutor finds the administration innocent, Frank will be the one who once again saved the President’s ass and you can be damned sure that he won’t let Walker forget it so easily this time. It might be even better if the prosecutor finds Tusk, but not the administration, guilty – it removes a dangerous nemesis from Frank’s path while rebuilding his relationship with the President. Of course, it’s unlikely that either the best or worst case scenario will play out quite so cleanly, but it does explain Frank’s willingness to take the risk.
While all of this is going on, we have Jackie Sharp who has almost intentionally trapped herself between a rock and a hard place. While she very admirably declared her independence from Frank Underwood both in this episode and the past, it probably didn’t take her very long to realize that she essentially committed the political equivalent of cutting her nose to spite her face. It isn’t too clear whether there was more than Remy’s influence at work here but with both Claire and Frank bearing down on her and with the revelation that Remy might not have been quite as sincere as she believed, it will only be a matter of time before she realises that she is on the losing side. Her flip might come just in time to make a political difference if the subject of impeachment does arise, but it’s clear that Frank will not forget this resistance. The true test of Jackie’s relationship with Remy lies before her – when they have their inevitable confrontation, will they be mature enough to settle their, frankly, minor differences? Or will Frank once again manage to play them like puppets from afar and watch their coalition fall apart? There is more riding on the Sharp-Danton partnership than either partner realises at their point. Remy choosing to side with Jackie might just deal a very heavy, very unexpected blow to Raymond Tusk but on the other hand, Jackie flipping sides could hurt the administration immensely as well.
Somewhere in this mess, lies Gavin Orsay, plotting and waiting for the perfect time to strike. The FBI has done a remarkably poor job of policing Orsay though presumably they believed he was completely broken and beaten. With information as suspicious as what he has, it is only a matter of time before Gavin decides that he has had enough of the FBI’s abuse. Whether he is savvy enough to broker a deal that will actually benefit him and his causes in the long run or instead throws this golden opportunity away for something trivial, will determine whether or not we will be seeing more of him in the future. This also spells disaster for Doug who has not been himself for a large portion of this season. Rachel’s presence is throwing him off his game but is also making him a crueller, more abusive version of himself. We probably won’t see Doug return to the bottle, but it seems like we’re already getting a taste of what that would be like.