House of Cards Premiere Recap: R.I.P., You-Know-Who — Plus, Grade It!

Frank Underwood may be dead and buried, but his spectral presence lives on. In fact, the ghost of Kevin Spacey’s ex-POTUS is, in many ways, the real star of “Chapter 66,” the opening installment of House of Cards‘ sixth and final season (all eight episodes dropped overnight on Netflix).

The opener picks up several months after Frank’s mysterious death and finds Claire Underwood’s nascent presidency — not to mention her very existence — under siege. The immediate crisis: Claire refuses to cancel a scheduled appearance at a nearby military base despite receiving an anonymous — yet seemingly credible — death threat. “The first female president of the United States is not going to keep her mouth shut on the Fourth of f–king July,” she declares to her spineless No. 2, VP Mark Usher.

The terror is also coming from inside the house. Claire hears a banging noise in her late hubby’s now-vacant bedroom. Did Frank rise from the dead?! Nope. It’s just a baby bird trapped inside the wall (a common problem at 1600 Pennsylvania ave, I would imagine). Claire views the hatchling as a metaphor for Frank but, instead of squeezing it to death, she (thankfully) sets it free.

But Frank’s not done with her yet. He has saddled her with a significant amount of baggage, namely in the form of sibling power players Bill and Annette Shepherd (played by Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane), the latter of whom is an old frenemy of Claire’s. The duo have a host of special interests that pre-death Frank apparently vowed to nurture, but Claire is having none of it (or them). “Whatever Francis promised or did is buried with him,” she informs them. (As I pointed out in my Season 6 review, the show wants us to believe that the Underwoods share a deep and complicated history with the Shepherds, but this bit of revisionist history is hard to swallow considering we never heard of them before.)

Claire’s defiant tune begins to change after her caravan comes under fire — allegedly by a disgruntled pro-military nut. But she views it as a literal warning shot from the Shepherds, who desperately need Claire to sign into law a bill that will save their company fistfuls of money. It seems she is now considering doing so. And if an assassination attempt doesn’t drive their point home, maybe digging up Francis’ body, removing his presidential ring and leaving it on his White House bed for Claire to find (as we’re led to believe they did) will do the trick. Although this epic rivalry doesn’t quite track, it yielded a doozy of an episode-ending visual: Claire placing the ring on her middle finger and flipping the bird to Ghost Frank.

Elsewhere in “Chapter 66”:

* Fresh from taking the fall for his beloved boss’ transgressions (including pushing Zoe Barnes in front of a fast-moving subway), Doug is undergoing “psychiatric observation” at some fancy English countryside-looking estate. The (obvious) twist? His shrink is on Claire’s payroll.

* Claire skittishness about shattering the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience died with Frank. “Whatever Francis told you the last five years, don’t believe a word of it,” she says in one of her many into-the-camera confessionals. “It’s going to be different between you and me. I’m going to tell you the truth.”

* Childhood flashbacks confirm the obvious: Young Claire was a chain-smoking badass who was not to be trifled with.

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