Warning: This post will contain spoilers for the entire fifth season of House of Cards.
By the end of House of Cards‘ fifth season, Frank Underwood has resigned as president, allowing Claire Underwood to take over. Frank reveals that this was his plan all along, and viewers realize that Frank has been concocting a scheme without the audience being clued in on it. So what, exactly, was Frank’s plan? At what point did he start setting his resignation in motion?
Well, in Chapter 65, Frank Underwood states that he’s been planning to resign “since Elysium Fields.” He’s referring to the events of Chapter 60, in which Frank Underwood goes to a strange retreat hosted by a club called the Crow of Elysium. It was here that he evidently realized that the true power in America lies outside the White House. He also presumably realized that his impeachment was inevitable, and so if it has to happen, he’s going to control it.
In Chapter 61, there’s a subplot in which Congressman Alex Romero deals with Doug Stamper, who tells Romero that Underwood wants him as an ally. Romero says that he will agree to work with Underwood if the president puts a line in his inauguration speech about Medicare. He also wants two seats at the inauguration. Underwood does not end up including this line in the speech, and as a result, Romero launches a full anti-Underwood campaign in Congress, restarting a Congressional committee with the main purpose of investigating Frank Underwood’s crimes. This ultimately leads down the path to Frank’s resignation.
At first, the Romero snub came across as needless bridge burning that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, as there’s no real reason for Frank Underwood to not include the line about Medicare in his inauguration speech. But given the revelation that Frank has been planning his own resignation since Elysium Fields, we can conclude that Frank intentionally backstabbed Romero in order to nudge him towards restarting the committee.
Another seemingly reckless move Frank Underwood made in Season 5 was taunting Garrett Walker right before Walker is about to plead the fifth before the Congressional hearing. This causes Walker to say under oath that it was Frank Underwood who was the mastermind behind Raymond Tusk’s illegal money laundering scheme. Once again, we can now look back at this moment as Underwood intentionally trying to get Walker to reverse his decision to plead the fifth.
In addition, several very damaging stories leak during the final few episodes, including the fact that the U.S. government exaggerated a bomb scare in order to stir up fear in the country, and that the U.S. acted on questionable intelligence when it recommended governors enforce curfews and stop voting on Election Day. We later learn that it was Doug Stamper leaking this to the Washington Herald with the consent of Frank Underwood. Frank, as it turns out, wanted both of these stories to be published.
One question that inevitably rises, though, is why did Frank Underwood push Catherine Durant down the stairs to prevent her from testifying? If he intentionally tried to get Garrett Walker to testify, why wouldn’t he allow Durant to? It’s possible that Frank Underwood wanted only some damaging information about his administration to come out, and he felt that Durant knew just a little bit too much.
Or there’s also the popular fan theory that Frank Underwood is lying when he says this was all a part of his plan. Some fans believe that Frank is merely saying that to save face in the final episode, and that he simply can’t deal with the fact that his administration has fallen apart in a way that was not under his control. That doesn’t explain the leaks, and we do see Doug Stamper with a stack of birthday cards implying he has been leaking the materials, but it’s always possible he leaked the stories without actually having Frank’s permission.
Assuming he was telling the truth in Chapter 65, though, why would Frank Underwood want to ensure his own downfall? The idea is that Frank feels he and Claire can be truly unstoppable if one of them is pulling strings from outside of the White House while one of them is pulling strings within the White House. It’s also possible that he foresaw the fact that impeachment was inevitable, and he’s such a control freak that he needed it to happen on his own terms.
House of Cards is expected to return for a sixth season in 2018.