Feb 27, 2015 · 3 minutes

When Netflix flipped the switch on the third season of House of Cards Friday morning at 3 am, I was up — bleary-eyed but game — to watch and recap each episode. You can read all thirteen recaps from my sleepless marathon in one article here, but for convenience’s sake we also split them up into individual reviews, all of which you can find right here.

“Chapter 37″

After almost ten episodes of having to suffer through some light-world version of Frank Underwood who lacked control, confidence, and focus, the demonically brilliant bastard of the first two seasons is back.

But while the old Frank is great fun for audiences, his arrogance, his cruelty, and his pathologically controlling behavior make him a total monster to anybody who works with him — and especially those who work under him. As Freddy tells one character who found himself on the receiving end of one of Underwood’s verbal onslaughts, “It’s like blaming a snake for having fangs.”

But if you’re trying to win a debate, like the one  held between three Democratic candidates in “Chapter 37,” it’s nice to be on the same team as the fanged beast.

And indeed, the television pundits agreed that of President Underwood, Heather Dunbar, and Jackie Sharp, the incumbent came out on top — though just barely. As for the content of the debate, these scenes featured some of the show’s most clever writing all season, as between the three candidates they represented the spectrum of debate night personalties. There was the folksy good old boy in Underwood, spouting off pandering cliches like, “That’s clearer than a glass of moonshine!” and “If that’s true, I will eat my hat!” There was Sharp, the military veteran, who seemed to preface every line with, “When things get tough on the battlefield…”. And then there was the plain talker, Dunbar.

Judging on substance alone, Dunbar was the clear winner — what she lacked in cliches she made up for in trenchant critiques of her opponents’ policies and pedigrees. But Underwood’s Southern charm was just too much for Dunbar to overcome, and coming out of the debate, Underwood looked poised to cruise to the nomination — particularly because he had already convinced Sharp to drop out in the next few days and join him as his running mate.

But something goes terribly wrong in the hours and days following the debate. Underwood and Sharp had agreed ahead of the debate to play softball with one another while hammering Dunbar. But Underwood just couldn’t help himself, embarrassing this future running mate with harsh critiques for which she was hardly prepared. When Sharp raises these concerns to Underwood, he berates her even more aggressively for not towing the line. When his Chief of Staff Remy — who happens to be in love with Sharp — raises the same concerns, he too is firmly rebuked by Underwood.

It’s pretty clear where this is headed. While Sharp does drop out of the race as expected, she doesn’t put her support behind Underwood, even though he promised her the Vice Presidency. Instead, she comes out in favor of Dunbar — even though Dunbar has offered her nothing in return. Such is the repellent power of Frank Underwood.

Except when it comes to Claire. Or not? Late in the episode, while donating blood, she becomes faint and starts to ramble to Tom Yates:

“He proposed and I said… seven years. If it’s still good, another seven. If not… Every seven years. I don’t hate campaigning. What I hate is… how much I need us. I didn’t jump. I didn’t step back.”

It’s hard to know for sure but it sounds like Frank and Claire’s marriage is coming up on another seven-year milestone. And after all the fights of the past year and Frank taking away her ambassadorship and all the ways their once unwavering loyalty to one another has been tested… Is this the year she “jumps”?

We’ll find out in one of the two remaining episodes. My guess is, Frank wins reelection — this season barely scratched the surface of the dramatic possibilities offered by a Frank Underwood presidency — but he loses Claire, sending him down a spiral of self-destructive behavior that will dominate next season’s story arc. Think of it as Bad President.

Grade: B+

[illustration by Brad Jonas]