Being married to the President of the United States can't be easy. But being married to Frank Underwood, fictional POTUS in House of Cards? You'd have to be made of pretty stern stuff to stay with that kind of man. And Claire Underwood, the FLOTUS to his POTUS, is certainly made of stern stuff. In many ways, they're a pretty well-matched couple. Both devious, manipulative, clever, ambitious. They've always seemed to have that whole "It's just the two of us against the world" thing down pat. So why did Claire leave Frank at the end of Season 3 of House of Cards?
"I'm leaving you Francis." She says it with her usual calm, well modulated voice. Did you ever think you would hear Claire say that? I mean, sure, I've had moments when I thought, Really Claire? You're still staying? Hello: Zoe Barnes (RIP)? The theory goes that Claire knew Frank killed Zoe Barnes (a young reporter who became Frank's mistress) and simply turned a blind eye. So if she didn't want to leave him then... why now?
Well, because Zoe Barnes wasn't Claire. The beauty of Frank and Claire Underwood's marriage seems to be that, as long as they're screwing over outsiders, all is well. They will support each other and do whatever needs to be done to further each other's cause.
But when Frank turns on Claire after the couple's disastrous visit to Russia, that really isn't part of the deal, now is it?
Frank and Claire travel to Russia to help free an American protestor (Michael Corrigan) imprisoned by President Petrov under his anti-homosexual laws. When Claire calls out Petrov in front of the press after Corrigan commits suicide ("Shame on you, President Petrov"), Frank turns on her. He tells her, "I should have never made you Ambassador," to which she replies, "And I should have never made you President."
The comment lays the truth out in stark relief: Frank is in it for Frank. He has forgotten the lengths Claire went to on his behalf as they battled their way to the top. And when she confronts him later on...
it all seems clear. There is no room for two at the top. There was only ever going to be room for Frank.
While Claire spent Season 3 trying to find her foothold (even becoming a relatively unsuccessful Ambassador to the United Nations for a brief stint), she also moved further and further away from Frank. She was never going to be happy playing second fiddle to anyone. Not even that super lame vow renewal could piece things back together for Frank and Claire once she felt she had unearthed the truth; they weren't the partnership she had always envisioned. And she is so not down with that.
But there's another way of looking at Claire leaving Frank. Leverage. A negotiating tactic for something bigger, something she felt would make sense for her. She was perhaps banking on Frank's need for her, his reliance on her as his one true ally. So she gambled for the bigger prize.
If that's the case... what is the prize? Will she win it? And will it be worth it? Season 4 answers at least some of those questions.