*Caution: Spoilers for Season 3 of House of Cards ahead. Don’t read if you haven’t watched!*
On Season 2 of House of Cards, Rachel Posner was forced to break things off with her live-in-girlfriend, Lisa. Rachel’s life was being dictated by Doug Stamper, the President’s Chief of Staff who was allowing her to live while being privy to information that could destroy Frank Underwood, the new President of the United States. Once Rachel became close to someone—Lisa—Doug decided it had to come to an end, and Rachel tearfully kicked the woman she loved out of their apartment and out of her life, for both of their own good.
Rachel thought she could get away from Doug, and left him for dead at season’s end, and everyone involved with the show (including actress Rachel Bronahan herself) refused to give any hints on what Season 3 would hold for any of these characters. What we first find out in Season 3 is that Doug Stamper has survived. He’s roughed up, bad, and it will be a long road to recovery, but Rachel did not end his life. Unfortunately for her, this means his mission is to track her down, immediately.
Doug is a huge part of Season 3, as he is also working on getting back into his position with the President but also relapses after getting hooked on painkillers and turning to alcohol to help with the incessant pain he has throughout his body and the constant ringing in his ears. He needs help, and he calls upon master hacker Gavin Orsay to find Rachel immediately. Gavin has been blackmailed into working for the FBI, but he wants out. He will only help Doug if his passport lock is lifted and he can get the hell out of the U.S. Once Doug obliges, he gets to work.
Gavin finds Lisa (Kate Lyn Shiel) at church (of course). Lisa is very visibly shaken by a recent incident that Gavin pretends to know nothing about. He approaches her as “Max,” a brokenhearted guy who has drowned his sorrows in alcohol and random sex partners and is looking to find himself again. Lisa, who is genuinely an empathetic person and is hopeful she can repair someone else alongside herself, listens to his story and shares some of her own.
As “Max” feigns an HIV diagnosis, Lisa allows him to know a little more about her past relationship with Rachel, although she never says her name. She shares how they moved in together as friends, but fell in love, and used to lie in bed together, fantasizing about where they would go if they could just get away. Lisa said Rachel wanted to go out of the country, but for her, it was much simpler: She wanted to go to New Mexico. Gavin finally has the information he needs, and it leads him right to Rachel.
It’s unclear whether Gavin wants to keep Rachel safe from Doug at first, but he lies about her whereabouts at their next meeting, producing fake photos and proof that she is dead. Doug should feel relieved, but he doesn’t. His gut tells him she’s still out there, and he’s right.
Before Gavin leaves town, he says goodbye to Lisa. He doesn’t tell her why, but he admits to her he’s lied about everything, and that if the FBI comes looking for him, she should say they never met. He tells her she’s a a good person, and offers her Doug’s number in case she needs protection, but she refuses it and asks him to leave. Lisa is, truly, a good person—probably the best intended person on this entire show—and she keeps having people come into her life, lie to her and leave suddenly with little to no explanation. The last we see of her in this season, she finds Gavin’s guinea pig left on her front porch. His pet was so important to him that he only trusts Lisa to take care of her.
Once Gavin is safely out of the country, he calls to let Doug know that Rachel is very much alive, and he’ll tell him where if Doug will give another friend of his the same deal, keeping him out of the clutches of the United States government. Photos of Rachel scroll across Doug’s computer screen, as Gavin has hacked all of his technology. Doug is furious and tries to destroy it all. Then he gets on a plane and violently beats Gavin into giving him the information he craves. Next stop: New Mexico.
The season finale is the only real episode for Rachel. There are a few flashbacks of her reading aloud to Doug when she lived in Maryland, before she and Lisa lived together, and Doug thinks of her fondly. His interest in her is both somewhat romantic and fatherly, both of which are unwanted by Rachel. So when we see her again in New Mexico, living in an apartment building with other down-and-out women who have to wait in line for the shared bathroom, holding their dollar-store bought toiletries and working two under-the-table jobs to save for her new identity, we immediately hope she will survive what’s coming next.
Rachel doesn’t want to be Rachel anymore. She wants to be Cassie—it’s the name she chose for herself, and she practices saying it over and over again to her reflection in the mirror. Cassie wasn’t a sex worker. Cassie wasn’t involved with getting politicians in trouble with the law or the public. Cassie wasn’t abused by her father. Armed with forged identification, Rachel is ready to move on in her new life. There’s a sadness still surrounding her, and we can only surmise it has something to do with Lisa. But being with her meant endangering her, and Rachel left because she loved Lisa so much.
One night after working a double shift at the grocery store, Rachel notices a creepy van in the silent and eery parking lot. In a matter of seconds, she’s blacked out and thrown into the back. When she comes to, she’s been bound, and Doug is in the driver’s seat. She knows he’s going to kill her. She thought she’d killed him, but he’s alive. As he drives them out into the desert in the middle of the night, Rachel screams until Doug threatens to drug her again, and she settles some, if only to try and convince Doug she’s not Rachel anymore: She’s Cassie. Cassie doesn’t know anything about Doug Stamper or the President or Peter Russo. And even after Doug digs her grave, he battles himself because he really doesn’t want to kill her. Part of him loves her, but does he love her more than Frank Underwood?
Doug is convinced enough to let Rachel free. He tells her to get out and start walking toward town, which is 20 miles away. She is shaken but relieved, walking briskly with her bag and the proof that she’s now Cassie Lockhart. After this, maybe she can live a little freer—stop worrying that she’s under surveillance every where she goes, that Doug could be in any parking lot at any second, ready to end her life.
It only takes Doug a few minutes to change his mind. He loves the President more. He turns the van around and speeds back toward Rachel. He buries her body in the grave, and the President is proud.
Rachel Posner’s death is a tragedy; her life full of fucked up situations out of circumstance. Before she died, she said there were things she’d had to do in the last seven months that she wouldn’t wish on anyone—and all just to survive. And yet she still met an untimely end. She was murdered, and all because she was used as a pawn for the President to gain power.
House of Cards has yet to be renewed for a fourth season, but if it is, the only thing that would make me feel less sad about yet another dead queer woman on TV would be her body being discovered and her homicide being looked into, haunting Doug and hanging over his head even more than her being alive and in hiding has up until now. But even then, Rachel will be a phantom lesbian, like similar storylines on Arrow and Chicago Fire. She’ll continue to be used to drive the story forward for people “more important.” Doug Stamper was close to death last year, because Rachel almost killed him. Doug Stamper survived.
Even if Rachel’s murder does show up as a storyline in further seasons of House of Cards, it doesn’t seem like Lisa will be connected any longer, which means the queer female component of the show died with Rachel in the New Mexico ditch. The show does have a very queer sensibility surrounding Frank and his subtle bisexuality, and episode 32 was an especially great LGBTQ-themed episode with Frank and Claire’s trip to Russia in hopes of freeing an imprisoned gay rights activist. (He later hangs himself inside his cell. That’s two dead queer characters, if you’re keeping score.)
Lisa and Rachel’s relationship was short-lived but still an important one. They were unapologetic in their caring for one another, the bond they shared as broken people who, as Lisa said, could move past their collective baggage together instead of on their own. Their relationship was never defined based on their being women, even with their initial meetings being through the church fellowship—not necessarily an obvious place for queer women to find one another, especially in small town Maryland. Lisa and Rachel loved one another, and I believe Rachel died loving Lisa. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all of this, though, is that Lisa will never know that.
Despite the lack of screentime (both actresses only appeared in three episodes apiece), performances from Rachel Brosnahan and Kate Lyn Shiel delivered inspired, emotional performances and they will be missed greatly. They brought some humanity to a show about inhumanity; and true love in the face of evil. They were the sacrificial lambs of Season 3, and House of Cards isn’t better off for it.