House of Cards: Season 5
As the familiar music score of the opening credits courtesy of Jeff Beal signals our yearly dose of political drama House of Cards, we are once again faced with the malevolent scheming and plotting by Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) Underwood. With the show’s original creator Beau Willimon stepping down and the helms taken over by Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese, the show manages to remain just as if not more watchable. All the components that make the show so excruciatingly fascinating are all there and then some. It is just as sensational, meticulous, stylish, with impeccable acting, well-written scripts, incredible depth of plot and characters; it’s an endless list of positive attributes. Yet despite its greatness, upon reflection, post my 13-episode Netflix binge-athon, I am left with a lingering feeling of ‘have I just watched season three or four again?’.
Yet again our resourceful couple get away with murder, literally, coming out of the trickiest situations completely unscathed. It begs me to question: when will we finally see some sort of true downfall to the Underwoods? This is not to say it’s all plain sailing for them this season. On the contrary, there are more complicated twists, turns and downward spirals than ever before, with the season ending with the two separated and Claire distancing herself from Frank altogether. However, even then there is nothing satisfying about Frank’s demise; as he reveals in the final episodes that he sort of orchestrated the whole thing in the first place.
The obvious thing to take note from this season, is that life imitates art or maybe vice versa. As we see outlandish events unfold from one episode to the next, they somehow don’t appear as farfetched anymore in comparison to the current real-life political climate. It seems to be mirroring events that include the onslaught of terrorist attacks, cyber-attacks, fake news, Russian intervention, election fraud; all intricately and perfectly woven into the series’ plots as Frank tries to hold on to the presidency he so craftily stole of which now by karmic precision is slowly slipping away from him.
There appears to be an increase of Frank’s use of looking-at-the-camera monologue; even Claire, now appointed to vice president, joins in at one point only to say that she's acknowledged our presence all along but choose to ignore us…. charming! Frank’s gay leanings resurface; an infatuated male fan Eric Rawlings (Malcolm Madera) becomes his trainer then his courtesan and then an uncontrollable love-sick puppy. It’s in those moments where Eric makes his moves on an unassuming Frank, that we see Frank Underwood caught off guard, unable to deal with the situation lambasted on him; he looks refreshingly vulnerable and not in control.
Similarly, Claire, with her husband’s consent, pursues a full-blown affair with Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks); who is given token duties of speechwriter to explain his constant presence at the presidential abode. Tom seems to have an influence on Claire. Once again, just like in season four, we get a glimpse of a more human, almost remorseful side to this perplexing ice queen, even if it’s temporary. At one point, she even confesses to Tom that Frank killed Zoe Barnes. However, like all of the Underwoods’ extra marital activities; the third person becomes either too attached or an obstacle or seeks to blackmail and soon enough they are disposed of; as is sadly Tom’s fate.
Interestingly the Underwoods may have met their match; through the introduction of two new characters who are possibly vying for their coveted jobs. The amazing Patricia Clarkson plays the rather aloof, off kilter, if overall likeable Secretary of International Trade Jane Davis. She seems to be concocting a master plan with fellow political advisor Mark Usher (Campbell Scott), a behind the scenes figure who manages to worm his way from adviser of Republican hopeful Will Conway (Joe Kinnaman) into the Democratic White House to representing the Underwoods.
Zoe Barnes name still seems to floating around in the ether, her murder still proving to be a threat to Frank’s presidency and freedom as investigations into her cause of death persist. Specifically, The Washington Herald’s editor Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) is on a mission to vindicate her death and incriminate Frank. Frank’s side-kick the obedient, if secretly psychotic, lap dog in the guise of Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) steps up for his master and owns up to a murder he never committed.
The eventual demise of Frank’s presidency signals the ascent of Claire’s, as a political coup forces him to step down. Claire now wanting to distance herself from the toxic brand that is Frank Underwood; hinting that in season 6 the two will likely to turn on each other. In retrospect that was bound to happen! This maybe the point that perhaps things become rather implausible as I am not sure even the current Trump administration would be able to get away with such nepotism. There is never a moment of joy or celebration, or even a small smirk on Claire’s face for reaching such high levels of achievement. She confesses in passing ‘happiness is not a concern of mine’. If power and winning doesn’t bring her happiness, then what is the purpose of hers and Frank’s relentless pursuit of it?
I often feel that I am own with this; when talking to others and judging by social media reaction there is a sense of approval of Frank Underwood, which I find personally troubling as it spells to me the glamorisation of bad behaviour. Frank Underwood’s shine wore off for me around the beginning of season two; after the death of Zoe Barnes. It’s not so much that he kills people that annoys; it’s the monologues, the explanations of his actions, his motivations and his utter contempt for everyone. It all starts to feels rather insincere, contrived and unbelievable. The Underwoods’ behaviour proves more and more jarring with each episode; which make the whole viewing of the series an even more emotional experience. Yet here I am again, eagerly watching season 5, minutes of it going live...