When House of Cards, an adaptation of the BBC miniseries of the same name, debuted for the in February 2013, it was nothing short of groundbreaking. As Netfilx’s first produced series, it truly showed that streaming services could and should be taken seriously when it comes to original content. Its first season redefined how television is produced and distributed, and led by Kevin Spacey’s truly incredible lead performance, went on to garner critical acclaim and become Netflix’s flagship series.
As the show continued over the years, the drama continued to be ratcheted up and the incomparable Robin Wright’s role was deepened. (The writers and producers clearly knew what a rare talent they had on their hands with her casting!) The series itself, however, became a little repetitive. It became slightly more safe and predictable with each passing year, and in some regards, strayed a little farther from reality in its storytelling. (An example of this? The fact that Frank and Claire underwood ran for the White House as running mates in season four – something that would most likely never fly in modern America.) Nevertheless, despite all of this, House of Cards has always remained an intelligent, biting commentary on Washington politics.
This all remains true of the show in season five. Spacey and Wright bring their A-games once more, and it’s still a sharply written critique of political dealings in America. It is, however, as unsurprising as ever and, dare I say, boring.
Please be aware before clicking past the jump that there will be some minor spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
Given everything that’s been happening in American politics since June of 2015 when Donald Trump upended Washington by throwing his hat into the 2016 presidential election, there have been many people who joked that shows like House of Cards and HBO’s Veep would have their work cut out for them if they hoped to outdo the drama and zaniness of what was happening in real life. Unfortunately, with reality currently being stranger than fiction, the Netflix drama has failed in producing a storyline this season that even comes close to being as compelling as what’s actually happening in Washington and around the world at the moment. (HBO’s hit comedy is flailing in that regards too this year, but that’s a different article for a different time.) That’s not to say the show still isn’t interesting, because it is, but one gets the sense while watching it that it’s trying – and failing – to compete with actual events, which is an odd thing to say considering the fact that this season contains: election manipulation, false flag terror attacks, terrorists detained and executed without trial, and plots to fundamentally rewrite the constitution, amongst other things.
The first half of the season continues the race for the White House between Frank Underwood and Will Conway that began in season four. Even when we get to the midway point of these thirteen episodes and we find out just how far Frank and Claire will go to keep a grasp on their power and ensure the White House will always be theirs, the reveal comes across as predictable. This season doesn’t get truly interesting, or truly good, until its final stretch of episodes when it becomes clear that the Underwoods have flown a little too close to the sun, and all of their manipulative plotting and scheming over the past five seasons begins coming back around to bite them in the ass. (The show’s reliance on continuity and events that have happened as far back as the first episode of the first season is one of the things I love about this series; it gives it a sense of history, and proves just how well written it is.) Indeed, the final two episodes provided twists that I think many people won’t be able to see coming, and sets up season six to be a breath of fresh air by shaking up the status quo.
Season five as a whole, for all of its plodding bluster and predictability, does offer interesting cautionary tales about power: one to people about being “woke” about goings on in their countries, and urging warning about electing officials who crave power too much, and one to those seeking power and will go to any lengths necessary to achieve it; how it corrupts and how it will eventually be your undoing. They’re very timely lessons in an extremely timely season, which is made all the more relevant by showcasing protests at the White House, a President under investigation for possible crimes while at war with the media, and raising questions about the legitimacy of an election. Despite all of this, there is a sinking feeling that nothing of note truly happens until the final few episodes, and we can only hope that in season six the writers take advantage of the premise they’ve put into place in the last moments of this season’s finale.
Regardless of the lackluster story that this season gives us, the acting is as great as ever, and nobody should be surprised when Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright get nominated for Emmys again this year. Michael Kelly’s portrayal of Frank’s aide, Doug Stamper, particularly stands out this season as well, and I would love to see him get some recognition for turning in such a fine, nuanced performance. And in terms of new additions to the cast, Patricia Clarkson is a delight as Jane Davis, and I hope she becomes a permanent fixture of the show going forward.
Directing wise, the show looks as polished as ever – the people behind the cameras of this show always do great work. Attention must be called, however, to Robin Wright who did double duty during the season’s final two episodes, which she directed in addition to acted in. Hopefully in season six she gets to spend even more time behind the camera directing, while enjoying her presumably increased role in front of the camera as well.
Though season five was a mixed bag, and not nearly one of its best years due to its struggle to compete against reality, it is still worth a watch. House of Cards is still an excellent television show, and given the ending of this season, we should all be extremely optimistic about a potential sixth outing. Like with Orange is the New Black, however, I am curious as to how long this series can run for. Similar to my thoughts regarding the hit prison show, I do hope House of Cards starts winding down into its end game soon. It would be better for them go out at the peak of their game, rather than have its excellence dwindle over time to the point of cancellation. Based on where season five left things, it looks like a safe bet that it has maybe another strong two years left in it before calling it quits.
What did you think of season five of House of Cards? Do you have any theories about season six? How much longer do you think the show should last? Let me know in the comments below!