In a way, season five of “House of Cards” is some of the best we’ve seen from Netflix’s premier Original series. It’s a return to the show’s brand of bloody and chilling politics that keeps you at the edge of your seat.
And yet the show will find it tough to really impress viewers who are living in a world where politics today seems to have taken on the aspects of reality TV. There’s only so much political drama you can take in, especially if it mirrors the happenings of the real world.
Where season four last left off, the Underwoods were in the midst of an election, having to deal with an ISIS-like terrorist organization called ICO, which had beheaded an American citizen. The execution proves a boon for the Underwoods, and leads to season five’s powerful opener, with Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) making quite the splash.
While season four was a little slow in its first half, season five moves quickly. It ends most of the major plot points from last season in the first half, then quickly dives into new territory and plenty of bombshells.
The second half takes on what’s happening in the real world, and manages to draw interesting parallels with “what ifs.” From a Snowden-esque defection to Russian influence in the administration, “House of Cards” takes the “what ifs” to dramatics ends that could feasibly happen in the real world.
If you’re watching this for the scheming, season five will leave you a little breathless and giddy with excitement. It drops plenty of foreshadowing, so you don’t suddenly feel like anything’s forced or implausible, and given how real-life politics have played out so far, nothing on TV seems too far-fetched.
Given last season’s split and reunion between power couple Francis Underwood and Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood, season five shows just why the Underwoods are best together. But all’s not well, with tensions between the two simmering till the end and making space for what would be an inevitable sixth season.
While “House of Cards” revolves around the compellingly devious Underwoods, the supporting cast makes it all the more enjoyable. Michael Kelly’s Doug Stamper is still the ever-faithful loyal hound the Underwoods need, and along with counterpart Neve Campbell’s LeAnn Harvey, he makes much of the plot happen from the sidelines. The Washington Herald’s Tom Hammerschmidt, played by Boris McGiver, is still relentlessly digging into the truth of the Underwood’s rise to power, and plays the good guy adversary.
Newcomers to the series Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott play important roles, though it’s really Clarkson’s portrayal of her mysterious and creepy character that’s a scene-stealer compared to Scott. Given “House of Cards'” track record for non-regulars though, expect both to last for one more season at most, but you’ll enjoy the ride with them.
While technology has always featured greatly in the series, from Underwood’s gaming habits to the use of Tor and the dark web, season five’s tech is more bleak. The Underwoods don’t hold back, using hidden cameras (with implausibly fantastic resolution) and wiretaps to spy on the White House staff to find a leak, even in the privacy of their homes and cars. Now imagine this happening in the real world. Scary? Oh hell yes.
Remember when, in the real world, that kid used her sleeping mom’s finger to unlock a phone to buy $250 worth of Pokemon presents? Something similar happens, but it’s not so benign, and it reinforces the main theme of season five: Betrayal.
And that’s really the thing. Given how chaotic everything looks, the latest season of “House of Cards” is an exercise in not trusting anyone. Even soft tender moments can be subverted, backs will be stabbed and no one is safe, especially if you’re President of the United States.
“House of Cards” season five returns to screens on Netflix on May 30.
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