May turned out to be a giant month for Netflix as it saw the return of Sense8, The Ranch, Bloodline, F is for family and the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But, they still managed to squeeze the fifth season of the House of Cards on Tuesday the 30th as they wanted the show to make the cut-off date for Emmy nominations. If they had waited one more week and brought the show on June 2nd, there would have been no hope for Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey and the other performers on this one-talked about Netflix Original to get Emmy nominations for their performances on the show.
This is incredibly important because even five years in, the performances on House of Cards are nothing short of ferocious and formidable and they basically represent a combination of both resentment, fury, ambition and repression. If you love the Underwoods and their revolving and ever-evolving political cycle of pain, then you will have no trouble in recognizing the effort the actors are putting in for crafting these characters and bringing this alternative dimension of malice and malaise to reality. Somehow, everyone is working themselves to death as they are backstabbing, double dealing, playing all sides and simultaneously looking for numerous uno.
The beauty of this show is that it can dive straight into complex minutia of the power plays that happen in politics and still manage to come off as Shakespearean and histrionic. For House of Cards, the trick is to balance these tones in the most perfect way. This is a series that has shown flat out murder in the name of politics and its grubby power plays and then spent the next couple of episodes showing the key players try to play by the ‘rules’ as they try to win support, get votes and convince people into switching loyalties for the purpose of clawing and scratching their way out of dilemmas of their own making.
Moreover, they do everything on the same level. Taking someone’s life is not very different from lobbying, campaigning, making secret deals or approving covert missions. This is an issue that the show hasn’t been able to deal with properly. The series was catapulted into tumultuous territory in season 2 with the murder of Zoe Barns. Yes, Frank had murdered before in the first season, but Zoe was regarded as a main character and her death came as somewhat of a surprise at the end of the season 2 premiere. This had seemed a bit overly sensational and the same thing appeared when Doug killed Rachel.
But, since then, the show has delved deep into politics once again and has shown the constant struggles of Frank Underwood as his sins threaten to undermine him at every turn. The fifth season of House of Cards cannot be seen in a vacuum. This show basically exaggerates American politics rather morbidly. Veep reserves the vulgarity and narcissism for laughs, but House of Cards likes to boast it. The question is where do Frank, Claire, Seth, Doug and the others stand? The series has included a Putin in the form of Petrov played by Lars Mikkelsen, but we don’t see any Trump.
Some are of the opinion that Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) could be considered a stand-in for Hilary, but it is obvious that the show doesn’t intend to mirror the actual politics. Typically, your feelings about what is happening in the real world doesn’t have an impact on how you feel about a series. But, this cannot be said about House of Cards because it has a long memory, much like Frank Underwood. The fifth season capitalizes off the first four seasons, but the middle is mostly bogged down in dreariness and details.
Essentially, it is focused on keeping a man in power who barely has time to himself for enjoying the power he holds because enemies from all walks of life are out to get him. The series ties together beautifully and portrays that no one can escape true cosmic consequences as Rachel’s death, Zoe’s death, the deal made at the expense of President Walker to bring Frank into the Oval Office all make a comeback. Old headlines pop up and terms like voter suppression, hacks, election tampering and leaks are used, but the series reminds you that murder is at the core of all this.
Season 5 picks up right where the fourth ended; Frank, with Claire at his side, is running a neck-and-neck campaign against Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). The Underwoods want to turn the presidency into a family dynasty. This will allow Claire to succeed Frank eventually and the next two decades will be locked up. But, this is House of Cards, which means both old and new issues surface. Some sins of the past are excavated by Herald’s editor, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver). So, it doesn’t take long before Frank and Claire start doubting everyone including each other.
This dance has become quite familiar, but it remains brutal as it is a desperate struggle for victory with losing not an option at all and instead doubling down on cruelty is the way out. Frank has his fail-safes where he is willing to burn everything down if it will prevent his enemies from gaining any ground. LeAnn Harvey (Neve Campbell) takes a larger role this season coupled with her drama with Damian Young’s scientist, Aiden Macallan. There is a wild card in the form of Campbell Scott’s Mark Usher, the calculating and cold advisor for the Conways.
Yet, Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson) is the real game-changer, who is the queen of double-speak and knows how to manipulate those around her, including the Underwoods. By the second half of the season, the Underwoods feel targeted on a daily basis and cannot trust anyone around them. They cannot take the loyalty of their employees for granted like they once did and the presidency remains the entire focus of the season, along with the realization that it is not actually the apex of true power.