The fifth season of Netflix’s House of Cards was utterly terrifying and had dark overtones that may become reality in the next few years. For those who never watched the House of Cards, it is a dark dystopian show that follows the lives of the Underwoods, an eccentric and twisted power couple that maneuver their way into the White House, trying to secure their grasp on ever fleeting absolute power. Beware because this review does include spoilers.
At the beginning of Season 5, we start where we left off in Season 4 as the entire nation including the Underwoods watch as a American man is killed on a live stream by homegrown terrorists affiliated with the “Islamic Caliphate Organization” or “ICO”, the House of Cards‘s version of ISIS. Recognizing that they cannot be loved the same way as their Republican opponents, the Conways, Frank and Claire instead decide to use fear to motivate the American people, portraying the country in disaster and claiming they need a strong leader.
As the election remains close, Frank resorts to extreme methods to keep his power including using NSA surveillance to allow for better voter targeting and using the perceived threat of terrorism to surround polling locations with US troops and even stop Tennessee from certifying their election results. As no candidate receives the required threshold for electoral votes, Congress is stuck with choosing the candidate. While Claire Underwood is chosen as Vice President by the Senate, she becomes “acting President” as the House of Representatives bitterly squabbles over who to vote for. Eventually, the Underwoods receive some damaging tapes on the Will Conway and his Vice Presidential candidate that they employ in the special election in Tennessee, allowing them to pull of an election win.
Frank Underwood however slights the up-and-coming Democratic reformist Congressman Romero of Arizona by not agreeing to mention Romero’s pet policy objectives in his inauguration speech, still infuriated that Romero didn’t back him when he needed the votes to become President in the House of Representatives. A deepening investigation by Tom Hammerschmidt into his administration however as well as constant leaks from the White House lead to Romero heading an investigative committee into the Underwood administration. Hounded by the press and increasingly damaging leaks, the Underwood are severely damaged when former President Walker, who Underwood had backstabbed and pushed out of office previously, testifies and implicates Frank Underwood in multiple corruption scandals during his previous administration.
In a jolting turn of events, Frank Underwood then appears in front of the investigative committee, denies all the allegations but then resigns as President, placing his wife and Vice President, Claire Underwood, as President. Furthermore, most of the White House staff resigns as Frank’s loyal chief of staff, Doug Stamper, takes the fall for Frank Underwood when it came down to who killed Zoey Barnes. Claire Underwood was furious that Frank made such a move before consulting her, but then Frank reveals to her that this was his plan all along and that attending a retreat for private sector big-wigs during the campaign made him realize that if he could be on the outside in the private sector, their combined political power would make them even stronger.
Frank then admits to Claire that he staged this whole thing and that even the leaks where actually coming from him. In exchange, all that he asked Claire was that she pardon him and Doug and at the right time. Under two new influences, Claire however reneges on that promise and after making her first speech as President, she refuses to pardon Frank or Doug, causing Frank to ominously threaten that if he doesn’t get his pardon, he’ll kill her. The last episode ends with Claire rejecting Frank’s multiple phone calls before staring straight into the camera lens with her icy glare and coldly proclaiming, “my turn.” This of course sets up the next season (if there is one) to be an epic showdown between Frank and Claire.
While House of Cards is typically a dark show, Season 5 was clearly the darkest of all in my opinion, as we see the Underwoods at their worst. In private conversations with Claire, Frank notes that the American people do not know what’s best for them, only him and Claire do. He also predicts decades of political reign by the Underwoods. The Underwood’s carelessness for human life also reaches its zenith as Frank directs the FBI to kill the ICO terrorist they capture without trial, even though he is an American, and even puts out a hit on one of their own former staffers, Leann, although we do not know for certain if she is dead. And as Vice President, Claire agrees to draw a line in the sand against chemical attacks in Syria, even though she and her advisers are aware that the Syrian government will do it and rather than stop the attack, they allow it to happen so they can justify deploying US troops.
Season 5 also shows an interesting character development for Claire Underwood. She starts out by crying at the funeral of the American killed by ICO, but by the end of the season, she murders Tom Yates, her ex-lover, and turns her back on her husband as soon as she becomes President. And throughout the season, numerous connections are drawn to real life events happening. Terrorism, government leaks, Congressional investigations, doubts as to the legitimacy of the President, and chaos all resemble what we see happening around us.
In fact, one could very easily reverse the roles and parties to create a similar depiction of American politics today. Unlike in the House of Cards, it is the Republicans who control the White House and Congress. However, should Democrats get control of the House in 2018, the chaos of the House of Cards could be on its way to reality as a Democratic House of Representatives may continue to push “Russia” investigations into Trump and even threaten to impeach him. The House of Cards of course presents an extreme case of American politics gone awry, but the parallels to reality today are unsettling.
Season 5 interestingly painted the fall of Frank Underwood as a supposed victory but like Season 3, ends with more strife between Frank and Claire. Unlike Season 3 however, Frank isn’t President and Claire isn’t the First Lady, the roles are reversed and one can only wonder if the Underwoods have ever truly reconciled. Perhaps this is Claire’s revenge against Frank, but as Frank as shown in the past, he is never more dangerous than when he is cornered and pinned down. Season 6 is going to be crazy beyond the shadow of a doubt.