SPOILER FREE FOR SEASON 5 ONLY, ALL OTHER SEASONS DISCUSSED
Netflix Original House of Cards returned to our screens today for a fifth outing. Starring American Beauty’s Kevin Spacey and Forrest Gump’s Robin Wright, the US political drama has been the jewel on Netflix’s crown since its 2013 debut.
For our political savvy readers, House of Cards has always been a must watch. Whilst there are many other shows about the American political system, not many have managed to truly portray how dirty and evil it is. Protagonist (if one can call him that) Frank Underwood is more than just a slimy politician, something that we are familiar with. He’s a criminal, an adulterer, a serial liar who sees everyone, bar possibly his wife, as a pawn in his path to power. We have followed Frank from South Carolina Congressman to President. He was never a good man, but as the series has progressed, views have seen a much darker man, a type of whom we would never want to see at the White House.
His wife, Claire, is equally as conniving, but not quite as evil, retaining some elements of humanity in her appearance, from CEO to nominee for Vice President.
This season explores that.
Whilst it is not quite as action packed as previous seasons- especially 4, where Frank was the victim of an attempted assassination, Season 5 has all the hallmarks of the story that we fell in love with. The focus is much more on human stories. Whilst the central theme is the continuing fallout of the terrorist events of the previous season, we see much more of the characters that make this programme so great. Frank and Claire’s marriage is a central theme- encompassing both their love and passion for one another with their sometimes mutual disdain and divided ambitions. In this season, their relationship is now more of a factor in their decision making. Working so closely together means that they have to take their marriage into account, something that is certainly prevalent from episodes from 1 to 13.
That is not to say, however, that there aren’t a few shocking moments. Though the things that happen may not equal to Zoe Barnes’ murder at the hands of Frank at the beginning of Season 2, they still illicit several gasps and hands over mouths. Just as in Season 1, we see the underhanded nature of not only Frank, but of others- some of whom may surprise you. These moments are more understated in their shock, weaving their way into the storyline whilst still allowing that element of surprise from previous times. Some things you will find predictable, but other things just come out of the left field. It’s all about how observant (or cynical) you are.
Several have complained- and perhaps rightly- that Underwood keeps winning. Whilst he is still fairly unstoppable, the bumps in the road are larger and perhaps more fatal this time around.
What makes these themes, as usual, is the acting.
House of Cards, in this reviewer’s opinions, has always been in master class in acting. Few shows have this level of talent, and none have been so consistent in providing that quality. Kevin Spacey doesn’t dull, and like fine wine, gets better with age. There is nothing more sinister than his quiet comments and sharp wit, combined with the air of authority which Underwood wears like a badge. Spacey is unique in his ability to portray a character as both Presidential and anti-Presidential, going from Kennedy to Mandelson (sorry ‘Prince of Darkness’) in an instant. We continue to see that evil we stupidly fell for in the first episode.
Several old characters return, and each is as sharp as they were in their past appearance. Michael Kelly continues to be outstanding as Underwood’s ruthless Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper, again bringing the darkness of politics to our screens. Another shining return is Neve Campbell’s Leann Harvey, Claire’s associate, who serves as the female Doug. Whilst definitely not as dark, she is still no angel, and that is perfectly brought about Campbell, who is most famous for her role in the horror series Scream. Campbell brings about the early season 1 Claire, ambitious but not quite yet in an outwardly powerful role, and is definitely one to watch should the hit show return. Furthering the role of women is Dominique McElligott as Hannah Conway, wife of the Republican candidate William Conway. Gone is the quiet, family woman we know from 4- she’s a new woman, and it’s fabulous. McElligott has really played the transition well, and this role could be her launching pad into bigger and better things.
The best out of the new bunch is Patricia Clarkson as Jane Davis, a veteran politico who turns the White House upside down. What House of Cards doesn’t shy away from is strong women- look at Jackie Sharp, Cathy Durant and others for details- and they don’t disappoint here. Davis is as ruthless and tough as the rest of them, and everyone knows what she wants. Plenty of her scenes are with Durant and Claire, who all play well off each other.
Though Clarkson acts up a storm, it is Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood who steals the crown for this season’s best actor. Whilst Claire was always a hugely important character, she comes into prominence in this season, and Wright doesn’t disappoint. From her human moments to her questionable ones, you can’t call the character unlikeable. The way Wright portrays her, you want to hate her and her actions, but you find yourselves rooting for her. We see a classy, elegant, yet ruthless and intelligent politician. Claire proves that a woman can have femininity whilst still being a force to be reckoned with- Joss Whedon would be proud.
Whilst it lacks some of the excitement of past seasons, House of Cards is still deserving of its title as one of the best Netflix offers. For this reviewer, this is probably the best season. It wasn’t a chore to press ‘next’ on the Netflix screen, it was an excitement. There was a hunger to know what happens next, what dastardly deed the Underwoods would serve up next. From solid acting to marvellous storylines, this season is a must-see for those who not only love politics, but a fantastic TV show as well. Season 6 is not yet confirmed, but one must dare to dream for it to return to our screens against next year.
Best show on TV?
You may think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.