Being the loyal House of Cards fan that I am, I gorged upon the fifth season with tenacity, completing the entire season within 24 hours. Was it good? Yes, it was – but there are some problems with it to be sure.
We left last season with Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) on the start of their new mission: creating a sense of fear and chaos in the United States. They declared war against the terror network ICO, the perfect agenda to drag focus and media attention away from the accusations levelled against Frank. Winning the campaign war was Frank’s rival – the media-savvy and charismatic Republican Governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman).
Season 5 twists and winds along with trademark intrigue, and for the largest part it is enthralling viewing that intentionally leaves questions unanswered. Accordingly, the viewer is left in the dark on some of the larger plans and schemes that “Team Underwood” have bubbling away – creating tension and mystery. However, there are parts of this chapter that are either jarring or uneven, taking the viewer out of the story as a result.
The subplot with Claire and her relationship with her speechwriter Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) labours on and chews large quantities of screen time with low return on investment. The crux of their relationship is fundamentally intriguing, though I believe a less is more approach would have been more effective. After a while, this part of the season feels unnecessary and a lot like needless filler.
Then there are the moments – rare as they are – where the show gets too cute for itself, smugly referencing current real-world political climes in a less than subtle way. House of Cards knows when it is being clever, and it sometimes feels forced, heavy-handed and surplus to requirements as the show is intriguing enough without any of this superficiality.
The final major critique I have of season 5 is the wide array of new characters. Progress and change are as essential in TV shows as they are in life, however there are a swathe of new faces that aren’t given sufficient development for us to understand, care about or truly know who they are or what their specific purpose is.
Nevertheless, the new season is far from a misfire. Spacey and Wright are superb, as always, with Spacey’s ruthless, calculating and effective ways and means remaining fascinating, horrifying, and sublime. And Wright’s Claire is still ice-cold, cunning and mysterious. It’s this union – superb actors portraying wonderfully dark and interesting characters – where the strength of the show continues to lie.
The first two seasons of House of Cards so far remain the best, and the reason is fundamental: watching Frank and Claire writhe and wriggle, worm and squirm their way to the top was essential and addictive viewing. They combatted foes, manipulated people like pawns on a chessboard, and climbed and climbed with unimaginable ruthlessness and cold calculation. They had a mountain to conquer, and they reached the summit with panache. Now, Frank’s at the top, and the battles seem lesser; he is the most powerful man in the free world, as they say.
Season 5 is still good viewing, and it’s still better than the sluggish, blunt season 3. Unfortunately, it’s less taut and focused than the first two seasons, which is a slight disappointment when we’re this far in.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10
All 13 episodes of ‘House of Cards’ are now streaming on Netflix.