Saturday, 8 July 2017

HOUSE OF CARDS - Season 5 review

Catch up on Layla's previous reviews of House of Cards here: season 1 and 2, season 3, season 4.

Spoilers ahead.

After promising at the end of season 4 that "We don't submit to terror. We make the terror", Frank and Claire Underwood deliver their own shock doctrine in order to cement their place in history and win the presidential election (as if you doubt they wouldn't). Seeing a return to form in terms of pure callousness, season 5 sends up some of Frank's most deceiving schemes yet as he tries to win the election from the charismatic Republican candidate Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). With his chances of election looking slim, despite the public's favourite Claire as Vice Presidential Candidate, the Underwood's resort to some desperate measures in order to halt the election and win back favour.

The events that proceed are the type of madness that you'd expect a conspiracy theorist to make up out of thin air: fake terrorist attacks in order to disguise a low voter turn out; a planned contingent election (the last one happening in 1836); the release of leaks to the press, all planned by the very man who we'd expect to have our best interests at hand. Frank is determined to win the election by any means necessary, and chillingly hints in episode 4 at some kind of dictatorship: "The American people don't know what's best for them. I do.... One nation, Underwood".

What is perhaps most pronounced in this series, not since season 3 at least, is the relationship between Frank and Claire. While their marriage has always seemed strained, their commitment to power is always consistent. We have seen much of House of Cards through the eyes of Frank and his asides to the audience, hinting at his true feelings. He confesses his love for Claire, but isn't sure if he loves power more. As meticulous as all his plans are, he forgot to secure the loyalty of his greatest ally: when given the opportunity to rule without Frank's involvement, Claire grabs it and looks unpitying at the audience before declaring "my turn". For five seasons we have seen the needs of Claire succumb to the goals that Frank wants of her, and now she has all the power.

Unlike the "up-and-back" season 3, season 5 ends on a truly revelatory moment for the programme, a point of no return. As Claire takes the position of President, and Frank states that he will "kill her" if she doesn't pardon him for his crimes (which she doesn't), we are lead to believe that all previous atrocities will pale in comparison to what Frank will do to Claire, or he is going to pay heavily for dismissing his wife so easily. As everything that Frank held dear is now lost, what will he do now?

I left season 4 wondering how they could play up the drama, especially seen as our real world looks more like an episode of The Twilight Zone then reality now. Since then, we've had the shambles that was Brexit, as well as another election for Prime Minister in the UK, and former presenter of The Apprentice, Donald Trump, is now the elected President of the United States of America. Whatever side of the political line you sit on, the past 18 months has shone a light on the lies, "fake news", and side-show antics that politics regularly indulge in.  

House of Cards, though somewhat predicting some of Trump's moves (namely, the travel ban), never truly encompasses the shocks employed by politicians to the public in the real world. House of Cards is told from an insider perspective, so maybe these tactics have become mundane or excusable to them, but we never truly understand the "terror" the Underwood's unleash. A protest outside the White House is the closest we get to the public consensus, but it is pretty much ignored by the politicians and is seen more as set decoration. Fake news is employed regularly by Frank and his team throughout the series, but what we don't get is the brazenly denied obvious truths, the "alternative facts", that is clouding our politics in an increasingly nefarious way.

All this leads to what promises to be an especially interesting season 6. We should expect the lies to get more outrageous, and the true extent of Claire's contempt to be clear. We finally get to hear Claire's thoughts about the audience this season: whereas Frank has always confided in us, Claire finds us suspicious, and is "ambivalent" about the attention we give her. Either way, expect some compelling soliloquises next season.


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