Just finished the latest season of House of Cards, possibly the pinnacle of ‘anti-hero’ television. But unlike the Seminal Breaking Bad, which was sort of time-bomb of the main characters descent/ascent into dealing meth, House of Cards feels like a never ending rabbit-hole of poor ethics, deception, manipulation and above all ambition.
I mean at this point I’ve pretty much lost track or am simply overwhelmed by who is playing who, for what and how.
To catch up SPOILER ALERTS FOR ALL SEASONS I really enjoyed the first two seasons, which basically chronicled Frank’s response to being shafted by his own political allies and assent to President of the United States through murder, lies, manipulation, and just generally evil stuff. What I particularly liked about the 2 seasons, one is that the tension was well written and compelling, even though Frank Underwood is probably one of the most unrelatable protagonists out there its still a tense ride wondering if he is going to achieve his goals and watching him overcome the barriers to his goals.
Even if this show had ended with Frank becoming president, and that haunting image of him standing in the Oval Office starting at the camera I would have considered the show a success and been satisfied with the story.
That’s not to say that season 3 or the rest were bad. But simply that the tale changes considerably after season 2. SE3 sees Frank struggling to hold onto his presidency, and as it turns out his marriage. I confess for me the narrative floundered a little here, as a corrupt man trying to hold onto his position of power didn’t quite have the same oomph as without the underdog factor, or without a dramatic fall from grace it kinda just felt like Frank was generally a loser rather than the dangerous criminal mastermind of the prior seasons. The file of Claire leaving him was logically important, but lacked the emotional intensity I craved.
Season 4 was a great return to form, and ended with a appropriately powerful conclusion.
So how did season 5 go? AGAIN, SPOILERS FOOL
Well again things were a little odd here. The first half of the season was devoted to the presidential race which was played very well with Frank true to form basically pulling all the dodgiest moves to secure his position. The second half was where the rabbit hole started to deepen and reveal even more layers to the weirdness of this show.
Again the focus shifted from Frank’s political shenanigans and looked at Claire and Frank’s relationship. At this point the pair were president and vice-president and all the signs were pointing to Claire being the next president.
But I just want to take a moment to talk about narration. As any fan of the show knows, a hallmark of the narration is Frank himself speaking to the camera, this has always provided a often humorous glimpse into Frank’s mind although often throughout the show we are shown evidence of his monologues being just another layer of deception possibly even a self-deception of his. The first odd thing about this narration is Frank’s approach changes slightly in season 5, he even berates us the audience for enjoying watching his antics delivering some great lines about the end of reason.
But the second odd, thing, let me just take a breath, is Claire herself starting her own.
Yes Claire knows we’re there!
Typically when Frank monologues, like in a play he steps outside the rest of the characters reality, however other watchers may have noticed that when Frank addresses the audience at the end of season 4 Claire reacts like she can hear him too and it my memory serves she places a hand on his arm or holds his hand as if to support his speech. At first I thought Frank might be just speaking to us while ‘real life’ happened and it was just my imagination. But then I noted another moment during the season where Frank started to monologue and Claire again seemed to be able to hear him, and he awkwardly stopped.
Finally towards the zenith of the season Claire direction talks to the audience, telling us she isn’t sure how she feels about our scrutiny.
The feelings was mutual to say the least.
The season ends with Claire as president, not pardoning or taking Frank’s calls, and by all appearances allies that are just as manipulative if not moreso than the Underwoods.
Bastards have me hooked just waiting for the next one.
Overall the season was pretty good, the build-up towards the election was suitable tense and compelling, the shift in power between the Underwoods much as Claire’s reveal was perhaps a little more awkward and I have to say at times frustrating, as between all the lies and manipulations it gets a bit hard to really get invested because it takes a tonne of brain power just to keep up.
One thing I want to talk about is Doug Stamper, who is brilliantly played by Michael Kelly. I honestly thought his character was killed in season 2, but he returned from the dead with a severe head trauma. His character is strange to say the least, almost comically loyal to Frank, but with a tendency for debauchery he spends equal amounts of time trying to cover the Underwood’s crimes and his own. By the end of season 5 we see him on house arrest for taking the fall for Frank’s crimes (although also having a fair few of his own). The reason I find his character intriguing is it isn’t really explained where this extreme loyalty comes from, and every now and again he seems to show a bout of conscience which typically ends up expressed in a dysfunctional way. For example he starts a relationship with the widow of a man he basically allowed to die to save Frank (by manipulating the organ donor lists). He thinks that he is hiding this information from her, but its finally revealed that she knew all along and engages in the relationship as an expression of hate for Doug, who bizarrely seems genuinely shocked by this but also fails to see his own issues put him in that position.
By the end of the season it’s not entirely clear (to me at least) where Doug stands with the president, after having his loyalty questioned by Frank, and clearly being hurt by this, Doug is shown to leak information to the media, yet Frank claims he orchestrated this and despite possibly being put out by Frank’s words Doug still takes the fall for a murder (one of anyway) of Frank’s.
Anyway my mind boggles to see how much further House of Cards can go, its hard to imagine what will happen next, will Claire prove to be the Frank 2.0 that he could never be, or a force for good after all the crime, or will Frank wrestle power back from his wife, the underdog position being his forte?
Looking forward to finding out!