*This review contains spoilers for seasons 1 – 4 only*
By Adrian Rauso
Season 5 picks up immediately where season 4 left off, with President and Democratic Party candidate Frank Underwood [Kevin Spacey] embroiled in a gruelling re-election battle against a more youthful Republican Party counterpart in William Conway [Joel Kinnaman].
Amid all of the usual political campaign drama, the spectre of Frank’s past indiscretions (if that’s the term you would use to describe two murders and extortion) threaten to topple the house of cards he’s meticulously built alongside his wife Claire[Robin Wright], who also just happens to be his Vice Presidential running mate.
We are treated to brief glimpses of Frank’s machiavellian streak in the first few episodes as he desperately tries to cling to power like warm dog poop on a shoe.
Another positive is that his top political aides have stayed true to character, with Seth [Derek Cecil] still the same slimy, worm-like schemer and Doug [Michael Kelly] remaining the blindly loyal enforcer.
But despite the promising start, the latest season of Netflix’s premier political drama pales in comparison to its former glory in seasons 1 and 2.
Surprisingly, the primary problem is Frank.
No, it’s not Kevin Spacey’s acting that’s at fault; his 4th wall breaks and impassionate speeches are as captivating as ever.
It’s the writing.
In the first two seasons we follow Frank’s quest to reach the zenith of American politics and along the way some of his carefully crafted strategies unravel, but ultimately he sets out a new clearly defined plan to overcome his obstacles and in the process the audience becomes emotionally invested in his journey.
Somehow, we even end up wanting to see a ruthless sociopath succeed.
In contrast, Frank’s motivations become increasingly disjointed and incoherent as season 5 wears on, and as the plot devolves into absurdity towards the latter episodes, you can be left feeling indifferent to it all.
Another glaring issue that plagues this season is the abundance of incomplete or rushed character arcs that seemingly exist purely to stretch the paper-thin plot to fill 13 episodes.
Exhibit A: Tom Yates [Paul Sparks].
Tom, who was originally introduced in the show’s third instalment, has more airtime in season 5 as he again fulfils the role of a ‘wise, insightful writer’.
To fill up air time (I assume), Tom repeatedly decides to answer every yes or no question directed at him with a vague, 2-3 minute long anecdote, which doesn’t actually answer the question in any capacity.
In a poor attempt to make him sound profound, the writers have instead created a character that feels like an angsty teen trapped in the body of a dopey-looking, 40-something.
He serves no relevant purpose to the plot other than being Claire’s human dildo.
And to top it all off, Sparks’ performance is so outrageously wooden it’s almost a fire-risk.
But in my humble opinion, season 5 is arguably not House of Cards’ worst season, with the tedious season 3 claiming that honour.
However, that’s no consolation.
It’s like saying dying from a barrage of bullets is a better outcome than getting stabbed to death.
Yes, that might be true, but I’d rather avoid both if I could thanks.