“We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.”
Those were the ominous words that “House of Cards” left us with at the end of its gripping Season Four finale. After four years of witnessing Frank (Kevin Spacey, “American Beauty”) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright, “Forrest Gump”) conspire, deceive and murder their way to the White House, audiences were inclined to believe Frank’s fateful line. In “House of Cards”’s newest season, the Underwoods more than fulfill their vow to inspire fear. Picking up right where Season Four ended, the Season Five premiere documents Frank’s brutal re-election campaign and attempt to obstruct a Congressional investigation into his scheme to usurp the presidency. “House of Cards” has seemingly learned from some of its Season Three struggles and realized that its ideal show emerges when the focus is shifted away from simply showing policymaking occurring.
The hype surrounding this latest “House of Cards” season has been building for some time, especially with this new season premiering three months later than the series’s traditional release date in February. The show recognizes and exploits this fervor attached to the show, opening with a bang in the form of a breathtaking scene in which Frank unexpectedly visits Congress, demanding that they declare war on the Islamic Caliphate Organization. Repeatedly shouting “I don’t care,” Frank’s bold, fiery rhetoric sets the tone for a conflict-oriented season.
The success of this most recent “House of Cards” season is largely a result of its continued reliance on a talented and diverse cast. One of the hallmarks of the show has always been Spacey and Wright’s emotionally-charged performances, and both live up to the massive bar they have established. Beyond the two main stars, Joel Kinnaman’s (“Easy Money”) increased role as Will Conway has allowed him to highlight his range. This season also sees the return of the enigmatic Malcolm Madera (“Sobrevivo”) from Season Two. Elsewhere, “House of Cards”’s vets Michael Kelly (“Changeling”) and Paul Sparks (“Boardwalk Empire”) remain as strong and steady as ever.
For as much as the series appears to have corrected some of its past missteps, this newest season still struggles with its pacing. Even after “House of Cards” dedicated the second half of Season Four to Frank’s re-election campaign, the show does not give audiences the actual election until three episodes into this latest season. The series entirely reverses its gradual course soon after that by implementing a nine-week gap between two crucial episodes. It’s this type of inconsistent pacing that baffles viewers and leaves them playing catch-up at times.
Despite its erratic pacing, “House of Cards”’s latest season remains deftly produced, with its camera work particularly strong. The series continues to heavily feature effective wide frame shots and bring viewers into the action through numerous close-up scenes. Beyond these shots, “House of Cards”’s most recent season exposes audiences to more Capitol Hill landmarks, with gorgeous, sweeping scenes at the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.
Beyond its outstanding cinematography, “House of Cards”’s latest season also benefits from a larger role for Claire. Claire’s path to power has been slowly building over the course of the series, and Season Five continues to explore the First Lady’s presidential aspirations. With her ruthlessness now matching Frank’s, and possibly exceeding it, Claire appears bent on following a similar path of deception as Frank to obtain the Oval Office. In one especially tense scene, Claire’s callous, vindictive nature resurfaces, as she chillingly tells Vice President Donald Blythe (Reed Birney, “The Blacklist”), “You’re a fool, Donald. You always were. You and your dumb dead wife that you never, ever shut up about.”
With her ever-increasing role in “House of Cards,” Claire seems bound for her own presidential bid in the not-so-distant future. For now, however, enjoy the excellent bit of controlled chaos that is the fifth season of “House of Cards.”