House of Cards Season 5 (Spoiler-Free) Review – The Rise of a New Machiavelli

"The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion."

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Another year, another season of the Underwoods’ reign of terror. Hell hath no fury like an election outcome. Fortunately for us (and you) The Koalition had an opportunity to watch the fifth season of House of Cards in all its deadly, spiteful glory.

Premiering on May 30th, Netflix’s political drama has finally found its roar again after a handful of mundane sidetracked seasons. Thanks to the help of new showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese (thanks for the memories Beau Willimon), season five is one of the best of the series. Pulling no punches, the frustrating power structure at the heart of this fictional government is dark, enthralling and cutthroat; which is surprisingly sobering considering our current political climate. While Frank and Claire have been to hell and back (taking several people along with them) to get to the White House, their questionable efforts surely aren’t going to be stopped by voters or rival Bill Conway (Joel Kinnaman). 

Season five unfolds like a kiss of smoke on a fine cut of filet mignon. There’s a  grace and finesse to this season, where everything is revealed slowly. Unlike previous seasons when you had to wade through various characters and confusing multiple storylines, this season hits the reset button — bringing together a smaller cast (so long Mahershala Ali) and a well-polished script. What results are top-notch performances from each actor.

There is a methodological craziness to season five that reflects the current political climate. The slow-burn brings a sense of buried panic that reaches across all cast members that pushes everyone to the point of no-return. Masterly crafted, the writers take devilish pleasure in knowing that everything can fall apart even if one character stumbles. What results is a heighten sense of being on the defensive, doing away with any moral fiber that desperately wants to remain.

While Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey are dynamic (I’ll get to them later), Joel Kinnaman redeems himself from the horror-fest that was Suicide Squad. Painted as the opposite of Frank, he feels the stress and strain of political life to always to what’s right. However, there is a genuine quality about him that doesn’t feel forced (unlike Frank’s painted southern charm) which makes you root for him even more. He is earnest yet fully aware of the undertaking and drama that comes with running the country. In a very vital scene, he is able to go through a range of emotions, pulling in the audience along the way as you watch him lay his raw emotions onto the cold shoulder that is Washington, DC. Will he become another victim or will he rise to the occasion? While I can’t be reveal much (spoiler-free, remember?), he delivers a performance from his core that will shape the course of the Underwoods’ careers.

While the country battles over democratic and republican reign, there’s an even more important toxic war brewing between Claire and Frank Underwood. Mirroring the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, their power struggle (which has been growing for several seasons) is beginning to break the both of them.

Played to perfection by Robin Wright, Claire begins feeling the weight of Frank’s deeds as they slowly create a monster within her soul which can no longer be contained. She’s protective, ruthless, and vicious towards anyone on her way to the White House. No longer Frank’s puppeteer, she steps out of the shadows to become her own version of the “Nasty Woman.” Frank and his career be damned. As she does the unthinkable, you start to wonder if House of Cards is really about the rise of Claire’s calculated political reign. After all, she is the only person with enough balls to successfully destroy Frank.

Behind her coattails is the formidable South Carolinian who bursts with renewed madness and concentrated energy that makes House of Cards magical. Kevin Spacey is arrogant and delusional to the fact that he’ll never lose in life or even in his marriage when Claire may prove as the biggest and most viable threat. Feeling like a classic noir story, there’s so much brutal backhanded scheming and manipulation that Frank begins to lose a sense of himself as we begin to wonder who is playing who (a question that was once easily answered).

House of Cards is a beautiful nightmare with sprinkles of Trump realism. Opening monologues reveal time jumps and unexpected hints of kindness, vulnerability and insecurity. Even the subplots from supporting characters finally breakdown their walls to connect to Frank and Claire’s overall arcs and shared fears. At long House of Cards has finally found its voice again — but the person roaring maybe the true king of the White House.

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Dana Abercrombie Contributing Writer
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