Note: This review will contain spoilers for seasons 1-4 of House of Cards but no spoilers for season 5.
By now, House of Cards has made a name itself among the thousands of tv shows available. It’s first two seasons followed political intrigue, scandal and corruption. Kevin Spacey’s brilliant performance as a congressmen who rises to the presidency without a single vote cast in his name has earned massive critical praise . The show got away from the things that made it so great in season 3, and last year’s fourth season was certainly a return to form. With show runner and creator Beau Willimon leaving the show to pursue other opportunities, this new season of Netflix’s first original series is intriguing, albeit frustratingly uneven and poorly paced.
In season 5, Frank and Claire Underwood (Spacey and Robin Wright) are running an election after Frank declared Claire his running mate. With an upstart opponent, Governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) is hot on his heels. Frank and Claire wheel and deal behind the scenes all the while dealing with international set backs and diplomacy issues.
The show is always well acted. Spacey and Wright are terrific. However, season 5 really doesn’t build upon Frank’s character. In some respects, Francis has come full circle. With these characters, new show runners Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson show signs of discovering new levels of their depth. Early in season five, we find Francis Underwood’s old school tactics and intimidation don’t seem to be working anymore. New congressmen and old alike are tired of his act and it takes a toll on Frank.
However, as the season moves on Gibson and Pugliese abandon the more intriguing plot lines they set up along the journey. Ratcheting up the ridiculous and lowering the plausibility episode by episode, is it finally time for this show to end? What more can be done to make this show fresh and exciting like it was in its first couple seasons? Gibson and Pugliese don’t seem to have a firm grip on these characters or the story they want to tell. House of Cards has never been 100 percent realistic, in fact, rarely tv shows or films are. But the writing in early seasons and the portrayals of these characters, were played out in a way that made us think wait, could that really happen? More often than not, we felt it could.
To some extent the show’s unfocused narrative makes me question where this series can go. In an attempt to keep popular characters alive, the show sloppily integrates the continuing investigation into Zoe Barnes into this seasons narrative. Pugliese and Gibson create multiple storylines and never truly pay them off. As of writing this, the show hasn’t been given a green light for a sixth season. While the finale minute of the shows finale certainly adds intrigue, if a new season is as muddled as this one, I’m not sure how much more life this show has.
Getting away from the cutting edge political commentary it became known for, House of Cards attempts to comment on modern issues without really having anything interesting to say. Season five has been the shows darkest yet and perhaps its least interesting. Starting with a bang, a premiere episode that displayed vintage characteristics of the show and slowing way down after that. It remains to be seen how the show can rebound from its rockiest season yet.
Best Episode: Episode 1, “Chapter 53”
Worst Episode: Episode 4, “Chapter 56”
Season Score: 5.5/10
Consensus: With an unfocused narrative, confusing character motives and a flurry of implausible plot points, the extremely well acted political drama House of Cards falters and concludes its weakest season yet with some hope that it could return to form in potential future seasons.