House of Cards (2013): Season 5
There has always been a direct relationship between current events and entertainment, but the recent advances in providing content have taken the adage, "art imitating art," to a previously unimaginable level. Last year the country experienced the latest election for the Presidency. I’ve lived through about a dozen of these events and agree with the consensus that 2016 will go down in history as one of the most unusual ever. Both major parties experienced bitter and drawn out primary races to select their candidates. This preceded one of the dirtiest campaigns in history. One candidate made a greater use of social media than previously seen in a national election. This afforded him a platform for inflammatory rhetoric cascade in an unstoppable tsunami. This tumultuous election reflected in the current high bar for political television, ‘House of Cards.' Originally based on a British series of the same name the American interpretation has become a ‘must see’ item that helped cement Netflix’s position as a major contender in the entertainment industry. There are a few aspects of reality that had such historical significance that practically every politically based television series felt an obligation to incorporate it in some form. 2016 was the first Presidential election with a woman as the candidate of a major party. As if that was not sufficiently groundbreaking, that woman once occupied the White House as the First Lady. Running the former First Lady as a candidate for the Presidency. It is interesting to observe how that plot device utilized within the established context of the series. For ‘House of Cards,' the variation of First Lady as Presidential candidate gives an entirely new meaning to the term ‘Power Couple’. I have not seen any definite indication as to whether the series will return for a sixth season but, as usual, the season finale left room for continuation.
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has risen in a few years from House Majority Whip to the President through machinations that would turn Niccolò Machiavelli green with envy. Underwood is a master at not only playing the game of politics but forces others to play by his calculated rules. Fans of the series are certain to notice that no matter how unorthodox the last election was, the Underwood strategy sailed seemingly effortlessly through any boundaries or accepted limitations. His rise t power encompassed the outright use of blackmail, extortion, and murder with Frank occasionally doing his dirty work. As the season opens, President Underwood’s administration is under fire due to the growing threat of a terrorist group, ICO. What the public and most of the government don’t realize is that President Underwood has been covertly fanning the sparks into flames of fear consuming the nation. Underwood is a very intelligent and well-read man, a true student of history. He realizes that nothing unifies a population behind a leaser than fear and ICO delivered in full measure.
Attacks battering the President prompted this duplicitous measure. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), has had her sights set on political office. She was given a diplomatic posting that leads to a disaster when a deal with the Russians derailing Claire decides that she will have a unique place in history, first woman President and the only time the first Lady moved from the residential East Wing to the seat of ultimate power, the Oval Office. The mass confusion with a myriad of people seeking their party’s nomination and ultimately the place on the ballot. Many political thrillers are heavily dependent on exposition-heavy dialogue. Often at the expense of action, the success of this series was built upon a strong foundation of creating a synergy between words and action. The extreme measure taken by the politicians, people in business and world leaders are frequently immoral and illegal, the audience is captivated by the intensity of the performances and quality of the storytelling. This inherent sense of realism comes at a price for the views, we are mesmerized by the sheer quality of the entertainment but cannot help, but to prey, the real political system determined by adherence to the legal and moral values held dear in this nation. There is a portion of your mind that rebels against the nagging feeling that you are witnessing a reasonably accurate look at how the sausage is made. It is the troublesome feeling that far too many aspects of this taught thriller mirror reality than we dare admit. With public opinion regarding the highest levels of the government plummet and charges of criminal collusion, extortion and influence peddling dominate every news cycle the events and situations described in this series tinged with the potential of reality.
Several of the highly unorthodox tactic employed by President Underwood appeared when first seen as stretching the powers of his office beyond credulity but in light of recent events prophesied real-life events that would shortly transpire. President Underwood unexpectedly a session of the House of Representatives. Sharp-eyed members of this legislative body noticed that the President was wearing the label pin wore exclusively by members of the House. After displacing a congressman from Florida, he demands the Congress investigate the Washington Herald regarding a reporter currently wanted for acts of terrorism. He refuses to yield the floor to demand the Congress immediately issues a declaration of war against ICO. Over the past few weeks, the current President has utilized social media to demand the popular news sources in Cable and print news. He then threatened to plunge the nation into a war that would unravel many tenuously established diplomatic agreements,
After the plots to undermine the campaign of a woman in the race and to help a clueless billionaire get squeezed out of the race, the field was reduced to a charismatic, young candidate former Governor of New York, William Conway (Joel Kinnaman). Aided by his beautiful wife, Hannah (Dominique McElligott), this highly photogenic couple make full use of having two adorable children to sway the public. Their use of social media is brilliant, outshining what the Underwood’s are capable of mustering. If it weren't for the unintentional release of a damaging snippet of the video the Republicans would have regained the White House. At one point there was a groundswell of support to place Claire on the ticket forcing a battle of wits between spouses and the use of the arsenals of favors, shady strategies and betrayals from the respective, if not respectable Chiefs of Staff. In Frank’s corner was his always faithful political and occasionally actual hitman, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Claire engaged the services of a political consultant making a name for herself, Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell). Mr. Kelly has been a steadily solid part of the foundation of the show since the start but Ms. Campbell is an recent addition continuing the tactic well used by the show runners. When the story either begins to lag or threatens to veer into the surreal, a new character is introduced to reestablish a sense of realism and inject a reinvigorated momentum to the story. The election ends in a constitutional crisis as Frank’s mottled past catches up with him and he is consigned to a role he hadn’t considered, First Husband. There were many that felt this season lost a modicum of the traditional sharp edge that brought it to fame. It expands upon a treacherous but unavoidable portion of any politician’s career, the end game. Hopefully there will be a sixth and final volume to the story, taking the Underwoods into the always feared exit strategy.