“House of Cards” Season 5 – The Power Shifts

     I’ve been with “House of Cards” for a while now. This is easily one of my favorite shows out there, even though it did have a season I really hated. This is a season that plays on what made last season work and strengthens it further. This is the season where we see just how wonderfully awful the Underwoods are and how their quest for power does and doesn’t payoff.

The season picks up where last season left off with the Underwoods running against Conway in the 2016 election. The race is tight as the Underwoods prepare to go to any means to hold onto power and win the election.


The Pros: The Election – The election is fantastic as we see political dealings going down as Conway’s advisor Mark Usher is convinced to work for the Underwoods when they find the dirt on Conway after they successfully cause a political crisis by using one of their assets (a hacker) to cause panic across swing states. This eventually leads to a special election being called in one of those states where Frank and Claire rise to victory.

The Underwoods – The Underwoods are the main reason to watch the show. They are so corrupt and compelling as we see just how far they are willing to go to tie up loose ends and to keep in power. This season is a shining example of this and ends showing that even the Underwoods loyalty does not fully extend to one another.

Frank – Frank wins the election but the corruption of his rise to power becomes the forefront as the former president comes forward and people begin calling him out for the shady dealings and situations that surrounded him in his rise to power. In the end he decides to resign as his time in Elysian Fields (a secret society) showed him the true power lies outside the office of the President and controlling it, as Claire is left in charge as she became Vice President last season.

Claire – Claire is the better of the Underwoods as we see that she does not act out of spite and is good at building bridges between members of the party and opposition. Unlike Frank she doesn’t care about revenge, but can be just as ruthless (she kills her lover who knew all of the Underwood secrets), just holding power and this season ends with her as President holding Frank’s sins against him as she refuses to pardon him for his crimes, leaving him alone and under threat with her at the top, it finally being “her turn.”

The Rat Race and Cost of Power – Those underneath the Underwoods all pay the price in the end. Doug is alone and underground and as of the end of the season has not been pardoned for his crimes, Frank is just like him…LeAnn is dead with her former lover the hacker dead as she was loose end that was cleaned up and the government is in disarray as people seek to jump ship or find the Underwoods blackmailing them with their past actions. I really liked LeAnn’s character and her death for me was the strongest one since Frank’s murdering of Russo, who was also an actor and character I liked. This season was all about consequences and those consequences paid off with those who still hold power being isolated and those who trusted the Underwoods being just as isolated or dead.

Okay: Russia – Russia is the only one who can blackmail the Underwoods, but even he loses his asset, though we see that Claire’s adviser is working for him, so he isn’t out yet, but we don’t see what Russia’s agenda really is at this point.

This was an amazing season that gave us a major shift in power as we have seen Claire hold power but Frank’s unpredictability and secret agenda always detracted from Claire’s potential. Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey once again do an amazing job and I loved watching the power shifts take place…from Frank going to the private sector to control government and Claire using the power of the Presidential office to consolidate her power and agenda and with it shift power away from Frank. Where next season leads is anyone’s guess but this is show about their partnership which Frank left behind this season in his quest for revenge against those who had opposed him. I think he’ll realize this or he’ll fall as Claire has shown to be the better leader now on multiple occasions.

Claire Underwood 2020

Final Score: 9.8 / 10


“House of Cards” Season 4 – Chaotic at Times but Recaptures What Makes the Underwoods Great

House of Cards Season 4

    “House of Cards” Season 4 recaptures a lot of what made Seasons 1 and 2 so great, while recovering from the mistakes of Season 3 and refocusing the Underwoods, while still taking the bad writing of Season 3 into account and not retconning anything that happened or the characters and how they change. Seriously, this was a really enjoyable season. This was a season of consequences and if it is the last we will get of this show I like where it finally ends up.

    Beau Willimon created an amazing show and it is amazing to see everything get back on track again and use the problems of Season 3 to some purpose.


The Pros: The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal’s soundtrack continues to create great tension in this series and is easily one of the consistently great parts of this series. This was the series that got me into this composer in the first place and he continues to play on the dark and tension that so define this series.

The Cinematography – Tim Ives, Igor Martinovic and Eigil Bryld did a fantastic job with the cinematography once again. The visuals are great at capturing the isolation and paranoia of the different characters as well as the internal and external wars they all face.

The Politics – This is the heart of this show and there are some great political circumstances in this. From Russia holding back it’s oil and the U.S. sending a political refugee from Russia to China forcing Russia to deal with both of them, the election and primaries of 2016 and the war with ICO (The ISIS of this show).

The Characters – The characters are fantastic, and a lot of them complete their arcs in this season, which for me left them needing another season up in the air.

Catherine Durant – Jayne Atkinson is wonderful in this role as we see her character use her political savvy to keep herself from being stabbed in the back by Frank (after she learns that their support for her is a ploy for Claire to be nominated VP) but in the end Frank brings her in line as she got where she is through the illegal back door dealings that so define the way the Underwoods deal.

Leann Harvey – Leann is Claire’s second who helps her deal with Frank and eventually becomes both their campaign manager. She is an awesome character and shuts down Doug Stamper and his need ton control and blackmail. She’s one of my favorite minor characters and Neve Campbell is fantastic.

Seth Grayson – Seth is wonderful in this as we see him work with the Dunbar campaign as an out before he becomes fully loyal to the Underwoods again. He is a complex betrayer who in the end is fully in the boat with the Underwoods, he has a vulnerability and ruthlessness that makes him compelling.

Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp – Remy and Jackie are back and after Hammerschmidt compels him to come forward he and Jackie come forward with their relationship in order to bring down the Underwoods, as their character finally gets his redemption and out of control of the fear they have over others.

Victor Petrov – Petrov is back and Claire puts him in his place as we see that a lot of the control he claimed to have is much thinner as his people are suffering from his dying economy. He eventually realizes this and helps Claire rise to power as he respects her and Frank for their strength and power they come from. Lars Mikkelsen is fantastic once again.

Will Conway – Conway is the Republican nominee running against Frank and he is amazing. His “life” is all recorded and he has a beautiful wife and ttree kids and owns a google analogue that puts him high up on the search engine. He’s also a narcissistic and sociopath and is shown to be no better than Frank in how he treats others. Frank is actually shown to be the better person in the end as Frank and Claire are true partners, where Conway dominates and rules everyone he can’t fool with his charisma.

Tom Hammerschmidt – Tom is the reporter who pushes the house of cards to bring the Underwoods down. He’s a true believer and it’s in investigating all the deaths that he discovers how deep the Underwoods sins go. Boris McGiver is wonderful in this role and plays the genuine and awkward reporter really well who won’t cave to anyone. Sadly (but for the betterment of the story) the teeth behind his story get removed when the Underwoods declare war on ICO and use the fear of ICO to make people forget the truth that was put before their eyes.

Doug Stamper – Doug is seeking redemption on this as Seth and Leann are there for him to call him out on his controlling and fascist nature. This leads to him donating to the fund of a man whose never received a liver as he was knocked off the list so that Doug could save Frank. Michael Kelly continues to give threat and intimacy to this very dark role and I like that his character is seeking more as he is the most broken character in this series.

Claire Underwood – This season is all about how Claire deserves to rule. We see her negotiate a treaty with Russia and China and continue the Underwood power when Frank is in the coma. The Claire of Season 1 and 2 is in full force and Frank and his stupidity in 3 is finally done as they work together and even run together and President and VP against the Republicans. Robin Wright truly owns this role and she is part of what makes this show so fantastic.

Frank Underwood – Kevin Spacey is playing Frank as Frank is written out of the rut the writers put him in last season where he was only ruled by ego for self and not alliances and savvy and truly doing what it takes to dominate. In this season he starts doing that again and acting in coordination with Claire as they did in the beginning. Can’t wait to see what they do in Season 5 as he sets up ruling through fear as he brings full on war against ICO to distract from Tom’s article on the level of darkness he’s committed to get to where he is now as President of the United States.

Frank’s Coma Visions – The coma visions are haunting as we see Frank haunted by the people he’s killed and being hunted down. There is an element of violence and sex to all of it which captures the character and the show really well.

Means to an End – Claire and Frank are all about means to an end, both in their partnership and in how they rule. We got to see this again as they got over acting chaotic selfish stupid rather quickly, which in the end made this season great.

The Cons: Underwood v. Underwood – This was stupid, both of them were way to smart to not work together and help each other rise in power. Season 3 Frank is still around for the first few episodes though and they address this with him going into a coma after an assassination attempt from one of the journalists he wronged and from that he and Claire going for the President and VP together and back to the old partnership they had before.

Obvious Manipulations – Frank has some obvious manipulations that blow up into his face and this was the only writing issue that came up. His manipulation of his Secretary of State was a bit too obvious.

Getting Back on Track – The cons of Frank realizing that Claire is his partner and her leaving really wasn’t needed. They were both supposed to be smarter than that and seeing them acting stupid for drama to make this happen (the reason for having to get back on track in thef first place) was a con for this season. It shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

   It was really dealing with the filler and problems in Season 3 that slowed down the Season early on as the first 4 episodes were dealing with the consequences of having written Frank Underwood as stupid and not even having social savvy to deal with the partnership with his own wife, which had been a partnership in Season 1 and 2. All my cons nearly all directly relate to correcting those issues that were in Season 3 that had to be fixed in order to get on track. I highly recommend this season and if this ends up being the end, it will be great way to end it all…though I would like to see the Underwood Triumphant, which we are on the way to with them playing their nuclear option at the end, making sure that no matter how the chaos and fear unravel, they will come out on top. This season could have been the end, but I’m glad that the show was renewed for a Season 5. The Underwoods can still win it all.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

“House of Cards” Season 3 – Did Not Believe the Setup for the Fall


        “House of Cards” Season 3 was another one of those seasons of missed potential. Kind of like the series of “Dexter” as a whole. There was a lot of enjoyable events that happened and the acting was fantastic, but there were so many thing narratively that just didn’t make sense and took me out of the story as well as the unbelievable changes that Frank and Claire went through as characters…changes that felt tacked on in order to create drama and didn’t fit the calm collected leaders we had seen them be prior. I’ll get into it more in the actual assessment, but this is the summary of some of the issues I had with the finished product.

    “House of Cards” was created by Beau Willimon and is one of the Producers on the series with David Fincher. There are a ton of writers and directors involved and when I do a lookback at individual episodes later (I think I will as the show is still great quality) I’ll give them the recognition they deserve. The series is also based off of the British series of the same name.


   Season 3 begins with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as President dealing with a Congress that is divided and cannot pass anything, along with his own party turning against him. With Claire (Robin Wright) nomination to the United Nations as a diplomat the threat of Russia is also a major threat. From here he must deal with these internal and the external threats of the press and political rivals as he seeks to pass America Works and his eventual run for re-election against the idealistic Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The show continues to be beautifully presented and I really like how dark Washington DC looks as well as how trapped most of the characters are presented as feeling. The visuals are certainly on par with past seasons.

The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal continues to work his magic and gives us the dark drama of Washington. His sound is unique but I love it. It is great writing music and fits the theme of the Underwoods beautifully.

Heather Dunbar against Frank Underwood – The political arc in the run for the presidency and for the Democratic Nomination between these two is fantastic! Dunbar starts out as an idealistic politician who slowly becomes willing to work with those who have no moral qualms like Doug (who survived last season). Seeing these two face off should have been the focus of this season as she is a worthy rival and a compelling character who surprisingly wasn’t explored enough. She also reveals just how sociopathic Frank Underwood really is in how she pushes him to further desperation.

Doug Stamper’s Rehabilitation- This was done really well. Doug resists his addiction to alcohol and his obsession. He gives into his addiction when he feels abandoned by Frank Underwood (which felt out of character on Frank’s part) but we see him connect to his brother and work against Underwood with Heather Dunbar and later once again with Frank Underwood when he kills his obsession and gives over his soul for power again and leaves Dunbar.  The season ends with him once again Frank’s right hand man. Michael Kelly brings a lot of depth to this role.

Thomas Yates – Thomas Yates is a fiction author who Frank Underwood hires to write his story and to sell him to the general public. It is through Thomas we see how guarded the Underwoods are around others and one another (though this felt unbelievable in regards to the Underwoods this season). Still Yates was a great character, ex-prostitute and junkey who hooks up with the Nobel award winning journalist who is one of Frank’s major critics named Kate Baldwin.  He writes a story about how the Underwoods are power and their relationship is political (which I agree and disagree with) and that is when his story ends. He apparently helps Claire see that Frank only cares about Frank, which felt weak after all the exploration of the Claire and Frank relationship the last few seasons.

Middle East Conflict – The conflict takes place in the Jordan Valley and involves the United States trying to convince the United Nation to send peace keeping troops to the area to keep the peace. We see just how politically savvy Claire is on this when trying to get the different sides on the same table. It is successful for a while until Russia creates a crisis that leads to Claire losing her power and a return to the status quo.

Pussy Riot – This Russian Punk Rock band who is famous for protesting against the loss of liberty in Russia appears in this. They are handled much better than Russia is in my opinion and protest the Russian President’s visit with the Underwoods in the White House. They are later called heroes by Frank as another snub to Victor, the Russian President.

Heather Dunbar – Dunbar had a good arc even if she could have been fleshed out more…but this was supposed to be a show about the Underwood’s so the nature of the show hurt how her story is told. Still, her corruption was done really well overall this season. She’s a complicated person who realizes just how ambitious she is in the end and that she is willing to become Frank to get there. Elizabeth Marvel does an amazing job!

Okay: Kate Baldwin – This is a character who was ambitious and a noble reporter who sticks to her ethics (she won’t publish Yates’s story he wrote about the Underwoods because she is sleeping with Yates and it is a conflict of interest) but I never got her motivations fully.

The Cons: Russia and the United States/Victor and Frank – I get that they were trying to show how both men are after power for the sake of power and are sociopaths in touch with what the people want to hear in their nations but making it personal in regards to Claire and how Claire was handled felt weak. I also didn’t like how Victor was presented as an equal to Frank. This isn’t Littlefinger and Varys…not with how stupid Frank is this season and Victor isn’t much better. They are wrote to be brilliant but come off as really dense and unable to read people and situations. Maybe it’s an analogy for the actual foreign policies of said nations in reality?

The Frank and Claire Relationship – What happened? Season 1 and 2 establish that Frank and Claire are aware of the political ramifications of things and are willing to go the distance for the presidency and the United Nations because they know what they will do. In this one they did not. What happened? This season felt like the writers forgot about these characters and their relationship that was less romantic and driven by their shared desire for power and mutual respect for one another. None of that existed this season with the exception of the Mandala picture Frank gives Claire as a symbol of their eternal love…This is part of a bigger problem that I’ll go into next. In their rush to write Frank’s fall from power they’ve forsaken his relationships and his awareness in those relationships…

Frank Underwood and his Inner Circle – Claire Underwood, Doug Stamper, Seth Grayson, Remy Danton and later his alliance with Jackie Sharp. He gives them all the same speech that they are soldiers that must follow his lead or else they should get out of the way. Frank got hit with the stupid bat and it wasn’t because he was President since he had very little power as President because of Congress (which he didn’t plan for). This felt out of character because Frank values what people give him and they were all giving him a lot and her forsook that for no believable reason. He was just stupid.

Frank Underwood’s Lack of Plan – We see Season 1 his agenda to become the Vice President. He has plans within plans and is a Littlefinger type figure, in Season 2 we see his rise to become President and we see that he does have lines and is willing to stand for something when it serves the greater good in regards to the Underwoods and how they will appear to others in both cases he was shown to be good as the Whip and the Vice President…so what happened? He’s an incompetent President with America Works as his only plan. That isn’t the Frank Underwood from last season it’s just a dumb politician flailing.

   This is the weakest of the seasons, though when the series is taken as a whole it still stands. Maybe Season 4, if there is one can change the problems of this season, since the actors are still great as is the cinematography and music. There is still a lot of good even if this season felt like a house of cards. Where was the smart writing in regards to the Underwoods or what Frank planned to do when he was finally in power? This season had a lot of questions so it was hard to call it a great season. It had a lot of great ideas and the idea of a fall is good…but Frank Underwood has not been handled the way Walter White was handled. Heisenberg was King, Frank is President but feels like less than the House Majority Whip he was in Season 1.

Final Score: 8 / 10.