House of Cards…After rebounding from a lousy season 3 with a series-best season 4, it’s another step backwards with a season that is a little off-the-rails and once again asks us to believe characters would do something that seems completely against their nature. During the season finale, you have to wonder if the writers were trying to make Frank Underwood seem more like Peter Baelish, the “Game of Thrones” character who bases his power-grabbing philosophy off doing unpredictable, chaotic things.
You also have to wonder if they’re trying to make Underwood unlikable. The scheming politico has never been warm and fuzzy or even sympathetic, but previous seasons always invited us to revel in his cutthroat deal-making. This year, he practically mocks the audience for not booing him. And even if there’s truth to what he says—“you don’t really care what I’m doing, you just want somebody to do something”—and maybe we aren’t totally focused on ideology, it also seems clear the series is shifting its focus from Frank to Claire.
Debates will rage on whether that’s a good thing or not, but it is a whiplash-inducing turn to ask us to root for Frank to take The White House for four seasons, and then ask us to root for Claire to throw him out of it. There are many nice cast additions like Patricia Clarkson as a shadowy Commerce Department honcho perhaps even more dangerous than the Underwoods and the fantastic Campbell Scott as a Republican campaign power player with shifting allegiances. Still, you may wish this slightly-overstuffed season had done more with the luminous Neve Campbell (who can do wonders with just a muted reaction to the Underwoods craziness) and less with Paul Sparks’s annoying Tom Yates.
But the real question is if this series looks different in the age of Trump? I would argue that it’s never been more far-fetched to see a Democrat like Frank Underwood and relatively benign Republicans (the GOP is barely a factor in “House” unfortunately we can’t say the same about our actual House), and it’s perverse to see Bill-and-Hillary stand-ins like Claire and Frank engage in terrorist fear-mongering, voter suppression, election fraud, obstruction of justice, etc. when Hillary lost to a Republican who’s doing the real dastardly deeds. Grade: B-