One might wonder what someone unaware of politics (and especially the nuances of American politics) has to take out of Netflix’s House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Michael Kelly, the show is based on the eponymous 1990 British drama, and follows politician Francis Underwood (Spacey) and his wife Claire (Wright) as they manipulate members of Congress – and eventually presidents and vice presidents – for their own gain. In short, the American version of House of Cards is as entertaining and educational as Donald Trump’s Twitter – lots of fun,but doesn’t spark interest in learning the ABCs of politics. As a whole, the plot can be tricky and difficult to understand to anyone who’s not properly familiar with the U.S. political machine.
Season 5, which was made available on Netflix service on May 30, becomes even more convoluted, as viewers are expected to remember minor occurrences from previous seasons – occurrences that, while important, are so slow to build up that it’s easy to forget a face, a name, or what one specific person did. On top of that, there are political intricacies that have either been present since Season 4 or are just now surfacing. It’s easy to get lost when one doesn’t fully understand why the Underwoods made certain decisions, or why some characters have been dealing with the same issues for the entirety of previous seasons.
Despite its convolution, House of Cards remains one of the most entertaining and well-produced TV shows that ironically isn’t on TV, per se. Even if one isn’t knowledgeable of politics, they can still take something from Francis and his machinations.
I don’t have to detail why viewers could expect this season to have some political commentary regarding Donald Trump’s administration. It’s only logical for a show surrounding politics to be that sensitive, especially considering how mainstream media and social media both treat the state of affairs. Anyone expecting a season that’s heavily inspired by reality might be disappointed, but those who can read the fine lines will easily spot obvious nods to the United States’ current situation.
For starters, House of Cards itself is an elaborate satire of how the public views politics. What happens in the real-life D.C. and Trump’s Twitter account is as entertaining as watching Francis and Claire come up with complicated plans to stay in power. Donald Trump’s presidency further strengthens that by how the public and media both attack him. His tweets are cheap thrills that provide endless material to comedians and talk show hosts, and his actions, along with whatever he stands for, keeps people wondering what he will do next. Suddenly the White House is the most entertaining show that is not on TV or any streaming services, garnering an audience via Twitter and news networks instead. And just like Netflix originals, the whole world is watching.
On a few occasions, Underwood compares himself to how the world sees Trump. Despite the strings he pulled to get elected, he mentions democracy is what got him there, as if the election was conducted normally. Most importantly, however, he says that “you asked for this.” In a later episode, the man once again breaks the fourth wall to remind us of an untold truth: we want to be entertained. “You don’t actually need me to stand for anything. You just need me to stand.” Frank then stands up and continues to address the audience: “To be the […] man of action. […] It doesn’t matter what I say. It doesn’t matter what I do. Just as long as I’m doing something, you’re happy to be along for the ride. […] With all the foolishness and indecision in your lives, why not a man like me? I don’t apologize. In the end, I don’t care whether you love me or you hate me, just as long as I win. […] Welcome to the death of the Age of Reason.”
Although few and far between, the statements made this season are compelling. They’re easy to spot for viewers who so much as know who Donald Trump is, regardless of their nationality. The truths told are ugly and painful, yet someone has to carry them along. And what better person to tell the American people what they don’t want to be reminded of than the powerful, corrupt, and unscrupulous Francis Underwood?
The fifth season of House of Cards is available in its entirety on Netflix along with the previous four.