Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 6 to 8 of House of Cards Season 5. Not seen the latest season? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
Having agreed to reopen voting in the uncertified states in order to conclude the election, Frank is forced to step down from his presidential post in order to keep the playing field fair, and the Vice Presidential candidate is sworn in to office. Yes, in a landmark, stunningly dressed moment for the show, Episode 6 opens with the ceremony for the newly inaugurated President Claire Underwood.
These three episodes chart the struggles Claire faces when she is finally given the reins of Netflix’s political drama. She navigates a complex international situation involving House of Cards’ favourite villain, Lars Mikkelsen’s Victor Petrov, and all the vile taunts that come with him; she handles a possible terrorist threat from the White House bomb shelter; and she does it all alongside her husband, who clearly still believes himself to be in charge. Francis is undoubtedly Claire’s biggest issue, and she deals with him commandingly. He continues to talk down to her and then call them ‘perfectly in sync’, and she continues to run the world in spite of him.
These episodes mark the first period of time in which Robin Wright’s ruthless pioneer outranks her husband in the eyes of others. She takes centre stage, and often centre screen, as Frank is literally relegated to the background. One scene has her standing over him, correcting him while he pants and sweats on the floor – it’s a reminder to everyone that Claire has waited longer, and more patiently, for absolute power.
Even without the election looming over them, these episodes contain as much tension as could be hoped for. The introduction of Patricia Clarkson’s covert diplomat Jane Davies is paced vigilantly – ensuring that the viewer is never sure of her motives or allegiances. Coupled with the rest of Episode 7’s claustrophobic storyline (which prompts LeAnn to ask ‘Wait – is something really happening?’ after assuming the threat was another Underwood technique), the feeling of urgency is woven masterfully throughout this part of the season.
Episode 8, while continuing Claire’s dealings with the distasteful Russian leader, takes a surreal turn for Frank. In the hope of swinging the election behind closed doors, the former President forces his way into an undeniably illuminati-esque meeting of billionaires and CEOs including Conway’s overly caring friend, Benjamin Grant, and House of Cards’ other favourite bad guy, Raymond Tusk. Their exchanges are subtle, steeped in subtext and aggression, but it’s clear that while Frank is more comfortable than Pollyhop’s Grant, he is still an outsider at the meeting, albeit by choice.
With both of the Underwoods concluding Episode 8 in major success, it is difficult not to be reminded that the pair are never really out of danger. Seth is still gunning for Doug, out of desperate fear rather than ambition; Tom is beginning to suspect that Rachel Posner’s disappearance, as well as Zoe Barnes’ accident, are more than a conspiracy theory; and with Frank deciding to employ power-hungry puppet-master Mark Usher (a disturbingly emotionless Campbell Scott), the ruthless duo have more than one fight left on their hands.
House of Cards Season 1 to 5 are available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.