Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 9 to 11 of House of Cards Season 5. Not seen the latest season? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
Francis Underwood has uttered several quotes alluding to the fact that seizing power is tough, but keeping it is tougher. These three episodes highlight that fact. Beginning with Frank’s inauguration, his fourth-wall breaking speech on being in charge whether you like it or not is another in a long line of moments that ring a little too true in a world of staunchly divided political opinion. Once he’s confirmed President, though, Netflix’s shady drama wastes no time in putting the pressure back on the conniving leader.
The Underwoods’ loose ends come back to haunt them – as they always do – as Tom Hammerschmidt (a fearless, knowing Boris McGiver) continues his investigation into Zoe Barnes’ death and Rachel Posner’s disappearance. His interest is peaked with Lisa Williams’ involvement, and when anonymous USB-drives filled with information arrive at his desk, the situation becomes serious. Reacting to this leak, Frank forces surveillance upon his own people during episodes in which his paranoia is at an all-time high.
Having been betrayed by former-President Garrett Walker at the committee hearings, Kevin Spacey’s lethal leader seems to struggle with the onslaught of problems. Questioning even Claire as she purposely distances herself from him, this is Underwood as we have rarely seen him before. It’s a tense time in the underhanded world of House of Cards, making the experience of watching it that much more gripping. Amping up as we head towards the final episodes, every character seems to be close to success, or close to ruin.
Expertly plotted, the timing and intertwining of each story arc to come crashing down at once is as Underwood-esque as can be imagined, scattering all the pieces on the board in a chaotic dash for the finish line. The pressure and seriousness are put on the map by the unexplained escape (and implied murder) of Aiden MacAllen, and when the inciting incident is the death of a man who changed the course of an election, you know things are getting serious.
Throughout Francis’ impending impeachment, Claire must remain neutral in order to support or succeed her husband. She repeatedly meets with Jane Davis, a character poetically constructed as likable but totally, morally elusive. Robin Wright’s on-screen time with Kevin Spacey is taut and often brief, her time elsewhere suggesting she is fraught with loneliness. In a particularly alarming moment, she confesses to Tom that Frank has killed, seeming less like a romantic, trusting gesture and more like a desperate grab at one, as their relationship becomes forced, functional, and disapproved of by her husband. Throughout, Wright is exquisite, giving Claire the power to be paradoxically vulnerable as well as formidable, without sacrificing the piercing impact of either.
With Francis appearing to be running out of options, with Doug barely eluding Hammerschmidt and losing the one non-political relationship he has with Linda Moretti, it would appear that the only White House party left in any control is Claire Underwood. But what will she do with it?
House of Cards Season 1 to 5 are available to watch online on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.