WASHINGTON, June 10, 2017 — The recent presidential election has spawned conspiracy theories: The Clinton campaign murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich; Russian agents swayed the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
The political atmosphere in the fictional America of U.S. President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is even more toxic as Season 5 opens in the Netflix original series “House of Cards.”
We know from previous seasons that there are no reprisals too petty for Underwood, nor “friends” whose backs are left un-stabbed if stabbing them bolsters his power.
Like Shakespeare’s arch villain Richard III, Underwood gladly regales us with soliloquies and asides, breaking the fourth wall separating him from the viewing audience to unravel his folksy expositions on the realpolitik that animates his loathsome actions.
“My God, you’re addicted to action and slogans. 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. And, frankly, I don’t blame you.
“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.
“The deck is stacked; the rules are rigged. Welcome to the death of the Age of Reason. There is no right or wrong. Not anymore. There’s only being in and then being out.”
Over the last four seasons, we’ve watch Underwood rise from Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives to Vice President. He brilliantly engineers the involvement of clueless President Garrett Walker (Michel Gill) in a financial scandal involving shadowy Chinese agents, which forces Walker’s resignation ahead of certain impeachment.
He concocts his rise to power without ever facing a party primary, a general election or the Electoral College. In this, Frank Underwood is truly a self-made man.
Fueling Underwood’s climb is a seething anger at President Walker for denying the lowly congressman from South Carolina what he thought was his due: an appointment to the office of secretary of state.
Now Underwood faces a young, charismatic Republican presidential nominee and governor of New York State, Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), while House Republicans debate the need for investigative committees to explore whether Underwood committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” while serving as vice president.
As Season 5 opens, Underwood storms into the House chamber uninvited, as a few powerful Democrats manage to wrangle him into the well of the House.
“I demand that every member of this House take a stand,” says Underwood. “Like FDR before, and Wilson before him, I demand that this Congress declare a formal declaration of war against ICO [the Islamic Caliphate Organization] both here and abroad … And I demand that every member of this House stay in this chamber for as long as it takes until you bring my request to a vote. Or you will all go down in history as cowards! Cowards!”
“The Sergeant at Arms will remove the president,” shouts the gavel-pounding Speaker of the House. At that, two hulking Secret Service Agents take positions on either side of President Underwood, telegraphing their intention to stop any who would touch the chief executive.
There’s a presidential election going on, after all, and it won’t do for talk of Underwood’s possible impeachment to take up the lion’s share of the news cycle. So the president changes the national conversation in dramatic fashion, using the war on terror as a pretext to expand his executive power, with an eye toward influencing the vote in five battleground states.
In Season 5, First Lady and 2016 vice presidential candidate Clair Underwood (Robin Wright) is coming into her own, with many a Washington power broker whispering in her ear how much they prefer her over her politically damaged husband.
In a sign of her awakening ambition, she breaks the fourth wall to tells us:
“Just to be clear, it’s not like I haven’t always known you were there. It’s that I have mixed feelings about you. I question your intentions and I’m ambivalent about attention. But don’t take it personally. It’s how I feel about most everybody.”
Beneath Clair Underwood’s poised, well-dressed, soft-spoken and carefully manicured political persona lurks a predator with the cunning of a serial killer. One who has learned much from her husband and stands poised to better the instruction.
“House of Cards” is currently streaming on Netflix.