In only 2 weeks, Netflix will release Season 5 of the critically-acclaimed House of Cards, but it will do so with the understanding that it might have become irrelevant. In the time between seasons, politics in America and around the world have been changed in unprecedented ways, and perhaps viewers will no longer want to see a show with a power-mad President or the unspoken villainy present in shady back-room deals. But, thanks to last season perhaps being the best one since the first, I re-watched the show and have put together a list of important plots, characters, and things to remember before heading into the next season.
Season 5 will kick off right where Season 4 ended, with the Presidential election of 2016 in full swing. Frank Underwood, after some chicanery after the DNC, is running with his wife, Claire, in the VP spot. His opponent is New York Governor Will Conway, the antithesis of everything Frank is, save for his ruthless ambition to become President of the United States. Outside the election, journalist Tom Hammerschmidt has slowly been piecing together the story of how Frank manipulated acts to force former President Garrett Walker to resign, leading to Frank’s ascension to the presidency, and perhaps, his murders of Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo. It looks like his threat to release the story, with on-the-record statements from Remy Danton, Jackie Sharp, and President Walker, will be realized this season if some of the promos are to be believed. Lastly, the most immediate crisis brewing is the kidnapping and killing of an American citizen by domestic terrorists pledging allegiance to ICO (Islamic Caliphate Organization) a.k.a. the ISIS stand-in for the show. That story-line looks to be resolved in the first couple of episodes, perhaps even done by the end of the first, but was important because of the potential ways Frank could play Conway’s reaction to it.
So, broadly, that’s what was happening last season, and what might be important moving forward. But let’s get a bit more specific by looking at each of our main players.
Now the President of the United States, Frank is in serious danger of losing that power if he doesn’t do something drastic. Early in season 4, he had to deal with primary challenger Heather Dunbar beating him for the Presidential nomination, as a result of him reigning in on his announcement to be a one-term president from Season 3. Unfortunately for Dunbar, and I guess Frank, President Underwood is shot by former Washington Herald reporter Lucas Goodwin, on account that no-one would listen to his story about being framed for espionage by the government or that Frank killed Zoe Barnes, halting her momentum as Underwood gained sympathy among the voters and revelations that Goodwin had spoke to her before the attempt. After Frank’s VP Donald Blythe is subtly convinced not to remain on the ticket, he promises to support long-time ally Cathy Durant for the VP spot, only to betray her and instead build-up support for Claire to become his VP. He has new rival, though, in New York Governor Will Conway, who is young, in a loving marriage, is incredibly open to his supporters and the media, and most importantly, more popular with the voting public. In the last episode of Season 4, Frank realizes that he has no chance of out-doing Conway in terms of likeability, so he adopts a new method of governing: ruling by fear, presumably by scaring the public into submission through fear tactics, strong-arming, and creating a more uncertain future for the country with war or other such conflicts.
Claire had a busy season last time around, so lets juts start with her brief separation from Frank that starts off the season. She also wants the power that Frank wields, and decides to start her own political career by running for a House seat in her home state of Texas, much to the chagrin of the daughter of the current House member who will be running upon her mother’s retirement. When Frank is dismissive of her ambitions, she leaks a photo of Frank’s father with the KKK and threatens to divorce him. Their tension is thrown out when Frank is shot, and she takes it upon herself to help smooth over talks with Russian President Petrov by secretly helping acting-President Donald Blythe and taking over for Secretary Durant in face-to-face negotiations. Upon Frank’s recovery, she succeeds in convincing him to secretly push for her to become his VP in the upcoming election. The chaos at the convention almost keeps her from that goal, but thanks to the assisted suicide of her sick mother, whom she had been using as an alibi throughout the season for the time away from Frank, she is chosen to be the VP. She has also entered into a relationship with Tom Yates, the author from Season 3, which Frank is okay with because he knows he cannot satisfy all of her needs. If Claire’s thirst for power rivals her husband’s, prepare to see her positioning herself to becoming President very soon.
After his very eventful arc in Season 3, Doug settled back into his normal role as Frank’s trusted confidant and fellow schemer. After Frank is shot, Doug does everything he can to bully the Secretary of Health to moving up Frank on the kidney donor list, saving his life but condemning someone else to death. After the Secretary sends him a donor page set up by the dead man’s family for medical bills and whatnot, Doug, feeling guilty, donates $5000 dollars, attracting the attention of the man’s widow. They meet and Doug begins to start a relationship with her. Doug has never been very lucky with his potential romances, so I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop and she finds out why her husband died.
The newest addition to the main cast, Governor Conway is just as ruthless as Underwood, but is much better at hiding it. A social media darling with a beautiful family, he wastes no opportunity to position himself as a JFK-esque figure who can bring DC out of the darkness cast by Frank. He’s a war vet who signed up the day after 9/11 (what a coincidence!) and puts himself in front of a camera at any possible opportunity. Frank opines to him that Conway enjoys running for President, being the crowd-pleasing favorite, but will likely find the job frustrating as most of the work is done behind the scenes. And in private, we’ve seen Conway is prone to outbursts over things not going his way, and perhaps, has unsettling experiences of his time in the army. If anything that doesn’t conform to the perfect appearance of him gets out, it would likely be very easy for Conway to bungle the story and lose him votes. Also, in one moment of possible foreshadowing, he has a conversation with his wife about he doesn’t like Scorpio, Tom Yates’s book, because it ends with someone committing suicide. To Conway, he sees that as a coward’s way out, but on a show that’s had plenty of deaths and murders, wouldn’t that be a way for him to go, especially if it turns out his life isn’t so perfect after all? Food for thought.
Hammerschmidt has been around in some capacity since the very beginning of the show, where he was the chief editor of the Washington Herald, where both Zoe Barnes and Lucas Goodwin worked in Season 1. He watched from the side after being pushed out at the Herald, but after seeing his former co-worker Lucas attempting to assassinate President Underwood, he started his own investigation about Goodwin’s claims about Frank. After talking to the right people, he has prepared a story that proves Frank knowingly worked towards Garret Walker’s removal from the White House, as well as how he worked with Zoe to bring down his enemies from season 1, even if he hasn’t found proof that Frank and Zoe were sleeping together nor that Frank murdered her and Peter Russo. It looks like he will be building up to that story as the season goes on, probably finding more information on Rachel Posner, the prostitute Doug used to destroy Russo’s career, as well. If he isn’t dead by the end of the season, he could be just the guy to end Frank’s monstrous swath of destruction through DC.
Seth Grayson/ LeAnn Harvey
I put these two together because their storylines seem to be explicitly built of each other. Seth is the White House Press Secretary and LeAnn, after agreeing to work with Claire on her failed House race at the beginning of Season 4, was brought in to help with Frank’s presidential campaign.
Last season, Doug started to play them off each other, especially once he learned Seth leaked a photo of Frank with a Confederate Civil War reenactor taken during Season 2 during the whole KKK debacle in South Carolina. He wanted Seth to prove his worth by finding dirt on LeAnn, which he was unable to do.
As for LeAnn, she hasn’t shown any subversive tendencies yet, nor has she shown any secret desire to bring down the Underwoods or Grayson, but on this show, I don’t expect her to be sitting out of the back-handedness very long. One other note; she has been shown to own and carry a gun, and that doesn’t seem like a prop that would get pointed out without some sort of payoff coming…
Remy Danton/ Jackie Sharp
These two kept a relatively low profile in Season 4, only showing up a handful of times, but could become very important as Frank’s close-door chicanery starts to leak out. After incriminating photos were taken of them coming out of a hotel together, Jackie and Remy disappeared until Hammerschmidt came around looking for details on President Walker’s oust from the White House, at which point they both agreed to tell him what they had done. In response, Jackie told her husband about the affair with Remy, and, pending a divorce, she is now committed to riding off into the sunset with him. Their last scene, getting ready to drive somewhere far away from the DC intrigue, implies that we might not see them again anytime soon, and maybe they deserve that chance of escaping the shadow of Frank Underwood.
So, I hope that gets you ready for Season 5! It may not top reality, but after Season 4’s success, I want to know if Frank starts a total dictatorship or if he gets brought down by any one of the hundreds of people he’s pissed off over the show.