Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TV Review: House of Cards (U.S.) Season 5

Political fiction, for reasons beyond my understanding, are incredibly difficult to do well. I think it might be because I know just enough to break the suspension of disbelief. I know enough of the norms of American, Canadians, and (to a lesser extent) British politics to know what is reasonable and plausible. I suppose I should say something like "asterisk Trump" but he, tragically, exists within a certain norms.

Beau Willimon, showrunner and creator of the American House of Cards, is a passionate critic of American politics so it is easy to see these influences on the show.

I consider myself an intelligent fellow and savvy viewer of television, yet after 13 episodes of House of Cards season 5 I feel reasonably confident I couldn't tell you what the hell is going on in this season.

As I start parsing the show I come up with easily a dozen plot lines but none hold primacy, nor stand out. I suppose the primary plot is Frank Underwood's desperate gamble to stay in power. He faces twin threats: a congressional committee investigating his potential criminal acts and the election. The latter is the far more interesting angle. Elections are fantastic sources for drama and intrigue. Even the savviest politician in a democracy is powerless in the face of the electorate's will. Willimon takes the audience through an electoral crisis. Key states are unable to certify (confirm) their election results due to widespread disruption. This throws the entire election into question. While some of the wheeling and dealing is interesting the minutiae is tedious at times, especially because the same characters flip-flop back and forth.

House of Cards has a real character problem. It doesn't know how to grow, develop, or introduce new characters. Three major new characters joined the show, and for the life of me I cannot tell you their names, nor could I while watching the show. I looked it up, the characters I have in mind is Campbell Scott as Mark Usher, Patricia Clarkson as Jane Davis, and James Martinez as Alex Romero. *Shrug*

I hate to repeat myself, but much of my reservations about seasons three and four are only worse here. We are no longer co-conspirators with Frank. The audience is left in the dark, or at least I was. The fun of the show is cold and dead. All that's left are hollow twists purporting to be clever schemes.  

It's a real shame. The show has a some great moments and was truly exciting at points. Here I'm particularly remembering those great fourth-wall-breaking quips of Frank's. I hope the early season inspires future TV creators to produce works that give the audience what season five fails to deliver.

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