S1 – 10/10 / S2 – 9.7/10 / S3 – 8/10 / S4 – 9.2/10 / S5 – 7.1/10 / S6 – 1/10
House of Cards follows Congressman Francis J. Underwood as he is betrayed of a promise he was made by the President of the United States to become the next Secretary of State, and conspires to get back at him in the ultimate way: by stealing his Presidency.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
CLC’s Best #HouseOfCards Episodes: 1. Chapter 1, 2. Chapter 8, 3. Chapter 26, 4. Chapter 5, 5. Chapter 14, 6. Chapter 17, 7. Chapter 10, 8. Chapter 2, 9. Chapter 24, 10. Chapter 3
Season 1 – 10/10
Review: Both meticulously crafted and satisfyingly exploring the inner-workings of the U.S. government, House of Cards follows the story of House majority whip Francis J. Underwood as he conspires to steal the presidency from Garrett Walker after he breaks his promise of making him Secretary of State. The show is one of the most famous shows out there right now, and the buzz is what convinced me to give it a try. It certainly did not disappoint, delivering one of the most intricately layered & executed seasons of television I have ever watched and becoming my Top 2nd favorite show of All-Time.
Even from the first episode, there is a sophistication and meticulous crafting of every scen, line of snappy dialogue and backwoods planning, scoring and cinematography, and, most of all, acting with a once in a lifetime type of cast that is perfectly balanced, led of course by the legendary Kevin Spacey who gives far and away the performance of his career and one of the best performances I can remember as Frank Underwood. His cold and calculating portrayal as well as how he manipulates democracy and the government is just enjoyable to watch and makes for wildly satisfying television, even making you laugh sometimes how phenomenally he portrays politicians and delivers some of his brutal and intimidating lines. Claire Underwood, portrayed by Robin Wright, is also skillfully acted and mimics her husband in many ways both in personality and ruthlessness, perhaps even more so in some of her actions like having a fellow employee fire staff from the CWI, only to fire her afterwards too.
I have to admit, the CWI storyline is the least interesting thing the season explores and my one complaint, be it a small one, is that I wish they spent a little less time on it, but nevertheless tells us a lot about Claire that will be of use in later seasons. Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Remy Danton (one of my favorite actors Mahershala Ali) and Congressman Peter Russo (Michael Stoll) all also play fascinating and richly developed/written characters that fit in perfectly with the theme of the show of power struggles and everyone trying to get ahead through sleazy connections and liaisons for their own personal agendas. It’s fitting that the show is called House of Cards, which, anyone who’s actually tried to build one with a playing deck, is very hard to keep up and has a lot of interconnected pieces that have big open spaces beneath them. There is so much symbolism in that that translates directly into the show and how complex and intricately constructed, like a card fortress, the inner-workings of the plot and behind-closed-doors government are and how skillfully, almost surgeon-like, the directors and writers navigate them and lay it out for the viewer.
Perhaps the craziest moment of the season is when Frank Underwood sets up the perfect crime and kills Peter Russo, his friend and former colleague, because he threatened to tell people about Underwood’s manipulation over him because of his drinking. That pretty much sums up how crazy and dark this world is, and also launched one of the most interesting storylines in Zoe’s turn from lover to investigator of Underwood’s back dealings with her reporter colleagues that will be heavily explored in Season 2.
The music theme of shifting and darkened piano melodies fits in well with the storyline and adds to the sleazy tone of what goes on behind closed doors in Washington. Frank’s talking to the camera as a sort of actor-narrator is also personable and involves the character in the story directly, an effective mechanism and together with the texts showing up on the screen make some of House of Cards’ motifs and defining devices. The cinematography is also very good with some well-set-up shots and a darkened pallette and color motif to go along with the, for lack of a better word, shadiness that befalls the inner-workings of the government & brand of politics the show portrays. That, along with great side stories like Frank returning home and fighting the Peachoid and opening a library at his old college and the Education battle are make for a perfect first season.
Overall Score: 10/10
Season 2 – 9.7/10
Review: I left Season 1 of House of Cards with my jaw firmly on the floor. Never before had I seen a show with such precision, such craftsmanship, such attention to detail and design, etc. It quickly became one of my favorite shows of All-Time and I went into Season 2 expecting more greatness, but seriously doubting they would be able to top S1’s glory. I was wrong. Season 2 of House of Cards is a masterpiece of American television that improves upon its predecessor in every conceivable way, raising the stakes and expertly weaving in new characters and plotlines, all while maintaining the original’s spirit and premise as one of the sharpest political dramas of All-Time. Season 2 picks up seconds after Season 1 ends, with Frank coming to grips with the fact that he just beat all odds and was able to claw his way up to becoming Vice-President of the United States, all, as he famously claims, without a single vote cast in his name. But this victory is short-lived as he and his team learn more about the investigations and people all around him trying to expose the truth. That is where Season 2 really turns up the intrigue and pressure, and makes it even more enthralling than Season 1: The investigation’s results and Lucas’ plotline.
The craziest moment in House of Cards, and even one in television history as far as I’m concerned, is found in this season, and it doesn’t waste any time getting right to it in the first episode: the train scene. Frank realizes Zoe Barnes and her journalistic crew are starting to connect the dots on his kill of Russo, and tricks her into stepping out of view so he can kill her too by throwing her in front of a train. I was absolutely floored by this scene, and it just highlights the storytelling magic of HoC being able to completely shock and one-up themselves, all while making it not too ridiculous with meticulous crafting and writing so that Frank covers his track and is able to fragment his enemy team.
Lucas’ storyline is also a blast, as we see him go 180′ from the good-boy reporter who used to lecture Zoe on journalistic ethics to cyber vigilante who’s seen firsthand how dark the world can be and is out for justice any way he can. The acting by Lucas, and this season in general but specifically him, is phenomenal as you truly feel his pain and the hot grips of his panic and desparation as he tries to take on seemingly impossible odds and out the 2nd most powerful man in the free world for a charge as high as murder.
The inter-weaving and complexity of the storyline just furthers why House of Cards is a perfect name for the show, as there are so many plots coinciding and people being leveraged or chasing their own agendas interacting, seemingly unbenownst to each other. The biggest example of where you can see this clearly is Lucas’ hacker training, when he is approached by Heronymous Bot, who is fake-helping him to hold off his own prison sentence, pressured by the FBI director who is chasing his own ambitions trying to impress Doug and the White House, while Lucas is after blood for Zoe’s death: 3+ storylines interweaving into one. The show is near surgical in how brillitantly its written, and if that isn’t perfect evidence, I don’t know what is.
Besides Heronymous and the FBI director, Season 2 throws a bunch of new faces and characters into the mix, and they all work due to the caliber of the actors and quality of the writing. Jackie Sharp and Mrs. Walker are two of my favorites, Jackie becoming like the new Frank and proving there may be something to that chair making people ruthless in lust for power and Mrs. Walker being played like a piano by Claire spinning her into doubting her marriage, self, etc. There is not a single character I dislike or that feels out of place, and that is always a triumph for a show taking the formula that works and taking it in new directions.
I also love how Season 2 feels so real, tackling hot-debate social issues and creating fake political stories that seem even more real than what’s really happening in some ways. Of course, the most wowing of these was Claire’s sexual-assault action, trying to cover up her abortion but opening the door to meaningful discussion on this important topic. The quarantine at the White House, China trade discussions, and energy crisis are also fascinating to watch and really complexly-laid-out stories that add a hyper-realism to the show as you feel these could be real stories in our world today. The pacing, score, and execution of the show are, as usual, top-notch as well.
Finally, the ending of the season. This is the most hype-inducing thing, as it culminates the entire show up to now and all of Frank’s intelligent planning and cunning: when he finally becomes President. The Underwoods’ manipulation of President Walker and his marriage as well as his foreign money dealings takes the cake as the most interesting and twisted storyline in how he bends them to fit his needs and pretends to be their friends to stab them in the back, and my favorite moment in the entire house of Cards show is when Frank takes over the president at Camp David and does his signature table-knock on the white house desk at the end of the S2 finale.
Overall Score: 9.7/10
Season 3 – 8/10
Review: I have to admit, season 3 of House of Cards was not all I expected it to be. The end of season 2 when Frank takes over the presidency at Camp David and ends with his signature knock on the White House table was perhaps the craziest and most awesome moment in the entire show’s history, which in coordination with the fact that Frank accomplished what he surgically crafted from the very first episode and years of planning got to be President of the United States, set the bar extremely high and gave me hopes that it would be the sam. Well, we didn’t get what we were promised, as can be seen the very first scene of the season: a huge jump in time to when Frank is months into his presidency instead of a direct follow-up, negating one of the most potentially fascinating storylines.
Instead, the season focuses on wildly varied storylines, some of them great, and some of them not so much so. My biggest complaints of the season are Doug’s recovery and personal life storyline, as well as Claire’s head-scratchingly random and infuriatingly hypocritical arc towards the end. Doug is a great character, but the fact that his recovery, that honestly could’ve been condensed into a single scene instead of taking up half the season, is such a highlight here is a poor choice, as it’s not a medical show and he’s just too stale a character to be given equal storyteliing time as Frank when there is ENDLESS potential painting what is happening and going to happen with his presidency.
Also, Claire has become one of the most annoying characters in the show, even in TV for my taste. Her tirade and complaints against Frank make absolutely no sense and come off almost like a PMS or she just doesn’t know what she’s doing and has no concrete grounds for feeling what she’s feeling besides a notion that ‘women are crazy so they can leave their guy and treat them like crap without reason just because they want to’. Her wanting Frank to take her like an animal is so hypocritical and weird, and her being mad at Francis for her own ineptitude in being able to achieve anything including her public office, which the RUSSIA STORYLINE told her she had to quit, not Francis. Finally, the camera seems like it has a filter on it or something as the colors seem darker for some reason, so dark that it’s gotten to the point that it looks unappealing which is bizarre.
Now, there are a flaws, but also a lot of things the season gets right. For one, the acting, storytelling skill, scoring, editing, pacing, and writing (besides the aforementioned problems) is top-notch and as good as ever and hold their own with any show on TV today, making it hard to truly take a dump on the season or say it was horrible. That’s the sign of a truly great show, when you have to compare it against itself when nothing else seems to really be in the league of it, so that alone makes it respectable. It also deserves respect for trying something new and different, and introducing a bunch of new character and storylines that, for the most part, are great. The Russia storyline is fascinating, especially President Underwood’s relationship and interactions with the sly and cunning President Petrov. Also, Claire’s time as UN Ambassador (before she got annoying in the end) and efforts there are cool to watch, as well as of course Frank’s exploits as President which take the cake as most interesting by far and why I wish they’d spent more time on it. Finally, Dunbar is a great and thoroughly-developed character this season and the election storyline and behind-closed-doors vibe is a strong storyline as well that makes this season more thumbs-up than throw-away.
Overall, Season 3 of House of Cards is great television by any other show’s standards, but falls a bit flat compared to the bar set by its predecessor seasons. With an over-focus on uninteresting storylines and transformation of Claire into hatable character, but the same strong acting, writing, execution, and storytelling, S3 of House of Cards progresses the story in a serviceable way and still leaves excitement for where they’ll go in S4.
Overall Score: 8/10
Season 4 – 9.2/10
Review: Last season of House of Cards struggled a bit. With overlong and some full storylines like Doug’s familial relations and the Russia story arc, I was a little concerned about S4 following the same problem, although I was definitely intrigued due to House of Cards’ history and the shock ending of Claire telling Frank she’s leaving him. The season opening immediately drew attention though due to its uncensored and wild subject matter, as well as its re-introduction of one of my favorite characters from S1-2: Lucas Goodwin!
After not including him even one episode last season, it was refreshing to see his character play such an important role again, signifying a true returning to roots like I wanted in HoC S4. The season also benefits from clear direction in Claire’s goals of establishing her own career and Francis trying to get re-elected, and from the addition of a finely acted role of Claire’s disgruntled mother, diving into her past like I have called for in the past. Let’s talk about that assassination attempt: one of the craziest moments in HoC and on tv and one of the most memorable scenes I’ve seen in House of Cards.
If S3’s problem was a seeming lack of interesting story arc’s, this completely blows that out of the water. The medical side story is well-placed and ties the show into its other seasons through the flashbacks to Underwood’s victims Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes and the guilt he feels. The transition between Dunbar competing with him in the Democratic party who self0sabotages and drops out to Conway in the overall Presidential battle feels natural and keeps focus on the most fascinating part of politics and best storyline they could possibly explore: The Presidential Election.
A true return to form and the magic of S1-2, both with the reintroduction of key characters from S1-2 like Lucas Goodwin, Tom Hammerschmidt, Zoe Barnes, Peter Russo, etc. and with storylines just as, if not MORE fascinating than the process of manipulating government to steal the presidency like S1-2 explored. Some of these storylines include such humanly-wired-to-be-fascinating storylines like an assassination attempt of the president, government surveillance, and the shift to the primary Presidential Race between the Democrat and Republican candidates.
Overall Score: 9.2/10
Season 5 – 7.1/10
Review: With Season 4’s return to the roots of House of Cards and insane cliffhanger with the terror plot, there were huge expectations for House of Cards S5. How were they going to deal with the Hammerschmidt article, ICO storyline, and what would be the outcome of the election the show has been building to? With characteristic strong acting, but extremely repetitive plotlines, strange pacing issues, and a lackluster middle third, House of Cards S5 is good, but not great by the show’s standards.
The terror angle for Season 5 is an intriguing plot choice, and one that is highly realistic with the current tragic state of the world at this moment. Underwood’s use of the story as a ploy to direct attention off of him and the Hammerschmidt article is as characteristically dark and twisted as we’ve come to expect from him and shows his refusal to give up the seat of power. It also is amusingly similar and breathtakingly ironic with all the actual stories and scandals in the Trump Administration today. The clear direction of the show ramping up to the election is also satisfying; not being weighed down by too many conflicting subplots like S3 is refreshing and something that builds tension and anticipation to this all-important plot point the show has been circling for the past 2 years. I must admit, one of my fears for the season was that they were going to further drag on the election to last the whole season. Luckily, they addressed that very soon with the election already starting to happen in the third episode and a huge plot twist in that Frank is initially losing.
One of the most memorable moments in the season came in Ep. 3 where Frank and Claire are in the White House screening room watching the classic movie ‘Double Indemnity’ and begin to act out scenes in front of the projector screen. The choice of film is classic and an amusing metaphor for the Underwoods, and seeing their acting chops matched up against the classic is just a thing to behold. The election storyline is incredibly well-done and one of the most fascinating plot executions in the show, in part due to it tapping into the natural appeal of elections and also how Frank and Claire are sabotaging and manipulating it to make sure that they don’t lose which is the type of shady politics and backwoods government dealings that made the show binge-worthy in the first place, but on a grand scale. However, even with all this stuff, the plot twist of Conway winning at first is shocking and simply great television.
However, this seemed to be a misdirect as after Underwood’s ploy to sabotage and stop the election, the gridlock in the House and country kept the election storyline being drawn out longer and longer, such that it got to be annoying instead of entertaining and confirmed my fear for the season and shows in general: dragging out one storyline to likely the finale to keep viewers watching for another season. I hate when shows do this to increase their number of seasons without just telling the story and not worrying about a superficial number like that. The show seems to almost completely lose its way in the second half, in an astonishingly different result for the show. Yes, Frank wins the election which is what most people wanted to happen. But, right after he wins, it’s back to scandals and impeachment talks that the show has been digging up from all of the last seasons and which were PUT TO BED ALREADY. It seems as if House of Cards is running low on ideas and dipping back into the past instead of trail-blazing, which is admittedly sad to see.
The ending makes no sense either, as Frank somehow has the enlightened idea to resign from the presidency he has spent the last 4 seasons killing himself to achieve and tries to convince himself, Claire, and the audience that he planned it. I am struggling to find out how he could have possibly planned or wanted to give up the presidency right as he first legitimately earns it, or if it is just a reflection of his personality that he sees his failures as successes, but either way it is disappointing and head-scratching to say the least. Finally, I do like the idea of Claire as President in theory, but feel that its execution was all wrong. Again, Frank giving up the presidency right after he wins it makes the whole season and arguably much of the past few seasons pointless and I simply do not understand why he would think private sector is a better fit. The only saving grace in this finale is the ending of Claire not pardoning and betraying Frank, which could open the door to a whole slew of revenge storylines in S6, but this is bittersweet as I feel the show is declining fast and could have and perhaps should have ended with S5.
Overall, I won’t lie: I am pretty disappointed with this season of House of Cards. It just seems like an amalgamation of past seasons, with new characters remarkably less interesting than past ones and storylines that make you want the season to end instead of never end like in Seasons 1 and 2. The whole season is also kind of made meaningless by the ending, which is a head-scratching move and one that keeps me vaguely interested for S6, but not nearly as excited as I was for past seasons and I hope S6 ends it. With characteristic strong acting, but extremely repetitive plotlines, strange pacing issues, and a lackluster middle third, House of Cards S5 is good, but not great by the show’s standards.
Overall Score: 7.1/10
Season 6 – 1/10
Review: I can’t even believe what I just watched. Or put into words how thoroughly harrowing it was to watch the final season of what was objectively one of the greatest shows ever made in House of Cards; a craftsmen, engrossing political drama as slick and underhanded as the backwoods politicians’ world it painted, as well as revolutionary being the original binge-watch show ~single-handedly spawning a market shift from broadcast to streaming & making Netflix the powerhouse it is today. That success & legacy was due far-and-away to its brilliantly written, acted, and materialized main protagonist: Francis J. Underwood. And it’s ironic their handling of him is also now its downfall.
The inane, imbecilic decision to end the series excluding your Walter White and the character who BUILT your show and network entirely, as nonchalantly dead in a cop-out time-jump only given few seconds’ consideration and even pretentious disrespect and attempted erasure with lines like “Do you even miss Francis?”, Claire saying she “never loved” and “just used him for politics”, and even trying to tarnish his legacy and discredit the first five seasons of the show is one of the most insulting and offensive decisions I’ve ever watched. How. dare. they. There are so many options for what could have been done – just leaving it on S5’s cliffhanger, having one explanatory finale episode (eliminating need for a full season’s hiring of Spacey), or.. just letting him finish this last season but excluding him from any future business (yes he’s a terrible person and deserves punishment.. but you owe it to the genre, art, and a series with this All-Time pedigree to give it a proper ending not letting it die such a fiery dumpster death viewers centuries from now unknowing and uncaring of the context behind it will just laugh at its fall from greatness.
The season is one of the worst, most inane, uninspired, nonsensical, and erratic seasons of television ever produced – absolutely shocking. I did watch it all the way through (now just trying to save others the misfortune) – pacing is absolutely painful, writing a shadow of what it used to be with cheap and lazy plotlines like tired rehashes of the assassination, ICO, and Russia threads, lifeless and flat new characters in the Shepherds (although Diane Lane is a singular pro in the endless despair here), and does little to even counterproduction to female empowerment – besides the fact it’s a woman president, Claire looks visibly shaky and uncomfortable as the lead (as do the showrunners) is painted as an ineffectual, erratic, overly-emotional leader unable to inspire respect or professionally maintain control over anything, and blames everyone and everything but herself and sexism for all her problems (not sure that portrayal helps prove wrong the naysayers.. and minorities would like to blame racism too for everything but it doesn’t accomplish much).
None of the characters are given even remotely satisfying endings either, with my vote for worst series finale I have EVER seen (ironic coming from the same series giving us one of the best season finales ever in Season 2’s) without any remote sense of desire or responsibility wasting time discussing pleasantries like diary entries and salads (yes, salads.. in the House of Cards series finale..) and ending abruptly in a migraine-inducing cliffhanger twist making absolutely no sense and still providing NO closure or finality reveals of how the presidency, Shepherds, or even Claire’s stories end.
Overall, what was once a brilliant political drama amongst the pantheon of greatest television series ever made has come to a pretentious, ill-advised, sloppily-handled, brutal suffering death it is actually better to *ignore the final season altogether* (never suggest that as criticism shouldn’t turn away people from art, unless it ruins your experience of a series.. like here) as canon or imagine your own ending than it is to see.
Overall Score: 1/10