House of Cards season 5 episode 1 review: Trump is there, like a weed growing through cracks

*Mild spoilers for S05E01 of House of Cards*

The problem for shows like House of Cards and Veep is that they can’t not acknowledge Trump. As much as they might want to just keep their heads down and explore their own stories, by virtue of them being predicated on a real world institution they can’t ignore a political shift without damaging their own authenticity. This sucks if you’re a screenwriter; who knows what Donald Trump will do in 11 days, let alone in 11 months when the season launches? Trump is an existential threat to House of Cardsraison d’être, a show the premise of which could be reductively be boiled down to: ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if the president was only interested in power, not policy?’

Almost certainly in response to the bullish new real world president, President Underwood’s ruthless and disruptive nature has been ratcheted up. There is a long list of things about the first episode Netflix has asked me not to disclose and I’m not going to, but the most obvious Trump parallel is not particularly spoilerific, seeing Underwood sit in on Congress. A highly unusual move for a president, Frank further ruffles feathers when he speaks in front of the House of Representatives, launching into a shouty, kind-of reverse filibuster, demanding the US makes a declaration of war. There is the President of the United States, angry, impulsive and capricious, breaking protocols and having no regard for the political system; you can draw the dots (and again with a certain immigration policy Frank proposes, and then again with frustration over his lack of press briefings).

Season 5 finds ICO, House of Cards‘ ISIS stand in, still the main political trending topic, and foreign policy looks set to be a multi-episode focus. Claire Underwood is still very much a key player and, judging by the opener, only looks set to become more powerful and influential, something on the surface of it useful to Frank, but also something he should probably be wary of.

Despite the departure of creator Beau Willimon this season, the show is as smart, barbed and menacing as ever. I only hope it can up the stakes when it comes to its protagonist, as the last two seasons I felt confused as to Frank’s motives. We know he’s not interested in changing the world so, now he’s achieved the position he wanted, what drives him? Where is he heading as president? With the end of the show starting to loom on the horizon, hopefully this season we’ll get a sense of how his presidency is going to wrap up.

All episodes of House of Cards season 5 go live on Netflix on 30 May.


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