With Season 5 of HoC launching next week (30 May), we bring you bang up to date with the latest from the underhanded Underwoods in our spoiler-heavy recap…
Those who’ve followed Frank’s sordid trajectory from lowly House Majority Whip to Vice President to inheritor President will be glued to their screens this 30 May. That’s right, the Underwoods are back for another unscrupulous season, and they’re dancing dangerously close to current affairs in their insatiable quest for power.
It’s been a long time between drinks for HoC fans, but never fear – we’ve got you covered. Read on for our spoiler-laden overview of Seasons 1 through 4…
A quick warning: this recap is teeming with integral plot points, so don’t ruin anything for yourself! Never seen the show? Step away now and head on over to Netflix.
WARNING: HUGE SPOILERS FOR HOUSE OF CARDS SEASONS 1-4 BELOW
ONLY READ IF YOU’RE UP TO SPEED
Meet Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democrat from the south, House Majority Whip (the guy in the White House charged with keeping everyone in line), and all round bad egg. Frank’s not exactly a team player, but he’s willing to bring us along for the ride as he tries to climb the political ladder by any means possible.
The series kicks off with Frank being (to put it lightly) somewhat disappointed about not being nominated for Secretary of State following his important role in getting President Garrett Walker elected. Rocked by the news he quickly forms his revenge plan, tapping up ambitious young journalist Zoe Barnes and feeding her stories about his contemporaries from inside the administration. Frank and Zoe soon embark on a partnership that goes beyond just work, which Frank’s equally driven wife, Claire, fully supports. Because they’re *that* kind of couple.
Phase two of Frank’s plan effectively involves chewing up and spitting out Peter Russo, Pennsylvania congressman and known drink and drugs addict. First up, Frank forces Peter into helping ruin the current Secretary of State candidate’s reputation. Frank then plays a complicated mind game in which he sets Peter up to run for Governor of Pennsylvania – sobering him up only to lure him back into temptation. Why? So that the VP (who’s from Pennsylvania) would step down to clean things up and free up the position for Frank.
But running with Frank gets a bit too much for Peter – he’s soon had enough of the manipulation and moves to come clean about all their plotting. This forces Frank to dial the ‘evil’ up to 11. He promptly kills Peter, making it look like a suicide.
Unbelievably, Peter’s death steers Frank’s plan back on track; he’s able to convince the new VP to head back to govern Pennsylvania. But Frank’s next career move is far from locked in. President Walker tells him that he’s eyeing old friend Raymond Tusk to fill in as VP, meaning Frank has to set up a meeting of the minds to scope out yet another new rival. Only, it’s all a ruse! The President actually wants Frank for VP, and Tusk’s job was simply to vet him for the role. The season ends with Frank as Vice President, sworn in without a single vote ever being cast in his favour. Sneaky.
Welcome back, sociopaths. This season sees Frank’s rise to power reach its optimum conclusion, but not without plenty more betrayal, plotting and wrongdoing along the way. And it kicks off with a bang.
Remember Zoe? The reporter Frank used and abused in season one (now working at a trendy politico website) has eyes on exposing the Underwoods as the wolves in sheep’s clothing they really are. Obviously Frank isn’t about to let that happen, so he duly pushes her in front of a train.
Zoe’s friendzoned partner in crime Lucas spends most of season two obsessing over the mystery of her apparent suicide, becoming embroiled in the underground hacker scene in a bid to earn the trust of a man who claims to be able to help. But whaddaya know: it’s all an FBI-organised trap, and Lucas ends up behind bars. Thanks for playing.
Back in the White House, the bulk of the season’s political plot revolves around a Democratic Super PAC (Political Action Committee). A what? Put simply, old Raymond Tusk is involved in a mutually beneficial money laundering scheme with the Chinese, in which huge amounts of cash are being raised and everybody on Tusk’s side wins, including the President. Except President Walker doesn’t know anything about this super illegal money machine, which makes things especially galling when Frank forces it out into the open and Tusk wastes no time in throwing the Prez to the lions.
With impeachment looming, poor Garrett Walker is forced to resign as President. And guess who’s there to be sworn into power in his wake? That’s right, Frank Underwood. The big subplots in this season involve the ongoing public fallout from an affair Claire had with an old flame in season one, while there’s also the apparent death of Frank’s closest ally Doug Stamper following an attack by Rachel – a prostitute who knows too much about the whole Peter Russo debacle from season one.
Doug’s not dead! But his injuries mean he’s unfit for work and that’s not something he’s very happy about. When he regains consciousness Frank’s been in the presidential driving seat for six months, and things aren’t going well. President Underwood is shaping up to be the least popular PotUS ever, while his support within the Democratic Party is dwindling to practically nought.
To make matters worse, his relationship with Claire – who’d previously been his rock – is on the rocks. The two are at loggerheads throughout the third season over a variety of things, but most notably Claire’s feeling that it’s her time to step into the limelight. Frank gives her what he thinks is a token job as UN Ambassador, but when she takes to it with aplomb his fobbing off begins to backfire, sparking trouble with the definitely-not-Vladimir-Putin Russian President and widening their rift.
And, while it was always insinuated that the two exist in a happily loveless marriage, things probably aren’t helped by the increasing hints that Frank is secretly gay. With all signs pointing towards a relationship breakdown, Claire ends the season by asking Frank for a divorce.
Meanwhile, Doug’s road to recovery sees him as the star of a kind of extended, season-long training montage. He flirts with rival job offers but ends up back in Frank’s fold, from where he instigates Rachel’s untimely, offscreen demise.
The politics may take a backseat to the relationship drama in this season, but a fiery debate at the season’s climax sees Frank back on top form, throwing House Whip Jackie Sharp (whom Frank first groomed into the position) under the proverbial bus during a debate about education.
We return to our protagonists in turmoil – ain’t love a rocky road? Done with sitting on the sidelines, Claire’s rising to the top. And, as the only one who truly understands Francis Underwood, she’s well placed to bring him down.
Back at the ranch her mother inhabits in Texas, we watch Claire’s political aspirations unfurl, before an assassination attempt on Frank by Lucas Goodwin in episode 4 brings a lightbulb moment for our star. Armed with the newfound revelation that the pair are better (or worse) together than he could hope to be apart, Frank admits to Claire: “I said you were nothing without me; it’s the other way around.” More strategic than sweet, the pair reunite – that’s Frank, Claire… And novelist/Claire’s live-in lover Tom Yates. Yeah…
With the season framed around an impending election, Claire’s mother eventually (and conveniently) dies. This helps Claire secure the votes required to be on the bill as Frank’s VP – an act of nepotism we like to assure ourselves would not fly in real life, even with the political landscape as it stands.
Prior to shooting Frank, and his own subsequent demise, the newly-released-from-prison Lucas had been pursuing a different path. Confronting Democratic candidate Heather Dunbar, he pleads for help in bringing Frank down – something Heather resists at the time but takes up upon being outed for the meeting and having her campaign suspended. Her cooperation with reporter Tom Hammerschmidt – to investigate Frank’s abuses of power – leads to the publication of a damning Washington Herald article.
However, despite exposing a rather crooked path to the White House, it only serves to further strengthen the Underwoods’ resolve. Playing up the threat posed by ICO (HoC’s version of ISIS), it’s now game on to foster a culture of fear, and “attack people’s hearts” as they propel themselves to political glory. Will it work? That’s Season 5 territory.
Before we close out the Season 4 finale, Claire breaks the fourth wall (the imagined wall which separates actors from the audience) with Frank for the first time. It may only be a glimpse, but it’s unprecedented; she’s finally his equal. And she knows it.
What can we expect from season 5?
Will an intentional war win the election? Or will rival Will Conway knock Frank off his presidential perch? Judging by the trailer, Frank certainly backs himself: “Underwood, 2016. 2020. 2024. 2028. 2032. 2036. One nation, Underwood.” The words are uttered with true confidence in his rye and slimy style.
This season will be the first without creator Beau Willimon, who left the show last year. He’s been replaced by senior writers Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese, but any impact is unclear. However, with the next election looming, don’t expect morals to return any time soon. Will Claire start delivering cold monologues to the camera on the regular? We’ll have to wait and see.
Whatever happens, Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper) has hinted at the demise of a main character. Is that Claire or Frank main? Producers remain typically tight-lipped, but we’ll soon know for sure. In the meantime, check out the trailer. Or don’t; unlike Frank, we will let you choose what’s best.
All caught up… And that’s that! Like we said, there’s a lot more going on alongside the main drama here, so it’s well worth dipping back in if you’ve got time. You can watch all of House of Cards here.