Episode eight of House of Cards season five begins with a cold open depicting a strange ritual of the Washington elite. In attendance is Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), mingling around the red-robed politicians in attempts to swing the election, even though he believes he would be better suited in Ohio outright.
Back in the White House, sitting President Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is tasked with grappling with the ever-elusive Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) and a situation involving a United States citizen supposedly working with the Russians on a research boat.
Claire chooses to act with caution and skepticism. Frank, on the other hand, is acting with anxious frustration. Juxtaposing the two characters makes for some interesting situational moments.
The episode plays on this two-pronged approach. Claire manipulates China through the Russian ship situation. Frank manipulates politicians through simple rhetoric.
As with the previous episode, episode eight floats by on a self-contained plotline. The China tariff plot is not particularly compelling. Frank and the campaign remains entertaining merely because it hints at what the audience expected in episode two: a result from the election.
The middle of this season is proving to sag. The season sets itself up with the election as the jumping off point, only to delay it, kicking the answer further and further down the road until it isn’t even worth seeing anymore.
Season five isn’t at the point of jumping the shark, by any means. But as episodes pass it is becoming clearer that the writers are straining for intriguing narratives to play with.
Points that each episode returns to are not what is of interest to the larger picture. The relationship between Claire and speech writer Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) continues despite being tepid-at-best. The importance of Patricia Clarkson’s Jane Davis is still a question mark. Her character doesn’t come off very engaging, yet it is inevitable that she will reappear.
The most important thread in the past few episodes has been Will Conway’s (Joel Kinnaman) shady advisor Mark Usher (Campbell Scott), who in this episode covertly jumps ship to join up with the Underwoods (to be fair, he seemed more their speed morally from the very start). His character is the one to be watching this season, especially when compared to these other supporting characters that come and go as needed.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)