There’s a running joke about television in Washington, D.C.: The show political gadabouts think best represents their lives is House of Cards, while politics is actually more like an episode of Veep. The Netflix series in which Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall to explain his Machiavellian moving and shaking has never been primarily interested in verisimilitude, but that unreality has always been crucial to its appeal. The trailer for the show’s fifth season, released Monday morning, suggests that House of Cards is turning even more heavily in that pulpy direction. “The American people don’t know what they want,” Underwood proclaims. “I do.” Basically, Frank Underwood is running for dictator.
House of Cards is most fun at its campiest, when it trades campaign events for assassination plots and addresses to Congress for flirtations with a novelist. The show seemed to realize as much toward the end of its fourth season: Underwood, now the president, along with his wife, Claire (Robin Wright, still with the dopest haircut on TV), turned a hostage situation in Tennessee into an excuse to implement something like martial law.
The fifth season looks like it will pick up shortly after that moment, with Frank and Claire orchestrating beautifully shot chaos in an attempt to secure something like a lifelong presidency. All the pieces are in place: There’s a journalist hot on Frank’s tail; lethally efficient aide Doug Stamper is off the wagon and back in the Oval; Claire is strolling around Frank’s head in heels.
There’s a bloody guy behind glass who looks mad at Frank, and there’s a shot of people walking into a secure vault that serves as a reminder that David Fincher is an executive producer of this series. The teaser is frenetic, anxiety-inducing, and heavy on the cheese. (“One nation … Underwood,” Frank intones.)
These are all good things: The show’s seasons-spanning divorce plot (and attempts at smaller, domestic drama like it) pale in comparison with when Spacey has been allowed to go full Richard III. House of Cards will return to the airwaves at a political moment best described as uncertain, but there’s nothing uncertain about House of Cards’s approach to political drama. Somehow, one of TV’s best escapes from real-life politics is a show set in the White House.