You’ve got to feel a little bit sorry for the makers of House of Cards. Here they had a series that was edgy and slightly shocking. It took the realities of political life in Washington, D.C., and pushed them past the envelope. However shocking its protagonist’s actions might be, they were just within the realm of plausibility. You could watch it, then go back to consuming the news with a slight sense of relief: “Well at least things aren’t that crazy.”
No more. Starting with the primary season of 2016, the real events of U.S. political life began to seem as outrageous as anything the House of Cards writers could summon. With the election and the radical polarization of politics and culture in its wake, the real world blew past what Frank and Clare Underwood were ever likely to dream of. And the show doesn’t seem the same.
But it’s still worth watching, and catching up with. I’ll admit that last year’s season (2016) seem slightly neutered. The writers seemed to back off on playing the Underwoods as Macbeth-level villains. They even let Clare appear as the champion of international human rights. To be honest, it seemed like the writers were getting prepared for a Hillary Clinton administration, and were possibly mending fences. Blah.
This season (2017) came roaring back, however. It was tense, chilling, believable, and it had none of the cloying pieties that began to infect the show in 2016. The Underwoods are bound and determined to see Frank win his first elected term. His opponent is slick, attractive, patriotic—and deeply flawed. And once again the Underwoods are perfectly ready to throw the country’s civic culture, and used-up friends and allies, into the meat grinder to make for themselves the tasty sausage called Power.
So if you gave up on House of Cards last year, go back to it. Spend some time catching up on the plot (you might have forgotten it—that’s what online summaries are for). Make some fresh popcorn and add spicy red pepper. Because Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and a stellar supporting cast are ready to shock you once again. Their antics might not mirror the sometimes farcical doings in Washington. But they serve as a potent reminder of how high the stakes in politics really are.