No doubt many Irish fans will be getting ready to binge-watch the Emmy ® and Golden Globe ® winning political drama, with the entire 13 episodes of season five available on the streaming service Netflix from 8am Irish time today.
With tensions mounting in the White House, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey ) and Claire Underwood ( Robin Wright ) continue to navigate their political careers and redefine their relationships – particularly with each other.
“Season four ends with the Underwoods promising to foment chaos and fear, and that’s where we pick up in season five,” says Melissa James Gibson , who serves as showrunner this season alongside Frank Pugliese .
House of Cards’ cast also includes Michael Kelly, Jayne Atkinson, Neve Campbell, Derek Cecil, Paul Sparks, Dominique McElligott and Joel Kinnaman . This season’s new cast members include Patricia Clarkson , Campbell Scott , Korey Jackson and James Martinez.
SUMMARY: SEASON FIVE
House of Cards ’ fifth season picks up where it left off: in the midst of a tense presidential election that puts the Underwoods on the same ticket against energetic Republican upstart Will Conway ( Joel Kinnaman ). Viewers will see how their heated campaigns play out as well as which alliances dissolve in the aftermath. Perhaps the biggest question is if Frank and Claire’s relationship is among them.
“I think there’s something about (the Underwoods) trying to find some sort of détente,” Pugliese says. “They’re coming back together, and they’re trying to redefine who they are to each other and see what their partnership is.” Adds Gibson: “Both of these characters are such survivors, but who’s ultimately going to have the greatest stamina? It’s unclear.”
In the White House, Frank Underwood is joined by his loyal Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper ( Michael Kelly ); Secretary of State Catherine Durant ( Jayne Atkinson ); Press Secretary Seth Grayson ( Derek Cecil ); advisor LeAnn Harvey ( Neve Campbell ); and speechwriter Tom Yates ( Paul Sparks ).
But this season, much of the action also belongs to outsiders, from an increasingly angry electorate to a team of investigative journalists to a “deep state” of political operatives. As the Underwoods told the nation to prepare for war against ICO in season four, they invited new allies and adversaries.
“The battlefield is the American psyche, basically,” Gibson says of the new season.
Adds Pugliese: “Terror ultimately lives in the imagination of the voter, and we wanted to take advantage of that. There are ways that gets manipulated, and there’s a price you pay.”
This season’s band of outsiders includes Mark Usher ( Campbell Scott ) and Jane Davis ( Patricia Clarkson ), two high-powered figures who avoid the spotlight and whose ambitions remain shrouded. Over at the Washington Herald , Tom Hammerschmidt ( Boris McGiver ) and young reporter Sean Jeffries ( Korey Jackson ) try to unlock mysteries behind Zoe Barnes’ death and Rachel Posner’s disappearance – two shocking events that continue to haunt those affected by them.
“Season five is just the past is catching up with some of these characters,” Pugliese says. Even House of Cards ’ viewers may factor into this game-changing season.
“Francis has always been inviting the audience’s complicity, and there’s a question about how much the audience will take,” Pugliese adds.
“How long are they gonna be along for the ride, and to what extent?” Gibson adds. “(Frank) tests the limits of that complicity in the same way this season is really testing the limits of democracy.”
The new season is marked by violent power plays, new alliances, stunning betrayals and, as always, a desire to win at any cost – and not just from Frank Underwood.
“The landscape really shifted by the end of season four,” Gibson notes. “I think it shifts again by the end of season five.”
Led by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright , who have both won Golden Globe Awards for their roles on the series, House of Cards ’ cast remains an exceptional ensemble in its fifth season.
“(The actors) inhabit their characters in such a comprehensive manner,” Gibson says. “They have such a respect for them, and the complexity of their performances inspires the story and its execution.”
One talent joining the mix this season is stage and screen veteran Campbell Scott (Damages ,The Amazing Spider-Man , Roger Dodger ). Scott plays Mark Usher, a top-level advisor who clashes with some characters as strongly as he connects with others.
“I think Mark Usher is based on a number of people that have emerged over the years: this sort of pundit-like, uber-campaign manager, political star maker,” Pugliese says. "There’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes with characters like this. … We wanted one to emerge and become a player.”
While Usher gains the trust of some very powerful figures, others doubt his intentions. “(Doug) can’t stand Usher,” says Michael Kelly , who plays Frank Underwood’s right-hand man, Doug Stamper. “Anyone who’s a threat to him is always instantly an enemy in his eyes. He was not fond of Usher from the beginning, and Usher getting privileges beyond what I believe he deserves or can be trusted with becomes a big theme of this season.”
Kevin Spacey says: “Campbell Scott is one of those actors who has quietly been building a brilliant body of work over a long period of time.
“I’ve admired him, his humour, his commitment and his love of the theatre. … I had an absolutely stellar time with him during the shoot of season five. He fit in like he been part of our family from the very beginning.”
Academy Award ® -nominated and Emmy ® -winning actress Patricia Clarkson ( Six Feet Under, Pieces of April , Good Night, and Good Luck. ) plays Jane Davis, another divisive figure who wields power behind the scenes and forges a bond with Claire Underwood.
“With Jane Davis, there’s really a fluidity to her portfolio,” Gibson says. “It’s hard to nail down exactly what it is she does. She has her fingers in a lot of pies, but at the same time doesn’t leave fingerprints.”
Pugliese says:“There’s a power base (in Washington) that’s always there, no matter who the administration is – a network of mutual concerns and beneficial relationships.
“We wanted someone who could move through all of that and give you a sense of what that is. And also, I think there was a desire on our part to have two powerful women of a certain age negotiate a relationship.”
Spacey and Clarkson go way back – the two appeared together in the 1988 film Rocket Gibraltar – and Spacey says he continues to admire her work in theatre, television and film.
“I think she brings a distinct quality to her performance in House of Cards ,” Spacey adds. “She and Campbell offer both Claire and Frank interesting sets of challenges that will keep our audience intrigued.”
Returning faces this season include Damian Young ( The Comeback , Birdman ) as Aidan MacAllan, the data specialist who helped LeAnn Harvey ( Neve Campbell ) commit some heinous crimes to benefit the Underwoods.
“He’s been given the keys to the candy store at the end of season four,” Gibson says. “Season five (explores) just what’s going to happen with that power and how that’s going to put him in danger.”
Paul Sparks ( The Night Of, The Girlfriend Experience ) returns as Thomas Yates, another character who was given prime access to the White House in season four. In season five, the novelist and speechwriter becomes increasingly close to Claire. “He’s a really core part of this season,” Gibson says. “Those two characters have an adult, multi-layered relationship.”
As Doug Stamper, Michael Kelly ’s character has been put through the wringer each season and has proven he’d do just about anything for Frank Underwood. “Doug’s always battling demons. He’s back with Frank and where he belongs – or where he believes he belongs, so I think that’s a good thing for his mental state,” Kelly says. “But there’s always something else troubling him.”
Pugliese says: “With the psychological terrain that’s been established for that character over four seasons, it’s impossible not to try to keep telling that story. The things he’s done, it’s impossible to let go of.”
Boris McGiver returns as investigative journalist Tom Hammerschmidt, who is joined by ambitious reporter Sean Jeffries, played by Korey Jackson ( Daredevil , The Good Wife ). James Martinez ( Run All Night , One Day at a Time ) joins the mix as outspoken congressman Alex Romero.
As Catherine Durant, Jayne Atkinson plays the cautious-but-dependable secretary of state. Derek Cecil returns as Press Secretary Seth Grayson, as do Joel Kinnaman and Dominique McElligott as power couple Will and Hannah Conway. “It’s an amazing ensemble,” says Pugliese. “You just want to write for those actors, that whole crew.”
Adds Kelly: “Every year they bring in new people, and they’re always the best of the best.”
In season five, Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese serve as co-showrunners of House of Cards , taking the reins from creator Beau Willimon. The pair has written for the series since season three and was eager to work with the actors and crew to create an outstanding batch of new episodes.
"In my eyes, if you can’t have Beau, Frank and Melissa were the next best thing,” Kelly says. “They were very open to collaborating. … I can’t say enough about those two and the way they handled everything. They did an incredible job.”
Directors this season include Emmy winner Alik Sakharov , Roxann Dawson, Agnieszka Holland , Dan Minahan , Michael Morris and Robin Wright , who helms the season finale. “
Her knowledge as a performer really feeds her directing, and vice versa,” Gibson says of Wright, who has directed eight House of Cards episodes. “She understands the tone and visual vocabulary that was established by (David) Fincher, and she both honours and builds on it.”
And though the American political climate may have changed since viewers last saw the Underwoods, Pugliese says the season was written long before the real-life presidential elections were in play. “Anything resonant or connected to what happened was stuff I think it was in the air already,” he says.
“I mean, this show was talking about nationalism and populism two or three seasons ago. And the idea of a strong charismatic figure grabbing the attention of the American voter … that’s something the show’s played with for years and years.”
Nominated for 46 Emmy Awards, House of Cards ’ stellar behind-the-scenes team includes costume designer Johanna Argan , composer Jeff Beal, production designer Julie Walker and director of photography David M. Dunlap .
“Every line of dialogue, every scene, every script … we just want to make sure it’s as great as it can be,” Pugliese says.
As one of Netflix’s flagship series, House of Cards has attracted attention all over the world. Each season brings more discussion – and, of course, more binging. “The freedom (Netflix) gives the audience is really exciting for us as storytellers,” Pugliese says. “I think it revolutionized the form a bit.”
Adds Kelly: “So much happens in every episode that (you want) to watch the next one. It’s a very binge-able show.”
As for fans’ devotion to the series, Gibson says it just makes the team work harder. “They’ve been so loyal and excited and dedicated for so long, and the fact that it speaks to people all over the world is amazing,” she says.
She concludes, “The degree to which the fans connect to the show only reinforces our goal, which is to make sure the show remains as rigorous and true to itself as ever, at the same time as it keeps evolving.”
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