A recap of all five seasons of Netflix's 'House of Cards' as it prepares for its final bow
'House of Cards' will return for its sixth and final season on November 2 and with Robin Wright's Claire Underwood firmly in the presidential seat.
'House of Cards' is primed for its sixth and final season on Netflix on November 2, and it almost feels like the end of an era. The idea for the supremely popular drama may very well have stemmed from executive producer David Fincher's agent, who showed him a BBC miniseries of the same name starring Ian Richardson. Fincher, who always wanted to work in television because of its long-form nature and because it gave him the opportunity to experiment with more complex characterizations, was sold, and Netflix — who, at the time, wanted to launch their own original programming — came on board soon after.
Because Fincher wanted a writer who could seamlessly translate parliamentary politics to Washington, they zeroed in on Beau Willimon, who had previously served as an aide to the likes of Chuck Schumer, Howard Dean, and Hillary Clinton. The rest of the cast soon took shape as well, with Kevin Spacey brought in to star in the leading role and Robin Wright as his partner-in-crime.
The series takes its idea from a 1989 novel by Conservative Party aide Michael Dobbs, who served as an aide to then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and had condensed his experiences inside Westminister Abbey into a trilogy of thrillers. Set in Washington D.C., the audience follows the story of Frank Underwood (Spacey), a power-hungry Democrat from South Carolina's 5th Congressional District and House Majority Whip who has ambitions of the presidency. Frank is not above using ruthless and Machiavelian means to achieving his goal, and he's joined by wife Claire Underwood (Wright), who acts as the perfect foil.
Dealing with themes of ruthless pragmatism, betrayal, power, and manipulation, 'House of Cards' would prove to be an unprecedented hit for Netflix, earning 33 Primetime Emmy Award nominations in categories such as Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor, and Outstanding Lead Actress. It also made history in becoming the first original online-only web television series to receive Emmy nominations. It also went on to earn eight Golden Globe nominations, winning two and has played a crucial role in putting the network on the map.
It all began on February 1, 2013, when despite promises made to him, Frank is looked over by newly sworn-in president Garrett Walker (Michel Gill) for the role of Secretary of State. Stung by the snub, Frank makes it his personal mission to see Walker taken down and he instated as the Commander-in-Chief.
Despite his anger at being ignored for a cabinet position, Frank presents himself as a helpful lieutenant to Walker, who faces quite a bit of opposition from within the House and the Senate and is tasked with healing a fractured country. Frank promises to help Walker push his agenda in Congress but secretly sets forth in motion a scheme that will finally get him that Cabinet position he so lustfully desires. Claire, who while unattached to politics, is just as ruthless, cold-hearted, and unapologetically pragmatic as her husband, and tries to widen her influence through her NGO 'Clean Water Initiative.' She, along with Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), are Frank's trusted lieutenants.
To further his agenda, Frank befriends Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), an ambitious young journalist working for the Washington Herald, and feeds her damaging stories about his political rivals to influence public opinion as necessary. He also takes Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), a troubled congressman from Pennsylvania with alcoholism problems, under his wing to manipulate him into undermining Walker's Secretary of State pick. He eventually manages to get his own pick, Senator Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) in the position, before then tanking Russo's bid for governor — by hiring prostitute Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) — so the current Vice President will vacate his post to fill the position.
He has to kill Russo to ensure his scheme doesn't go public and is appointed as Vice President, which happened to be his plan all along. He's introduced to billionaire Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), a trusted advisor to Walker, who reveals it was his doing to see Frank snubbed for Secretary of State. The season ends with Tusk supporting Frank for the Vice Presidency and the pair promising to work with each other for their benefit. On the sidelines, Zoe is piecing together clues about Frank's numerous plots.
Zoe is joined in her investigation by two colleagues, boyfriend Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) and friend Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer), and they manage to track down Rachel. Realizing that they were getting a little too close for comfort, Doug has Rachel stashed away, and Frank similarly takes matters into his own hands by pushing Zoe on to an oncoming train. While Janine abandons the investigation, Lucas, convinced that there were powerful forces at play, continues and enlists the help of hacker Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson). But Gavin is complicit with Doug, and they frame Lucas for cyberterrorism to see him locked away.
Gavin decides to use Rachel to blackmail Doug, and fearful for her life as well as Doug's growing obsessiveness over her, Rachel ambushes Doug and makes her escape, leaving him for dead. With Frank the vice president, Claire has the opportunity to get close to the First Lady and gleans information that the marriage is not doing well. Meanwhile, Frank uses a Chinese businessman, Feng, who happens to be an ally to Tusk to engage in back-channel negotiations, only to later purposely tank it so it would result in a trade war with China.
The Justice Department begins investigating the White House's ties to both Feng and Tusk after the former is granted a lucrative contract, and Frank manages to get Walker to volunteer his travel records. Because they revealed his visits to a marriage counselor, Walker has to have the counselor coached by White House counsel, which in turn leads to questions of witness tampering. Articles of impeachment are drawn and both Walker and Frank promise Tusk a presidential pardon if he implicated the other. Tusk sides with Walker, though Frank manages to manipulate him into calling the deal off, resulting in Tusk testifying against Walker and Frank sworn in as the president.
Because of his desire to not be a placeholder president, Frank pushes a controversial jobs program called America Works, before then going back on his word and running for the presidency in the 2016 election. Doug, who is still recovering from a head injury, is disillusioned by Frank hiring Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) as Chief of Staff and switches sides to Democratic primaries rival Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). But in truth, he's acting as a double agent and returns to Frank's side after successfully tracking down Rachel in New Mexico and killing her.
Claire, who is now the US ambassador to the UN, has to deal with a crisis in the Jordan Valley instigated by Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Tensions further escalate when an American gay rights activist apprehended by Petrov's administration kills himself when asked to apologize for his actions by Claire in exchange for his release. When Russian troops are killed in the Jordan Valley, Frank has no choice but to remove Claire as ambassador. She's irked, but puts on a brave face and suggests she resigned to play a more active part in her husband's campaigning.
Throughout the season, we see the developing story of fictional writer Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks), who Frank had hired to promote America Works in a novel. However, Yates ends up writing a book about Frank's relationship and marriage to Claire, which results in Frank firing him. Claire, who had grown fond of Yates, reaches her breaking point and states her intention to leave him.
After leaving Frank, Claire has relocated to Dallas to run for Congress from her home district but faces opposition from incumbent Doris Jones (Cicely Tyson), who wants her daughter to succeed her. Frank wins her back by promising not to sabotage her campaign, only to then endorse her rival. In retaliation, Claire leaks information to Dunbar's campaign, resulting in Frank losing the South Carolina primaries. She threatens to continue leaking information until and unless Frank announces her as his running mate. He refuses.
Lucas is released from jail, but his ravings about Frank fall on deaf ears. After Dunbar's campaign dismisses him, he hatches a plot to assassinate Frank, succeeding in shooting him in the abdomen. While Frank is in a coma, vice president Donald Blythe (Reed Birney) becomes the acting president, but because of his timid nature, Claire takes advantage to push her own agenda that goes against her husband's wishes. Dunbar is forced to suspend her campaign after Doug leaks information pertaining to her meeting with Lucas, and when Frank recovers, he decides he needs his wife by his side and puts her on the ticket.
Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), Zoe's and Lucas' former news editor, is conducting his own investigation into Frank's presidency and manages to get the likes of Remy, Walker, and whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) to go on the record against the president. An ICO (Islamic Caliphate Organization) kidnapping of an American Family brings further trouble and their wish to only negotiate with Republican nominee Governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) hurts Frank's credibility further. Hammerschmidt publishes his story to derail Frank's campaign almost beyond redemption and now desperate to hold on to the presidency, he declares that the nation is at total war and orders the full force of the military be used to combat global terrorism regardless of the cost. The season ends with the terrorists executing one of the members of the family and Claire breaking the fourth wall for the first time.
Because of his extremely low approval ratings, Frank has to rely on some underhanded tactics to ensure he doesn't lose the election by a landslide to Conway. He uses ICO as an excuse to enact martial law in urban areas and to consolidate polling places in key states, disenfranchising rural Republican voters in the process and reducing his margin to Conway. The election now hinges on Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Tennessee, all swing states. The Underwood campaign then pins a cyber attack on the NSA, as well as a terrorist attack in Tennessee on ICO. Frank proceeds to call Conway to concede but is secretly convincing the Ohio governor to close polling early. As a result, Ohio and Tennessee refuse to certify the election and neither candidate has the required number of electoral for the candidacy.
The Twelfth Amendment is invoked, though Frank's atrocious approval ratings mean he can only manage a tie with Conway in the house. Claire manages to secure the Senate vote and becomes the acting president. She uses her powers to call special elections in Ohio and Tennessee, and a series of systematic leaks sees Conway's campaign come to a stuttering stop. The Underwood ticket wins both states and Frank is once again sworn in as president.
Hammerschmidt is given information by an unknown leaker from within the White House, with the charges against Frank piling up to an extent where articles of impeachment are brought out against him. The leaker was later revealed to be Frank and he manages to convince Doug to take the fall for Zoe's murder. It emerges that this was a part of his master plan to resign the presidency to Claire because he thought his ambitions would be better served in the private sector. He and Claire work to eliminate Durant, Yates, and campaign manager LeAnn (Neve Campbell) from the picture, and after Frank resigns under the impression that he will be pardoned, Claire becomes president proper.
The season closes with Claire changing her mind about the pardon and ignoring Frank's frantic calls. She breaks the fourth wall once again to announce, "My turn."