House of Cards has never been a show to shy away from political commentary. You wouldn’t really expect anything less from a show about the heart of American politics itself.
But it seems that the days of subtle, vague references, and broad strokes of critique that are designed to apply across the spectrum of politics, are in the past. With the new trailer for season five of the popular Netflix show, it’s clear that House of Cards is going after a very specific, modern threat: the fear of American democracy failing.
Setting the new season during the 2016 election would generally be enough to grab people’s attentions. With America having just passed through a particularly tumultuous electoral period, filled with slander, protests, and vilification on both sides of the political debate, revisiting some of the key iconography from last year would be enough to open fresh wounds and force people to relive some of the lower points of last year.
But the trailer goes further, as Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, delivering a classic speech (this time about how stupid the American voting public is) goes on to list future election years, amid scenes of FBI agents in combat gear. The implication here is that Underwood’s goal is indefinite presidency – there is going to be a period of violence in the United States, as democracy falls under a new, unflinching leader.
It’s hard not to see parallels to the country’s current political climate, with critics of President Donald Trump frequently describing his tenure thus far in language that is generally reserved for dictators.
This same attitude is present in this initial trailer. The message is simple: it’s possible for a President to oppose democracy, violently if necessary, and to set out to weaken the rights of his people in order to further his own agenda.
House of Cards wants you to see the President as a flat-out supervillain.
It makes for compelling television, but it’s also a particularly dangerous assertion to make in such a public medium – especially considering the real life President’s famously fragile ego.
It’ll be interesting to see what media historians make of our era of television and movies in decades to come, after the dust from current regimes have settled, and it’s possible to analyze shows like House of Cards with a full understanding of context, from a more objective standpoint.
For the moment, though, it seems that this show’s direction is a direct response to a growing attitude among creators that our television and movies can be used as a form of protest, as creators see how far they can push the boundaries in fighting against the White House and all of its dealings that are seen as less than above board.
Whatever’s coming in House of Cards season five, it looks like it’s going to be exciting.