Another thrilling season of House of Cards is now on Netflix. Like the show's other four seasons, this season takes us all on a roller coaster ride of drama, mystery, and fictional political bombshells. Many fans are already looking forward to Season 6, even though there is no indication that the show will continue beyond its current run, but House of Cards doesn’t need more episodes — Season 5 ended the show perfectly, and here’s why. WARNING: This article has HUGE Season 5 spoilers. If you haven’t finished binge-watching the latest season of House of Cards, go do that first and then come back and read.
A Presidential Arch Plot Unfolds
#HouseofCards should be subtitled: “The Rise and Fall of Frank Underwood.” The entire series focuses on Frank’s treachery-fueled rise from House Majority Whip to President of the United States, concluding in Season 5 with his complete collapse.
The show drives through a classic storytelling plot arc — rising tension around a character’s quest to achieve a goal that ends with a natural conclusion of success or learning. However, the ultimate resolution in House of Cards is the downfall of its antihero protagonist, Frances Underwood (#KevinSpacey).
Consider each of the five seasons as individual acts in a 64-hour-long play.
Season 1: The Antihero’s Quest
Season 1 introduces Frank and his scheming ambition for power as he weasels into the Vice President’s office. At first, it appears Frank is simply an “angel of mercy” type of character — using noble intentions to justify terrible means —then he murders Peter Russo (Corey Stoll). Frank’s goals (and his freedom) are at risk when Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) discovers the figurative blood on his hands, which leads us into Season 2.
Season 2: Progressing Through Problems
Climbing up to the next step of the narrative arc, the story shows Frank deceiving his way into the Oval Office. Frank has grown more brutal and conniving, both in the criminal and political contexts, as he shows the audience his villainous tendencies. Another murder later, we’re left hanging on the cliff with Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and the beating he takes from Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), the newest threat to Frank’s plans.
Season 3: Commencing The Climactic Collapse
Season 3 features now-President Underwood struggling to hold on to his newly acquired authority, particularly with more doubts about his legitimacy swirling around him. Claire abandons Frank at the end of the season, destroying the Underwood entity that had previously seemed unbreakable.
Frank made it all the way to the White House, but it is only temporary if he doesn’t win the election, and he seems powerless without his wife. House of Cards spends three seasons on Frank rising in rank and power, and then in one episode puts all of it in flux. This is clearly the climax of the overall story arc — the audience begs to find out what happens next.
Season 4: Controlling With Fists Too Tight
Season 4 rebuilds the Underwood family unit with Frank and Claire teaming up to take over the party. Sure, it may seem like Frank is getting stronger and gaining more control of the situation, but he is being more outwardly villainous (instead of just breaking the fourth wall to develop his combating attitude) and taking more risks. These risks are what ultimately lead to his downfall in the final season.
Frank’s season-closing assertion — “We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.” — foreshadows the events about to unfold in Season 5.
Season 5: Finishing The Fall
Speaking of final seasons, Season 5 shows Frank doing anything and everything to win the election. He even goes as far as faking a frightening terrorist attack to suppress voter turnout in key opposition districts. Frank might have already been on the dark side when he murdered Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes, but Frank went full Anakin Skywalker-slaughtering-younglings by fixing the election (not to mention how he tosses Kathy Durant down the stairs to stop her from testifying against him).
And what do we know about characters who go totally bad? They always lose at the end.
Frank is free-falling for the whole season. The evidence against him piles up until he is forced to resign — or so we think. He tells Claire that it was all part of his plan, but she puts the final nail in his political coffin by ignoring his pleas for a presidential pardon — it’s her turn now.
With Claire’s curtain-drawing declaration, House of Cards gives us a natural conclusion to this classic “fall of the antihero” story arc. Frank rose to power by knocking out the threats around him, but he flew too high, and his story ends with him having no power at all.
Frank’s story is done, and so is House of Cards.
Other Cards In The Deck
If that isn’t enough to consider Season 5 as the story finale, here are five more reasons to consider House of Cards a done deal.
- Frank and Doug are incapacitated. Any focus on their efforts to claw back into power would simply be a rehashing of the conflicts and resolutions we’ve already seen.
- Anyone associated with Frank Underwood’s administration is either dead, politically destroyed, or kicked out by Claire. The House of Cards has been cleaned out — why restart it?
- Every season ended with a major cliffhanger. The only real mysteries left are whether Claire pardons Frank and Doug (see No. 1 above) and whether Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) reveals Claire’s murder of Tom Yates (Paul Sparks). Those aren’t very compelling cliffhangers.
- Current events in the real world are becoming more dramatic and unpredictable than the events in House of Cards. It would be hard for show writers to make up anything more ratings-driving than what’s happening in the actual White House right now.
- There might not actually be a sixth season, as #RobinWright (Claire Underwood) has said she aspires to leave acting and become a director.
Let It Go
Whether or not House of Cards gets a sixth season should be of no concern to true fans. Season 5 completed the tale of Frank Underwood, everyone’s favorite #Netflix villain.
With Claire Underwood in the White House and Frank crashing in a hotel far outside the inner circle he once controlled, the story’s current state of affairs wraps up a fantastic story of brilliant treachery and political trickery. We can be content to leave that fictional Washington where it stands.
As Frank smugly says near the end of the final episode: “Sometimes you don’t have to watch the whole movie to know how it ends.”
What did you think of Season 5? Do you agree that we don't need four more years of House of Cards, or should this analysis be censured? Exercise your freedom of speech in the comments!