Truth is supposed to be stranger than fiction… except when it comes to House of Cards. Netflix’s acclaimed political drama returns on May 30 amid a contentious election — and a few more story lines that may hit close to home. EW has your exclusive sneak peek at season 5.
When we last saw Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), the morally corrupt president and first lady were plotting to declare war on ICO (the major terrorist group on the series) in an effort to distract from an article revealing their deep, dark secrets. A president at odds with the media and a ramped-up war on terror may sound familiar, but executive producer Melissa James Gibson is careful not to make too many comparisons to our current president. “Sure, the resonance sometimes feels eerie. But Trump is an outsider who’s trying to blow up the system, and Francis is the opposite.” Season 5 was written well before the results of the 2016 election, yet producers admit some through-lines may hit a nerve. “The battlefield for season 5 is the American psyche,” says Gibson, who took over as showrunner with executive producer Frank Pugliese when creator Beau Willimon left at the end of last season. “That may be one parallel with our real world.”
Frank and Claire present a united front in the White House… at least in this moment. “They are a couple of survivors, and power is the Underwoods’ religion,” says Gibson. “They need each other as much as ever and are constantly navigating the other’s character.” Adds Pugliese, “The fun of the show is seeing how they negotiate their relationship.”
Speaking of their rather, uh, liberal marriage, Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), who had an affair with Claire in season 4, will be back. But will he continue to add sexual tension to the mix? Says Gibson with a laugh: “I think that energy cannot be denied. This season does not resist it.”
Frank decided to run with Claire as his VP at the end of season 4, and the 2016 election is still a priority for the campaigning couple. Says Gibson, “That’s something the show has been building towards for quite some time now. Francis wasn’t elected president, so this is the real test: What is the will of the people, and can he work his Machiavellian magic on them?”
Still battling the Underwoods for control of the White House are similarly ruthless couple Will (Joel Kinnaman) and Hannah Conway (Dominique McElligott). “This season delves into the cost of ambition and the repercussions for their relationship,” teases Gibson. Will we see the actual outcome of the election this season? Pugliese is coy: “Possibly.”
Returning this season are Frank’s occasionally murderous chief of staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) as well as Claire’s own ethically murky adviser Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell). The duo aren’t exactly besties. “They’re frenemies,” explains Gibson. “They’re jockeying for that number-two spot, which is always a dance.” Adds Pugliese, “That’s the fun part of the inner circle — it’s constantly shifting.”