House Of Cards Has Collapsed, And It's Partly Our Fault

It's only a TV show, but we have loved it passionately, and we waited long and hard for the latest instalment. There's no easy way to say this, but here it is: 'House of Cards' season 5 is a dog.

If you haven't watched it yet, don't worry, I'm not about to spoil it for you (the series creators have done a perfectly good job of that all by themselves). But to save yourself heartbreak, you should know up front that the House of Cards has finally collapsed, just as its name suggests.

The stylish, subtle political thriller that obsessed us for four seasons has become, in its fifth, a parody of itself. The plot -- always verging on unbelievable -- has become preposterous. Frank and Claire Underwood have gone from power-hungry schemers (plausible enough) to US President and Vice-President (stretching credibility here) to a pair of psychopaths on a killing spree.

In one of the more ludicrous scenes, Frank pushes a major character down the stairs outside the Oval Office to delay an investigation into his activities. With all those Southern accents, all you can think of is Scarlett O'Hara tumbling down the staircase in 'Gone With the Wind'.

It's as though the Trump era has spurred the show on to new peaks of absurdity, when the old ones suited us just fine.

Take the pivotal murder: Frank shoving Zoe Barnes in front of a train in series one. We lived with it, but in truth it was quite implausible. Frank's evil reveals itself best in subtle ways -- an arch look, a sotto voce remark down the barrel of the camera. It's hard to see him getting his soft hands dirty with something as crass as murder. He's got Doug Stamper for that.

Frank's evil is best revealed in subtle ways.
Frank's evil is best revealed in subtle ways.

But in series five, the incredulometer is dialled up to peak Crazy Town. People are getting murdered all over the shop. One of the characters exits by la mort d'amour. The bodies are piling up, but despite all the journalists running around the White House, nobody seems to notice.

The worst thing about season five, though, is that it's terribly confusing. The plot lines are so convoluted it simply makes no sense a lot of the time.

Who on earth, for example, is Miss Davis? She appeared out of nowhere. Why is she so important, and why is a woman in her 60s wearing her hair in ringlets, like Nellie Olsen in Little House on the Prairie?

Ditto Mark Usher. One minute he's the campaign manager for the Republican Presidential nominee, the next he's putting himself forward to be Vice President in a Democrat administration. Sorry, what?

Miss Davis and Mark Usher are suddenly a power duo, for no apparent reason, bossing everybody around while characters die horrible, unlikely deaths in the background. It's all got something to do with computer hacking, vote rigging, Russian interference and Islamic terrorism. Exactly what, though, is not clear.

If you strip House of Cards of its credibility and humanity, all you're left with is a great piece of opening music, and some fabulous frocks. And that may not be enough to get us back for Season Six.

There are some positives. Claire's outfits deserve their own spin-off series -- especially the military-style navy dress with razor-sharp shoulder pads (episode 5) and the sky-blue number in episode 12 which may well be the most perfect garment in history. And Frank's sly nods to Donald Trump are fun to spot.

To the untrained eye, it may seem that House of Cards retains -- superficially -- all the features that made it great. But the departure of original creator Beau Willimon after Series 4 has proved to be the one card that brings the whole house tumbling down. Overnight, the complexity of the Underwoods' characters has disappeared. In the early series, we saw enough glimpses of humanity in them to make them believable, even likeable.

Now, they've become one-dimensional monsters, as opposed to deeply flawed human beings. Nearly every character is unpleasant. The only one who can still pull a shred of sympathy from the audience is Doug Stamper, who despite his dark and tortured demeanour, still manages to come across as kind of a sweet guy (apart from that one time he buried his girlfriend in the desert).

If we're to be honest, this is partly our fault. House of Cards was meant to finish after series 4. But we, the fans, begged for more. We couldn't let it go. We were too emotionally invested. And this is what we ended up with: a political version of Chainsaw Massacre.

The final scene makes it very clear -- the Underwoods will be back.

Here's a tip for the producers: If you strip House of Cards of its credibility and humanity, all you're left with is a great piece of opening music, and some fabulous frocks. And that may not be enough to get us back for Season Six.