If there’s one thing that House of Cards fans should have become accustomed over the past five years, it’s that Frank Underwood’s schemes typically stretch for entire seasons and take form in the most unexpected ways. In Season 5, however, he outdoes himself. The new thirteen-episode run is mostly concerned with the 2016 Election and its incredibly protracted fallout, leaning heavily on both the unique political landscape that Netflix has built up over the past four years and a strong understanding of the American constitution.
Needless to say, the conflict between the Underwoods and Will Conway gets pretty complicated, with the show requiring a high level of knowledge and presenting itself in a purposefully devious way; this isn’t an election with a simple winner and loser. To help you get the most out of the new season, here’s an explainer of what Frank’s up to throughout the run.
It’s admittedly tricky to discuss individual episodes without addressing the full season, but to make it easier we’ve broken the explanation into three sections that cover the specific schemes of a few episodes each. If you’ve seen the required episodes, you can read these sections without fear of future spoilers.
- The Original Plan (Episodes 1-3) (This Page)
- The Election Day And Fallout (Episodes 4-9)
- Frank's Masterplan (Episodes 10-13)
What Has Frank Already Done Before Season 5?
Most of the run-up to the election was already seen in Season 4, including the Primaries and the increasingly prominent threat of ISIS parallel ICO. There are two key elements from this that are particularly important to what goes down in Season 5.
The first is how the Underwood campaign has used illicit means to target voters; this had already been a hot topic with Conway allegedly using Pollyhop, a search engine created by a school friend, to gather personal information, yet the Democrats still brought in Aidan Macallan, a childhood friend of LeeAnn Harvey and worker at the NSA. He used illegal means to provide the campaign with information on the gun lobby and later launched an algorithm to measure reactions during the debates.
The second is the decision to steer into terror. While Frank’s method of getting Claire as a running mate was far from orthodox, the pair had conducted the campaign normally up until Season 4’s finale; however, when the threat of ICO became clear they chose to instead start using the terror as a motivator.
The Original Plan – How Frank Intends To Suppress Voters
In Episodes 1-3, we see Frank and Claire turn up the heat. Frank calls for an investigative war committee to validate his fearmongering and serve as a backdrop for his attempts to suppress the voters; allegedly in response to the ICO threat, he proposes the idea of voting hubs in major metropolitan areas manned by military rather than plentiful smaller polling stations. He picks conventional swing states where there’s a strong Republican base and aims to structure it so districts with Democrat presence are favored, stacking the odds in his favor
While Governers of the specific states aren’t the biggest fans, Underwood manages to convince most of them by having Doug get their Chief of Staffs onboard and forcing Macallan to create the illusion of a terrorist cyber attack.