Netflix released its fifth season of “House of Cards” on Tuesday. For those who need to catch up, PJ Media has compiled a speed read to get viewers up to date. Another story breaking down each of the episodes in Season 5 will follow.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for Seasons 1-4 of “House of Cards.” Each season will be on a different page, so hit “Load More” to go to the next season. That way, those who only want a synopsis for one or two seasons can stop at their own pace.
Without further ado, here’s “House of Cards” in short succession!
1. Season One.
Francis J. Underwood (Kevin Spacey) kills a dog, and sets out to kill the president. President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) signed his own death warrant by breaking his promise to make Frank secretary of State. Enter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a journalist with benefits — and one memorable Father’s Day phone call. Frank uses her to destroy the secretary of State and get his friend Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) to take his place.
“There is no U and I in education.” Frank “Blythe”rs (as in Donald Blythe, Reed Birney) his way through education reform, taking a brick through the house in the name of “disorganized labor.” He secures a win for Walker just as things start to get interesting.
Enter Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), a Pennsylvania congressman with a drinking problem, and quite a few others besides. Blackmail, threats, and a suggestion of suicide make Peter Frank’s patsy, and then — Presto! – a candidate for governor. A sobering alcoholic, Peter inspires everyone as a rags-to-riches candidate. Even former Pennsylvania governor — now vice president — Jim Matthews (Dan Ziskie) gets jealous. Then Frank pulls the plug.
Frank has one ruthless, loyal sidekick/hit man, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Doug’s favorite D.C. prostitute, Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), becomes the perfect weapon against Peter. Doug Posners Peter, and the rest is history. Russo descends into oblivion, refuses to withdraw, and Frank puts him out of his misery.
“House of Cards”? More like “musical chairs.” Peter’s dead, so Matthews runs for governor. Matthews is gone, so Frank is vice president. Season 1 winds to a close with Zoe Barnes getting uppity, an interesting reversal with businessman Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), and a growing awareness of Frank as a perfect political manipulator (it was Doug who threw the brick).
Oh, and the Peachoid must never be forgotten.
2. Season Two.
How does a vice president become president? By being Frank Underwood. “You might very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.”
Step one: Cause happy accidents. Zoe Barnes walks into the Metro. Xander Feng (Terry Chen) gets lost in translation. President Walker’s marital troubles see the spotlight.
Step two: Silence the opposition. Zoe Barnes’ boyfriend, Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), takes the cyber bait and ends up in prison. Raymond Tusk is on the outs with President Walker. Frank ends the money going to Republican Super PACs.
Step three: Be a boss. Frank speaks at a Civil War reenactment, then shows no shame in playing with toy soldiers. He also sways Donald Blythe in the midst of a chemical attack.
While Frank and Blythe are under office arrest in the U.S. Capitol, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) lets slip the story of her abortion and sexual abuse by a prominent military figure. She becomes a champion for reform in the military, which causes some interesting drama with Frank’s replacement as Democratic Whip, Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker).
Some machinations with Tusk leave Walker implicated in vague but somehow devastating crimes (the least believable part of the entire series) and he has no choice but to resign. Frank manipulates him with a devastating letter and then takes the oath of office.
Presidency achievement unlocked. But Rachel Posner, fleeing from an overly controlling Doug Stamper, nearly kills him.
3. Season Three.
Take that, Daddy-O. Frank waters his father’s grave in the first episode of Season 3. Then he turns to do the same to the Democratic Party.
America Works, or at least it should. “You are entitled to nothing,” Frank speaks a rare truth. His grand plan is to dismantle entitlements and use the money to hire workers, ending unemployment with a stroke of the pen. Great plan, but AmWorks isn’t popular among Democrats, and Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) runs against Frank in the 2016 Democratic primary.
Frank says he won’t run, then he does. Doug Stamper, recovering from his “Posner”ies, starts to work for Dunbar’s campaign. But he’s deep cover and reports Dunbar’s inner workings to Frank. He later replaces Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) to become President Underwood’s chief of staff.
Meanwhile, hacker Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) tells Doug that Posner’s dead, but later reveals she’s alive. Doug digs Posner’s grave, but lets her go at the last second, or does he? It remains unclear whether Posner’s corpse is in the grave as Doug refills it, but many have speculated that he ran over the girl, killing her.
Spurned by the Senate, Claire Underwood becomes ambassador to the United Nations after a recess appointment. She deals with Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), even going to Russia and witnessing the death of a gay rights activist — who chooses his own noose over agreeing to apologize for his sexual orientation. When Russian troops die in the Jordan Valley, Frank agrees to remove Claire from her ambassadorship at Petrov’s request.
Enter Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks). Brought in to write a book about AmWorks, Yates becomes more interested in the relationship between Claire and Frank. Things come to a head as Claire decides to leave Frank in the finale.
Season 3 might not have worked if it weren’t for the combination of Russia’s Petrov and the political intrigue in the Democratic Party. The debate between Frank, Heather Dunbar, and Jackie Sharp was electric. Frank convinced Sharp to attack Dunbar, and later to pull out of the campaign and back him. Dunbar offered Sharp nothing for her support, but Sharp eventually sided with Dunbar anyway.
Frank showed his ruthless calculation, asking Sharp to destroy her own reputation in attacking Dunbar (which she did), and then attacking her publicly during the debate. Disgusted, Sharp leaves his fold, and the election comes down to the wire.
4. Season Four.
The shot heard ’round the states. Lucas Goodwin, the spurned reporter from Seasons 1 and 2, spends Season 3 in jail, but is released in Season 4. Goodwin’s story about Frank’s corruption has gained no traction, and even Heather Dunbar won’t touch it. So he takes matters into his own hands, or rather his right trigger finger.
“House of Cards” has quite a few odd moments. One of the most memorable came between Frank, Claire, and Secret Service agent Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow). Meechum became a Frank protege in Season 1, and had an odd sort of sex scene with Frank and Claire at the end of Season 2. Like all good Underwood patsies, the bodyguard meets his end serving Frank. When Goodwin shoots Frank and Meechum takes one of the bullets himself, he nevertheless kills Goodwin in the process.
The second least realistic moment in “House of Cards” comes after Frank’s recovery. A sitting president is shot, almost dies, and recovers — but somehow does not win the election in a landslide. Even the primary goes down to the wire, and the key figure is Claire Underwood.
Frank destroys Claire’s hopes for a congressional seat, but she stabs back, giving Frank’s home state of South Carolina to Heather Dunbar.
Claire out-Franks Francis Underwood, blackmailing him to bring her on as his running mate. While Frank was sleeping (after a little love from Lucas Goodwin), acting President Donald Blythe blithers his way through a military situation, relying on Claire, who achieves the impossible. This makes her a credible vice presidential candidate, and Frank manipulates the Democratic National Convention to choose her as his running mate.
Meanwhile, Goodwin’s death was not totally in vain. His former editor at The Washington Herald, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), digs into the dead journalist’s claims and interviews Remy Danton, Jackie Sharp, and former President Walker. All of them go on the record, setting a torch to the “House of Cards”?
Terror, terror, terror. The Islamic State (ISIS) becomes the Islamic Caliphate Organization (ICO), and two terrorists capture a Tennessee family. The terrorists say they will only talk to Frank’s social media-savvy Republican opponent, Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman).
Claire and Frank get the terrorists to release the mother and daughter, but negotiations break down and the terrorists kill the father. Conway plans to take credit for the release of the mother and daughter, blaming the Underwoods for the father’s death.
Meanwhile, Hammerschmidt publishes his story on Frank’s corruption in The Herald, ripping the Underwood candidacy down to a thread. Frank decides to declare war against ICO, in a desperate gambit to win the November election.
As Season 5 opens, the body count stands at 5 (Peter Russo, Zoe Barnes, Rachel Posner, Lucas Goodwin, and Edward Meechum), but the political body count is much higher. Conway seems likely to win the election, but never count out Francis Underwood. Things only get crazier in Season 5.