'House Of Cards' Season 5 Spoiler Review: All Hail Robin Wright's Claire Underwood

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick...and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: season 5 of Netflix's flagship series House of Cards.)

Can we take a minute to bow down to Robin Wright? The Oscar-nominated actress was last seen as Antiope on the big screen annihilating a bunch of angry male villains donning a big ole smile and golden warrior gear like a badass in Wonder Woman. Though she was only in the movie (which, in case you haven't heard, is now the biggest blockbuster from a woman director ever) for a few memorable scenes, her presence encapsulates everything that movie represents: strength, femininity, and command.

The same can be said of Wright's performance in season 5 of House of Cards, now streaming on Netflix.

Spoilers begin right here.house of cards season 5 spoiler review 4

Claire and Tom

As the sly, astoundingly cunning better half of the presidential powerhouse couple, Claire Underwood (Wright) has evolved far beyond her ruthless husband Frank's (Kevin Spacey) main confidante to his most dangerous competitor and now president of the United States. And while Frank is likely patting himself on the back for devising a foolproof plan to maintain power in the White House, let the record show that it is Claire who has the power and she did it with her husband's full consent and assistance.

Any woman could tell you that in order to keep an man like Frank content, all you have to do is plant your idea into his head and watch as he takes complete credit for it and come to you when he needs help executing the strategy. That's precisely what Claire did. She got him hyped about something that was always her goal (assuming power over the White House), and made him think that even when she seized power, he would somehow still have his own. But if you've been paying attention to Claire at all throughout this series, you know that she, like Frank, doesn't do anything that doesn't ultimately serve her own purpose.

But their relationship works for them. They're living in the White House, seducing their enemies and finding new and interesting ways to manipulate those who naively think they're in their fold. They're both self-motivated, wickedly smart, and even manage to maintain their own side pieces. Well, Frank's extramarital affairs are more like revolving one night stands, while Claire's appears to be just as frivolous until it becomes something more precious than even she anticipated. Her boy toy Tom is an award-winning writer originally hired by Frank to pen a book about his proposed job program, but he soon became something of a companion to Claire, and eventually her lover.

At first, their affair is a mere distraction from Claire's normal routine of conniving and backstabbing. But it is Tom who catches feelings first (though Claire's poker face is so powerful that she could have actually been smitten for a while and concealing it). And while other viewers might have gone all heart eyes about their relationship (it's certainly the closest to a healthy pairing that we've ever seen Claire have, despite its coldness, distance, and lack of romance), I was worried. No, not because I thought Claire would lose sight of her end game (never that). It's just that Tom was in love, and increasingly frustrated by it. He fell for a woman with whom a relationship would never work because 1) she's married, 2) she's married to the president of the United States, 3) she's emotionally very unavailable, and 4) he was only just a plaything to her. And his biggest mistake was revealing this to her.

There was really only one way for Tom's storyline to conclude: with his death. And Claire, always right on cue, didn't disappoint. As we've learned by this point in the series, Claire is no stranger to doing whatever it takes to be rid of obstacles like Tom, including seeing to their deaths. Sure, one could argue that Claire also shared the same feelings for Tom. She even went as far as to hire a private detective to follow him to see with whom he was also spending his time (a move that also made Claire realize just how strongly she felt for Tom). Whether or not it was a reciprocated romance, Tom had become a liability. He had become too much of a needless preoccupation, and Claire doesn't keep anyone around who doesn't serve her ultimate purpose.

So once I became comfortable with the idea of Tom's demise, I started wondering how he was going to meet his Maker. My assumption was that he could go in the same way that Claire's many casualties have gone; at the hands of one of her minions (like Frank's Chief of Staff and hardcore ride or die, Doug Stamper, who I'll get to later). But no, Claire took care of this one. Why? Because she wanted to be the last person Tom saw before he died. And she wanted him to be at his happiest, making love to her. A narcissistic yet thoughtful act of charity bestowed upon her fateful beloved as only Claire can.

With Tom now out of the way, she can get back to screwing over other male counterparts foolish enough to cross her path on her ascent to her presidential throne.

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Claire and Stamper

With the real-life U.S. presidency going, well, the way it is (to hell in a handbasket), comparisons to Secretary of State and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have been inevitable. Just what would the White House look like with a woman as Commander-in-Chief? What would it take for a woman to achieve the position? Does a successful candidate have the same strategy as someone like Claire, heartless and more than willing to bend the law to fit her own self-motivated interests? Do we expect our Chief, male or female, to already be this way, a vindictive ice queen?

I suspect (read: hope) we'll see a lot more depictions of a woman POTUS on both the big and small screen (though the big screen is still light years behind). Now in its sixth season, Veep has been parodying the idea of a woman president, giving her the allegiance to be deeply flawed, inappropriate, and callous — like many of the men who have come before her. This is especially important because too often marginalized characters have an added pressure to be righteous, perfect, and strong. Selina Meyer is anything but.

But like Selina, Claire uses men to step on as she makes her way to the top. Claire, of course, is a lot savvier in her approach. As she devises her own team of toy soldiers to worship her and pin against each other, she slithers her way through Frank's own team, namely Frank's number one ace: Doug Stamper.

Let's talk about Doug for a minute. Is there anyone else on the small screen right now that's as smart, fiercely protective, and loyal as he is? I think not. He will lie for you, kill for you, take the heat for you, and quite literally do whatever it takes to keep your good name, while sacrificing his own pride and reputation. The "your" in this case is Frank, who we know has more than a few skeletons in the closet. After dutifully murdering Pennsylvania representative Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) in season one, Doug has covered up a number of Frank's messes, including the death of journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), whose relationship with Frank culminated with her being pushed off a subway platform in front of an oncoming train.

Most of us have gotten past this particular less-than-legal ordeal (after all, there have been so many other crimes that have occurred since then). However, the incident reared its bloody head once again this season when Doug was called in to the office (I liken this scene to a high school principal's office) where he sat down in front of Mr. and Mrs. Underwood and was told that he not only had to publicly take the fall for Zoe's murder on behalf of Frank, but he also had to leave the White House.

It is Claire who gives Doug the latter part of the news. She is characteristically serene and pointed. I'm sure she got a special satisfaction out of telling Doug he had to leave the office to which he had literally sold his soul.  As dirty as things got, it seemed like Doug loved his job and the obscene power it gave him. He got off on it. And Claire feeds right into that in this scene. All he can do is walk away from the table. For anyone else, you'd assume that this gesture means he's not accepting the deal. But for Doug, you know the deal is always on the table, and he's always going to go through with it. It's just that this time, he's not coming back afterward.


Claire and the Future

I admit, I was shocked when Doug was ousted. But later, when Claire said that she was building her own team, I realized that Doug's departure was part of her move to assemble her own cabinet, her own pawns to use up and hoist onto the street when she was done, her own ride-or-dies that would hide her casualties. We already know that Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade, is a contender, playing all sides at the unspoken demand of Claire. She, like Claire, has a pristine poker face and has mastered the art of keeping her enemies closer and, well, not really having any real friends in the traditional sense.  It will be interesting to see whether Claire ends up recruiting an all-women task force as the first woman president of the United States.

It's safe to assume that Texas Democratic political strategist Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell) will not be among Claire's Amazons (though Goodness knows she tried hard to be Claire's Doug Stamper, but an unwise act of vulnerability took her swiftly out of the running). The last time we saw her, her car was smooshed up against a bridge.

There's a common thread to Claire's posse, a tidy group of smart, dedicated people who know their way around a political game of chess, dominated by men of power. Since Claire can't very well clone herself, she knows she must plant versions of herself in and around the White House to secure her legacy. We all should be on alert.