Forget the sickening snafu that was the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The real political horror show of our times, House of Cards, is back in its fifth season, with the Underwoods at their merciless best.
As anyone who has successfully binge-watched this season's onslaught of beltway skullduggery, terrorism scares, murder and government coups will tell you, Season 5 is House of Cards at its lean and mean best—plowing through one implausible storyline after the other with surprising eloquence, before an all-out, shit-storm finale.
While a sudden shift in the power dynamics of Claire and Frank is what will have viewers talking, what lingers is another poignant arc from Chief of Staff Doug Stamper, Frank's right-hand man. Played with remarkable pathos by crime-show veteran Michael Kelly, Kelly has taken what could have been a cutout, sociopathic character and turned him into something of a human being. (Better yet, a fan favorite.)
Season 5 sees Doug, in addition to finally hooking up with Neve Campbell's character Leann Harvey (nice), commit the ultimate sacrifice for his long-time boss Frank. Hint: he just about sells his soul to cover up one of Frank's Season 2 sins.
With Season 5 now up for full binge-viewing on Netflix, Maxim caught up with Michael Kelly about his most shocking scenes, whether or not Doug has a soul and if House of Cards is fact or fiction. Warning: major spoilers ahead.
Doug agrees to take the fall for the murder of Zoe Barnes. Why on earth does he tell Frank and Claire yes?
Of course his answer is yes. I remember Frank Pugliese (co-showrunner) coming to me and asking, "What would Doug do if they asked him to take the fall?" and immediately I was like, "He would say yes." That's what a chief of staff is for, and God knows his loyalty...
Will Doug survive this?
You have to understand that Frank and Doug always have a plan. These two guys are incredibly calculating. We don't know exactly what it is that Frank whispers into Doug's ear in the moments right after they ask. I don't know if we've figured it out on the show either. I know it looks very bleak for him at the end, but I don't know where they're going to take that story.
That's relieving because a lot of fans really like Doug. What does it say about audiences that he is one of the most popular characters?
It's so funny. So many people say to me, "I feel weird, but I like Doug, and I don't want anything bad to happen to him." The most important thing you can do as an actor is bring as much of yourself to the character to ground the character in some sort of reality, and then you build around it and on top of it. For me, I'm a good person; I have a good heart. Even though it's buried within Doug, he's a good person. He's done some terrible things, but he's a good person. I always rest people's minds and say it might be buried, but it's there. So do feel bad for liking Doug.
Do we see some of his humanity when he goes to visit Lisa Williams?
Doug was going to go take care of Lisa. This would have been very easy to pin that girl down, use the chloroform on her mouth and then shoot her up with an overdose of heroin. But then he gets there, and his conscious gets the best of him. He realizes that he can let her go, or at least he thinks so. That might come back to haunt him.
Doug and Leann finally hooked up! Why did it take so long?
The whole season, they are fighting for power and just trying to get a one-up on the other. And in that, this sort of sexual chemistry began to build. It's completely believable that they would have sex and then the next day be like, "Okay, this never happened." It's exactly how two professionals would handle that relationship.
But Doug was clearly concerned when Leann wasn't answering her phone after she was (presumably) killed off.
At the end when she asks to come see Doug and then she doesn't come, he starts calling her. There is some concern from Doug. I don't know that he thinks anything bad has happened, but he heard something in her voice that might make him think that. How that's gonna play out if we have another season will probably be fascinating as well. Doug will find out who is behind it, and if so... what?
There is a really poignant scene where Leann tells Doug she can be his friend, and Doug completely brushes her off and says "I don't have any friends." Why was that his reaction?
It was such a sincere reaction. He's not asking for pity from her; he doesn't necessarily need them. He's like, "That's not my world, man. I got a job to do." It's so bizarre for me to think about because I am a person who's loving and an open-book so to speak. To play a character who doesn't have one friend is fascinating. Frank is probably the closest thing he would call to a friend, but is it a friendship? No.
Lastly, was House of Cards at all inspired by any real-life political events this season?
No, we aren't a tear-from-the-headlines show, like Law & Order. We never have been. That said, we can hope that people use House of Cards this season as an escape—knowing that there are zero consequences when someone acts like that as a President. It could be a good escape for people.