Warning Spoilers Ahead!
I unapologetically admit, House of Cards is one of my favourite TV shows. The first time I watched House of Cards was while I was washing dishes; I must have washed the same plate twelve times as I was instantly sucked into the high drama of US politics and the world of Frank Underwood, the House Whip, betrayed by the President when he is looked over for the role of Secretary of State. I am happy to say, that Season 4 continues to thrill and keep viewers on tenterhooks.
Season 4 picks up from Season 3 where we see the Underwood’s marriage on the verge of a breakdown. Claire feels unappreciated and is tired of her ambitions playing second fiddle to Frank’s. Or perhaps it is a calculated power play on Claire’s part, waiting till Frank is deep in the election cycle before making her move – literally, moving out to her family home in Texas – knowing the she has Frank’s balls and presidential aspirations on the chopping block. With virtually no experience or credentials for the role, Claire wants to be VP. Frank (barely) survives an assassination attempt and eventually sees the light; Claire is too strong and clever to crush like his other political opponents. After they are reconciled the Underwood’s, as they do, find a torturous way to make this (almost) impossible goal become reality. The Democrat ticket for the 2016 race will be Underwood and Underwood!
Even as Frank (usually through his Chief of Staff, the scary Doug Stamper) takes care of one loose end, there are always one, two or three others unravelling. The primary antagonists in Season 4 are Tom Hammerschmidt, who investigates the link between Frank and Zoe Barnes as well as various other abuses of power, and Will Conway, the popular, young(er) Republican Governor of New York who is ahead in the polls.
Tom Hammerschmidt finds enough evidence, including testimony from Jackie Sharp and Remy, for the newspaper to publish against Frank bringing the season to its cliff-hanger end. The election is in the balance. Frank is about to be exposed. Frank and Claire’s solution: the politics of fear. Presumably, Season 5 will explore a “wag the dog” situation where Frank and Claire “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” as they attempt to distract the public from Tom Hammerschmidt’s inquiry.
Season 4 is blessed with an abundance of riveting scenes. The scene where Frank confronts Catherine Durant and “convinces” her to follow the plan and step aside at the Democratic Convention so that Claire can be nominated VP is intense to say the least. The look of realisation and horror on Cathy’s face when Frank, brandishing a letter open, tells her that he was haunted by Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes while he was in a coma because “it’s all true”, that he killed them, is priceless. She finally understands what the audience does…the extent that Frank will go to to preserve his tenuous grasp on power. The mask is fully off, the murderous monster revealed; but just for a second before Frank laughs it off.
An amusing scene is the scene between Frank and Will Conway when Frank calls his rival Will Conway’s bluff and actually invites Will to come assist with the counter terrorism effort. The scene has Will and Frank having to kill time in a room together with the press outside thinking that they are discussing counter terrorism strategy. Frank takes his shoes off and has a sandwich; Will teaches Frank to play the “agar.io” video game. The cynicism of both candidates is exposed.
Finally, the scenes with the Russian president Viktor Petrov are always compelling. Lars Dittmann Mikkelsen plays the role so well this is now exactly how I imagine Putin.
An aside before I forget: the use of a Google clone company by Will Conway to measure the issues important to voters (through their search patterns), and the use of NSA databases by Frank to exert pressure on Congress to get anti-firearm legislation passed is prescient. This is an exaggerated take on how polling and data is used by campaigns to guide policy on issues. Let’s not underestimate how important big data is in politics and how serious an issue it is to find the right balance between security and privacy to prevent any such abuse of power in our futures.
In conclusion, whether we love the Underwoods or not, it is gripping TV to watch Frank and Claire Underwood build the titular “House of Cards” as they advance their political careers through their schemes. We hope that they can continue to add card after card without it tumbling down…or perhaps we wait to see how it all falls down in the end and they get their comeuppance.
Frank and Claire are liars and manipulators of the highest order. Ruthless murders who will stop at nothing in their insatiable thirst for power. But they are compelling characters, particularly Frank. In spite of being evil, Frank is likeable, mainly because Frank breaks the fourth wall and brings us in on his scheming. The strength of the acting is really what makes the show. Kevin Spacey is a delight to watch and Robin Wright is a commanding presence who holds her own next to Spacey.
At the end of the day, the show is an exaggeration of what we all suspect. Politics is corrupt to the core. The thrill of the show is voyeurism and shadenfreude: the gleeful enjoyment of seeing something forbidden and the enjoyment of watching the best laid plans (almost) unravel. Let’s not forget, especially in this tragicomic US election cycle, this show is a parody and we are not supposed to take it too seriously. I don’t know about you, but I certainly will be going along for the ride! Bring on Season 5.
To me, the story is a slight uplift on the debacle known as Season 3 where we see Frank Underwood pretty much piss everyone close to him off to a point of ridiculousness. How can a guy who rose to power using his allies and manipulating people fall so hard? I don’t know. I thought his anger at his incompetent wife and her mishandling of Russian politics, the suicide, the ghost writer, and her insistence that she should have a big seat at the table was well founded. Frank schemed his way up and became President. All the First Lady did was embarrass him with a photographer in season 1 and barely outmaneuver a non-profit staffer. She was pretty much an aloof character in season 1. Then in season 2, she has flashbacks to a sexual assault which she has done nothing about in 30 years or something, and then spends the season trying to get a bill passed and throws a victim to the political wolves. She failed and looked foolish doing so. The only thing she did contribute was helping manipulate the First Lady seek counseling which led to the downfall of the President.
Then she gave Frank a typewriter.
So Season 4 brings us to the aftermath of the fight. She leaves Frank for Dallas where she goes to see her mother, who for some reason doesn’t know she is dying. Then she plots to run for office against the daughter of the incumbent and get her idea trounced by Frank (master of undermining people). Then all of a sudden she says “Wait, I want to be VP” for some reason. WHAT THE HELL? Where did this come from? Someone who has never run for political office wants the second in command of the U.S. Government to be the wife? Talk about nepotism for someone who jumbles everything she touches into a turd.
But wait. The audience is screaming at their TV. They want their season 1 and 2 writers back. So the season 4 folk add this plot twist to give her credence. They have Frank shot, then have the first lady all of a sudden step in behind an VP who is too scared to do anything (How convenient. The guy in the first couple seasons who had an opinion, now has none? Give me a damn break). Then they go to negotiate a deal, and all of sudden the Secretary of State can’t negotiate? The First Lady says one line of “you need us or you’ll go broke” or some crazy thing like that, and he breaks? A Russian tyrant who holds the line on everything just folds to her? WHAT? So unbelievably stupid.
Then Frank wakes up and has a change of heart. They scheme a brokered convention for the VP slot and boom, somehow she gets on the ticket. Are they saying the democrats are that batshit stupid? America isn’t a democracy with a chain of command? Then, the First Lady starts shacking up with the ghostwriter and I just don’t know what to make of it. Is this house of cards or house of stupid?
This is coming from someone who watched the original House of Cards, which has the PM’s wife having the PM shot by her trusted secret service person in the very last episode. It all happens when they start a war that becomes unpopular. The final scene of the show is the PM laying on the ground. (The book that its based on coincidently has the FU character committing suicide the end of the book when confronted, but the BBC change the ending).
So there you go. A great show has become totally stupid. For some reason, I would have preferred the Solicitor General to beat Frank in the primary, or have the republican nominee beat him in the general. It just hurts to watch a series go down the toilet.
You decide who wins 🙂