I’ve read a lot of things that have said this new season of House of Cards, Season Four, was just as good as the first one, which was arguably the best. I’m here to tell everyone reading this right now, that couldn’t be more true. The first season, introducing the characters and teaching us the politics of the show was brilliant in how it was directed and written. The second season was still good, if a little slow at times, dealing with Lucas, particularly Doug and Rachel. I didn’t like the third season as much. Things really slowed down and I didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions they made. Doug’s whole redemption arc was really slow, his obsession with Rachel annoying. The intrigue with Lucas after Zoe was killed was also slow and I didn’t really care for Claire as much. So how was season four when weighed against the others before?
The Underwoods are back, and it’s a firestorm.
The House, Divided
When we left off with the third season, Claire was confident in leaving Frank, disrupting his campaign in full swing in order to strike out on her own. Putting the two at odds was painful, but it was a good way to bring some tension to the first part of the season. What better match for Frank than his own wife? There was some interplay between the two, some more manipulation, but the exercise really proved that they might only destroy one another if they played this game of going behind the other. No matter who came out on top, they would still lose everything trying to destroy one another.
It kept the episodes moving at a nice pace at the beginning of the series. Where season three really dragged trying to bring Doug back into the fold, this back and forth between Claire and her husband really helped to speed us along into the more juicy parts of the show.
The Shot Heard Round the World
My jaw dropped after the shooting, but afterward, I felt like there was no other way for the story to end for Lucas. For someone who’s traded away everything just so someone might believe him, left with no other option, the attempted assassination made a lot of sense. It was a great way to take the show in new directions, move some new people up to the forefront and experiment, I like the risks they took. The VP has to step up to the mantle and Claire also has a chance to take the reigns.
For the sequences involved Frank during this interlude in his presidency, I’ve always thought the avant-garde coma sequences were a little over the top. So many other places use this same trope to not write people out of scripts when they’re incapacitated, and I think it’s a fine line to walk. They could have done a lot of things here, but I liked where it ended up, despite how strange it was. Frank is forced to confront the ghosts of Zoe and Peter in visceral ways and I was glad that it didn’t turn into some redemption arc where he could have found religion or some other higher power. Instead, he finds Claire, and I really thought the show took a turn for the better after this point. Frank gets to deal with his anger and is able to come back to Claire with a wounded, but open heart.
Madame Vice President
My one problem with the show has always been Claire’s role throughout. She’s such an interesting character to me, and I’ve loved the idea of them being an indomitable team, unstoppable when they’re together. But it always turned out to be just that, an idea. Claire keeps sacrificing for Frank’s ambitions despite how much they talk about give and take. Frank always expects obedience, and so I’ve always thought it sent a problematic message to women. Know your place and keep your head down.
So this season comes as a breath of fresh air. Here we see Claire in all her glory, making her own decisions and striking her own deals. We see her make plays that can’t be denied even by someone as powerful as Frank, with all of the influence of the American Government behind him. I like that they’re wounds are acknowledged, they don’t just sweep what they said under the rug and ignore it. They confront what they don’t like about each other and slowly begin to reconcile, which I felt was a more accurate picture of what happens when a major rift occurs in a marriage. It felt real and they took some time to come all the way back to each other, doing little things, and from that they were able to resurrect the pieces of their marriage and start to piece a life back together that involved the two of them.
Claire’s decision to run for VP, her inclusion of Leann as a foil to Frank’s Doug, I felt were all great choices. Once again, the Underwoods defy the system, that’s what they’re known for. They don’t play by the rules, and they really got back to that here when I felt they had forgotten some of that during the last season. It also comes to a head in the final, and best episode, at the final scene when they both acknowledge the camera, and it really proves that Claire is now deeper in the fold than she’s ever been before. Now, she gets to address the audience, something only Frank could do before. It was only a look, but it was a powerful one, and now together, Frank and Claire may be stronger than they’ve ever been before.
Inspired by True Events
House of Cards has never been this topical and I love it. It was easy to connect with what was happening, more than it was in the third season. When they were campaigning then, it wasn’t nearly so relevant. Now, with the actual primary election in full swing, and fairly close in timeline to the events of the show, it really hits home more what’s happening. More and more people are learning about the democratic process, so when in the third season I wasn’t always sure what they were talking about concerning the election, I’ve been educated on the subject by now and can fully engage, and I think others will find the same. The show tends to use a lot of jargon, but here they really made it work for them. The timing couldn’t have been better.
And they have a plethora of issues to choose from for the show’s universe. I thought that shift from gun control after the attempted assassination was a great way to integrate that into the show without it coming out of nowhere or sounding preachy.
There were the many tribulations that any campaign faces on the road, including Will Conway for the Republican nomination. As soon as I saw this character, he scared me. He doesn’t win a great deal through the season, but I thought the idea of the character was prophetic. I couldn’t help but think that this was the new face of campaigning, being connected all the time via social media, completely opening your life to the public in order to gain trust. More than that, he was a young and handsome Republican, focused more on policy than name-calling. If the GOP ever needed a saving grace(like now), they might want to take a look at the show and jot some notes down. I can’t imagine anyone more viable for president than a young, wealthy, tech-savvy, good looking white guy that happened to be Republican. It would be just the nominee to rescue the party (Although maybe a little too late).
I was struck by the introduction of ICO(ISIS in our vernacular). I thought it was another great way to bring real world inspiration into the show, and it made it that much more engaging. They had a segment talking about how Islam was a religion of peace, which I enjoyed, and they also made the kidnappers white, which is something that’s already happened in our collective memory. It felt substantial enough to have weight, since we face things like that everyday. I wasn’t exactly sure about why they made the kidnapping such a big deal, I would have figured that beheadings and killings would be something the President would have to deal with pretty regularly the way our foreign policy has been since the War on Terror, but apparently the viral video was enough to make it the concern of the President and his Cabinet. Making ICO based out of Syria just sets them up for more things they can add into the mix during the next season. I imagine refugees will become a big issue next year.
That’s not even going into the problems they’ve made for themselves. Frank’s killings are quick line becoming public knowledge, and in the final episode, the story about his involvement in their deaths and the amount of corruption he’s sown trying to rise to the top is about to break. I thought it was a great examination of their characters, Frank and Claire. All of those skeletons in the closet are about to fall out, and them sitting in the White House trying to think of what to do, I couldn’t help but feel desolate with them. But then deciding to initiate a War on Terror like ours in order to move focus away from them, talking about commanding hearts and striking fear into people, it really felt like the old Underwoods were back. It was terrifying and thrilling, but now we face a problem
We have to wait for the next season to come out.
This was easily the best season since the first one. Once I made it to the second and third episodes I was hooked, I could feel myself unable to think of other things. I had to know what would happen next, and it left me on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was a great ride and a fun build up to what’s to come next year. It nets nine out of ten smug looks to the camera.
Whatever may come next season, their House of Cards has never been in more danger of tumbling down.