Saturday, 19 March 2016


Warning: this review contains SPOILERS. Read my review of seasons one and two here, and season three here.

First and foremost, House of Cards is a drama, and at times a darkly comedic one. However, the longer the series has gone on, the more people try to find reflections of real life American politics in it. What House of Cards does well is sustain a sense of the uncanny throughout, containing just enough references to real life situations as to make you believe you are watching a critique of politicians instead of a constructed programme. Many times I have found myself thinking while watching the series whether politicians really are this Machiavellian? This ruthless? This prone to murder?

Season 4 sees Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the unelected President of the United States of America, trying to win hearts and minds as he actually tries to become President more democratically. His main adversary in the election is the equally conniving, but hugely popular, Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), the Republican candidate. His main tactic for votes is his youth and young family, as well as his social media skills (a brilliant Vanity Fair cover shows him and his wife taking selfies), and timing as it turns out, as 9/11 happened just as he left college and thought it would look good on his pre-meditated campaign to have military service on his CV. This, however, would prove his downfall, as he shows himself to be erratic in a hostage situation that Frank uses to his advantage.

Frank's campaign has its own ups and downs, and the first half of the season sees Frank having to deal with some major issues. Firstly is Claire (Robin Wright), who left Frank at the end of season 4, of which they are forced to use the cover of Claire visiting her sick mother as a guise for their marital troubles. Next is the revelation that Frank's father had a very brief fling with the KKK (ironically, the one moment Frank was proud of his dad, as it was to secure a loan from the bank). Frank then finds himself the victim of an assassination attempt. His liver destroyed, Frank finds himself drifting in and out of vivid hallucinations which see him reunited with his past victims. You'd be wrong to see this as a sign that Frank is becoming more conscious of his misdeeds, as he in fact uses his recollections of his hallucinations to chillingly blackmail his Secretary of State (Jayne Atkinson), as well as using his shooting for sympathy points.

Season 4 finds us confirming even more that the Underwood's relationship is based on mutual power, and not so much love and affection. Claire leaves because Frank is rapidly taking the opportunity for power away from her, so she agrees to come back, only if she can be his running mate, his Vice President. Frank sees this as ludicrous, but is swiftly brought around to the idea when it turns out people aren't adverse to the idea. Another chilling moment comes as Claire's mother (Ellen Burstyn), who Claire has never had a very good relationship with, chooses to die so as to help with the campaign, with Claire delivering her the lethal dose.

One thing that marks House of Cards apart from other political dramas is Frank's breaking of the fourth wall, a reminder to the audience that he is totally aware, and approving of his insidious actions. While season 4 saw generally less of these, the best was left till last, with the season's finale containing a knowing look not just from Frank, but from Claire as well, the first time in the programmes history. After both agreeing that outright war would be more effective for gaining votes (and diverting from a devastating newspaper article), Frank stares at the audience and declares "We don't submit to terror. We make the terror". This is Frank and Claire reunited at last, two of the most powerful people in the world, searching to destroy. The ending was as delicious a cliff hanger as you could get.

While a general improvement on season 3, season 4 did see some inconsistencies in its episodes. I was especially disappointed in the newspaper storyline, which bubbled on all the way through the season, only to talk about Frank forcing impeachment on the previous President, and not the more serious crime of murder that the reporter (Boris McGiver) suggested the article would be going towards. My favourite part of House of Cards has always been the outrageous evilness of its protagonist, and while most of this season is spent recovering from the more bumbling version of Frank they portrayed in season 3, the finale promises a return to the more disturbing traits of Frank and Claire's personalities.

Maybe one of the most unbelievable plot points in this series is the announcement of Claire being the Vice President nominee. Yes, it may seem highly unusual for this to happen in real life, but if we insist on comparing this programme to reality, is she really that unqualified? She was the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and she pretty much lives in the White House. Much more experience than, you know, just being rich and being entertaining. While House of Cards has always tried to allude to real life, its not very often that you get a presidential candidate actively trying to make his campaign seem like a TV programme, in turn making the murderous Frank Underwood seem like the safe option. What ever they do in season 5, it will be interesting to see if they allude to real life politics. How will Frank compare to a man like Donald Trump, who the New York Times described as "an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship". Season 5 looks to be interesting.



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