HOUSE of Cards has landed at the perfect time. With the presidential race heating up, Frank and Claire Underwood’s exploits in the White House are just as exciting as the real thing, often with more twists and turns. Season three left us with a lot of questions (such as when will it end? – TV Ed.), and after binge watching the last season, I viewed season four at a slightly slower pace. With all that happens in this series, it takes a lot to process all that is going on, especially with the ever changing world of House of Cards and the many shocks it throws at you. Unlike my last article, I will aim to avoid spoilers when possible.
When we left the Underwoods, they seemed on a precipice, and when we rejoin them, things are very much the same. With their marriage so close to being over, season four places a lot of the story on the relationship between them. It literally takes them to the edge and pulls them back at the last minute. It sees them broaden their horizons and play by their own rules, and all this is worked exquisitely by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, who once exhibit why they are two of the finest television actors around at the moment. Perhaps my only criticism of the characterisations of the two main characters is that Frank’s breaking of the fourth wall appears to have been toned down this season. Admittedly, many critics seemed to think that particular device was beginning to grow stale, but it’s a nice trait that I wish had been used more as when it’s so isolated, it seems more gimmicky and less useful.
The series continues to very much centre around Frank and Claire, which is great, as characters come and go as the two of them decide who is most useful for their cause but the series never forgets that these two are the most interesting characters they have. It can be confusing to some extent, especially as we see the resurgence of the some past cast members this series, and disappearance of some particularly prominent ones. It’s really interesting how the writers can end a storyline and then bring it back out of the blue; there are a couple of instances where this works very well, and some others which will leave the viewer checking Wikipedia.
But while some of these characters are fleeting, many leave lasting impressions. Michael Kelly, who plays long term character Doug Stamper, continues to be brilliant in every conceivable way (God, just marry him – TV Ed.); someone give this man an Emmy. Seth Grayson (played by Derek Cecil) is also developed in this series, which is great, while the relationship between Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali, soon to be in Netflix’s Luke Cage series as the villainous Cottonmouth) and Jackie Sharp (Mollie Parker, who the mere mention of gives the TV Ed. a chance to tell you to watch Deadwood) continues to play an important part, despite being somewhat understated. I was very glad to have journalist Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) back in the picture, and he’s perhaps given a larger role in this series than the earlier ones, an excellent decision based on his performance. Newbies Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell) and Will Conway (Joel Kinnerman) are also welcome additions to the cast.
But with our more established characters, time is beginning to take its toll. For the first time since the show’s conception, Frank looks haggard, tired, almost out of his depth; the presidency has taken its toll on him. Doug Stamper no longer has the power he so craves and Remy is left to save something out of his relationship with Jackie, all the while ducking and dodging his way out of politics. These once imposing characters are now vulnerable; there are chinks in the armour, and season four does all it can to stab at the exposed flesh.
When it comes the story, season four continues many themes seen in the last series, as well as paralleling real life. Problems in the Middle East, radicalised Americans, Russia, privacy online, gun control and general campaigning throughout the elections are all featured heavily throughout the series. While this makes the series seem all the more real, some aspects, particularly the issues with the Middle East, felt somewhat forced. Still, it didn’t ruin the series, but the greatest shocks in the series stand on their own two feet, aside from current affairs. One in particular comes out of the blue, reminding us why House of Cards is one of the most revered shows in television history.
But perhaps one of the most notable points in season four comes through the shifts in atmosphere; a subtle change that shifts the entire show at its core. In a way, House of Cards feels like it’s circling towards its finale, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Season four may not always blow your mind with as many in your face shocks as the previous series, but it’s subtlety and underlying themes make it perhaps one of the most important seasons so far. The acting is great, the story is, as always, riveting, and this series shakes Frank and Claire Underwood’s world to the very core.
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