National political intrigue on American television series runs from the honest to the insane. On the honest end of the spectrum, we have the classic The West Wing, and on the other end, a political drama so intense you can’t help but watch the shit hit the fan over and over to see what sticks to the walls of the White House.
Let’s follow the Underwood’s path to domination in House of Cards Season 4.
The season starts slow as Underwood starts fighting back against the other Democratic nominees going for his throne. Soon after, however, Underwood gets shot by a deranged Lucas, who has been trying to get the truth out about the terrible deeds the President committed. Frank survives the attempt and begins anew on the war path to assure his second term as President, more determined in the face of his potential demise. Claire returns to the White House, having brokered a deal with Russian president Petrov, and together they have decided that Frank’s running mate should…his wife. Rapidly gaining support and squashing the opposition left and right on their final and most difficult march to power, taking the country into war, the Underwoods are back.
Kevin Spacey is still the acting juggernaut he was, but he’s given so much more to do this season, including the ever favorite talking directly to the camera in that condescending tone. It is clear that he is far beyond any guilt he might have felt for the deaths of Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes, to the point where he basically threatens to murder Cathy Durant to her face, laughing the entire time. He’s ruthless, charismatic, and so much more involved with the strategy of his re-election. They’ve managed to switch him back on the offensive and honestly the show is a lot better for it.
Robin Wright has taken Claire Underwood to the next level. Her character as slowly gone from soft-spoken private motivator to slow-to-act conspirator to free agent to equal partner on the playing field. It has been a pleasure to see her grow and evolve into the figure of power in her own right. I think many of the fans of the show knew that eventually knew Claire was going to get that position of real power sooner rather than later, but to be the VP candidate only proves the persuasive and strategic planning of this ultimate power couple. Claire still remains the more virtuous of the two, but that’s not saying much with all the blood on their hands after a hostage situation.
Doug and Seth have their own small plot lines but they are so minor as compared to the rest of the events of the show that Doug’s weird little love affair and Seth’s betrayal slip away. LeAnn, while entertaining, also has very little to do, mostly there to make Doug feel small in comparison. The fiction author comes back, again, but is honestly pointless except to be the new love interest for Claire because she needs one, apparently? This season is all Underwood.
Joel Kinnaman’s portrayal of the Republican nominee Will Conway is a pitch perfect representative of the new generation of politician that is all social media image and family-oriented good will. If the show is to be believed, this politician is ultimately ineffectual and is as superficial as his Instagram posts. They very much wrote him as this hungry up-and-comer who went gunning for Frank’s seat and, while clever in his own right, did not count on his persistence and the extent of his cruelty. It’s interesting that they chose to pair him with a British wife and small children, trying to make them as different from the Underwoods as possible. Still, Conway presents a good balance for the show, not quite getting in the way but always a real challenge.
There is a lot better direction in this season. The hallucinations in the hospital are intense, and is definitely the most artistic angles that the show has taken in the last seasons. The part with the inner monologue about taking away Conway’s gun in a duel is genius. Overall the environments feel bigger and more detailed, since we move around beyond the Situation Room, the Oval Office, and Air Force One.
The media always plays a bizarre role in this show, what with its revolving door of reporters who never effect anything. Hammerschmidt is the next in a long line of journalists getting close to the Underwoods and failing to break through, though it seems that when the “big article” comes out making its accusations, it adds up to nothing. I am really not sure what the writers of this show are trying to say with these plot lines, but it’s coming off like, “Hey everyone, just remember, if you’re a member of the media, you’re going to end up dead and nothing you write or report will matter anyways.” What is the point of even having reporting plot lines after Zoe Barnes, except to put pressure on Seth and/or give us an insight into what people think of the Underwoods.
This whole season has been masterful, no way around it. Underwood went from content house dog to the conniving, raging powerhouse we know him to be and it is a genuine joy to watch. The amount of strategy and thought that went into the creation of this twisted and dark drama, but you have to wonder how long the show has left. After all, once they either win the presidency or are shamed and disgraced, what more is there left to smirk over?
R.I.P – Edward Meechum, the only character on this show who wasn’t an asshole.
– Strong acting.
– Good artistic direction.
– Good direction for the show overall.
– Media storyline remains useless.
– Some of the side characters don’t have much to do.