When I’m not working or hell even when I am I’m most likely consuming some form of content. TV shows & movies being a primary source of the content I consume. That being said it’s no surprise I started writing about said consumption & my thoughts around the many forms of entertainment we have nowadays. The last 24 hours has been filled with a binge of Netflix’s popular original House of Cards. As Season 4 made it’s way into the streaming platforms library the next several hours of my life cleared up. It goes without saying if you haven’t watched the season or show already well SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
Right off the bat Season 4 has been my favorite season thus far. House of Cards is centered on one thing, power. The concept of power & everything that surrounds it. The journey for power, sacrifices that come along with it, and those who lie in your path for the pursuit of it. House of Cards started out as a journey for revenge & ultimately one of the most powerful positions in the world, President of the United States.
Season 4 “52 Pickup”
When I was younger I used to always play that annoying game with people 52 pickup. You’d ask an unsuspecting person if they’d want to play & when they said yes you’d simply throw the deck of cards on the floor & tell them to “pick it up”. Wasn’t so much a game rather a joke but honest in it’s approach. This season is a representation of that. The pursuit of power & ultimate crumbling of the metaphorical “House” of cards. Left to pickup the remaining pieces & either rebuild or remain down.
Season 4 picks up after Frank Underwoods first years as President & the rocky scenario Season 3 left us at. The dynamic between Claire & Frank as she states “I’m leaving you“. Introducing the new season we get a glimpse of a cell with an erotic narration from no other than Lucas Goodwin to his bunkmate in a prison cell. Whom we later learn is working with the FBI & being placed in the witness protection program. This begins the multiple storylines that all in House of Cards fashion tend to intersect.
To briefly summarize the hours worth of binge watching here’s a couple things I took away from each chapter. Focusing mainly on the Underwood storyline but of course not leaving behind the other sub-plots that eventually make up the whole season. Those will be addressed afterwards. As I’m sure those who have watched the season don’t need every detail & plot reiterated to them.
The introduction into HOC shows us for the first time a opponent that is equally on Frank’s level even if we don’t first realize it. Claire. It’s Underwood versus Underwood as Claire makes her way to Texas to see her mother Elizabeth Hale who we see for the first time (played by Ellen Burstyn). Claire wanders the seemingly empty mansion as we get a glimpse of why she has such a cold demeanor when we meet the mother. A long estrange relationship rekindled as Claire begins to plot what she truly wants. Frank scurries to ensure the secret service & Doug stay on top of Claire & her every movement. We’re also introduce to the new HOC member Leann Harvey (Scream’s Neve Campbell) who’ll play an essential role as Claire’s right hand. The rest of the season focuses on Claire’s ambition’s for the Texas Senatorship. However this plays really as stepping stone for her true ambitions.
Despite the resistance from not only the Congresswoman & her daughter but obviously Frank Claire pushes forward in her plan for Texas Senator. The real takeaway of this episode however being the first time we see Frank & Claire finally back in the White House together. As he promises he’ll stay out of her plans on the exception that she attends the State of the Union address. This is Frank Underwood in full effect as he delivers an empowering speech & the final blow choosing to fund Doris Jones clinic & endorsing her daughter Celia as she stands directly next to Claire. The tit for tat between the Underwood begins.
Claire will not let the snag of the senatorship go unnoticed as she employees Leann to dig up long lost dirt on Frank. We see Leann enter a safety deposit box room to grab a photo of what we learn is Calvin Underwood (Frank’s Father) & a KKK member. Only leaving behind a box of earrings that Frank gave her in the previous episode as a sort of “Fuck You”. The press leak cycle begins & amidst pressure from Frank & Doug, Seth points his suspicion towards everyone’s favorite Secret Service Agent Meechum.
Claire begins to steal the episode as she’s threatens Frank from Texas with a hand delivered letter from Leann to Frank that threatens to expose their marriage to the public & announce divorce. As Frank scrambles to get on top of the situation the season has it’s first pivotal moment when Lucas shoots Frank in an assassination attempt during one of Franks events. Frank barely survives while we learn the body left behind is Meechum. The famed friend & loyal agent takes a fatal bullet for Frank while also succeeding in taking out Lucas.
Frank’s critical condition throw us into a series of hallucinations. We begin to see what Frank fears. A more integral look at his conscious & things that begin to worry him. As he lays dormant in need of a liver transplant. Meanwhile while we think this will finally unite him & Claire she takes advantage of Donald Blythe as acting president and begins to align herself while Frank’s literally powerless. Not a state we’re used to seeing him in. While Doug like a puppy without his owner begins to panic & does whatever possible to ensure Frank gets a liver even if it means donating his own or bumping down the other applicants, which plays into his own guilt later in the season.
Frank recovers & all is well…for now at least. Amidst his hallucinations he comes to learn that in death like most characters in TV shows his thinking is misaligned. That Claire isn’t his enemy as the previous episodes have played out but his one & only partner. That he exists because of her. She admits that she doesn’t want to just do this as husband & wife but as “partners”. Her real ambitions are revealed for the Vice President spot. The other storyline follows Heather Dunbar Frank’s main opponent in the election admitting to a meeting with Lucas earlier in the season which virtually kills her chances in the race after his assassination attempt.
This episode finally brings the breaking of the 4th wall that we all love HOC for into full view. We’re also introduce to the Underwoods new opponents & a real look at where the season starts. The Conway’s are this shining example of the modern american family. Young & great looking, kids, and a love for the spotlight. We see a glimpse of how much they’re into themselves as the opening sequence shows them having sex while staring at themselves in the mirror before being interrupted. The episode ends with the Underwoods finally united in true fashion to take on the Conway’s.
Frank: “We’re going to destroy them.”
Claire: “Yes we are.”
The Underwoods are back to their scheming ways as they plan to find a way to set Claire in place for the VP. By of course first setting up others as potential VP candidates. This chapter also brings back the Underwoods favorite writer Thomas Yates who has had chemistry with both Claire & Frank that is further explored this season. However there’s another writer whose important to the season & whose existence throughout the season is downplayed until the latter half. Tom Hammerschmidt former chief editor of the Washington Herald. The “Hammer” Barnes referred to him as in the earlier seasons. Tom has been running in his own investigation into Underwood & the aftermath of Barnes, Goodwin, and Janine Skorsky’s dirt against him.
Obviously this chapter has a lot going on as the battle between Frank & Conway rages on, wiretapping & global surveillance is being used by the White House, and the threat of ICO (the ISIS of the Cards land). However the scene that stuck with me most was the Agar.io plug in HOC. House of Cards is no stranger to pop culture & integrating it sometimes subtly & not so much into the show. From PSP’s to Call of Duty Frank’s obsession with games has become common place in the show. Always of course having some bigger meaning. In this case Conway showcases the popular mini clip game to Frank. The game which consists of you playing a blob that eats other smaller blobs allowing you to increase in size. The game really being a metaphor for the show in itself. Starting out small & gradually becoming bigger & bigger. The bigger you get the slower you & more exposed you can become. If eaten starting all over as the small blob.
The battle for VP continues. Cathy Durant upset over Frank’s betrayal guns for the Presidency with strong support but later shut down by Frank’s marvelous scene in the Oval office. Openly admitting to the murders of Russo & Barnes even if in a joking fashion. We see the dynamic of Frank change from serious to joking & then back to the serious threatening President Underwood. Damn near killing Cathy in the Oval office with his letter opener. All while Claire finally closes the chapter of her & the mother. Putting her out of her misery while also in some part making a political move. Turning the death into a sympathy move to announce her VP race. The death of her mother also opens up Claire to Yates something that was hinted at the last couple of episodes. This is the Underwoods at their best. United as one.
This episode showcases the threads starting to tear apart at the seams for the Underwoods. As Claire’s affair with Yates shows her longing for someone & dependency we haven’t seen since Adam. However this time around Frank understands the importance of Claire & Yates relationship & reassures Claire that if its what she wants that she should keep him around. That he can give her what he can’t. All the while we see other hints of Frank’s facade revealed. The way old faces like Freddy see straight through his act & kindness and sees him for who he is. All the while the actual election is ongoing & Conways support from the former General add to his momentum.
The battle of Underwoods & Conways is still at the forefront of the show however it’s mixed in with the actual agenda of the government & this chapter focuses on that of terrorism. One that’s been at the head of the season ICO. As a family is taken hostage by ICO supporters in demand for their leader this in typical HOC fashion plays into a plot point for the Underwoods. Using Conway as a spokesperson for the negotiations ends up as sleepover at the most respectable address in the country, the White House. This leads to a great standoff scene in Frank’s own kitchen as he & Conway trade shots ultimately ending with Frank getting the better of Conway. Outlining what the presidency means & what it requires & how Conway while is great at running for president even if he was to achieve it his true character would show. Note however that Frank isn’t underestimating or doubting his ability to win, rather if he does he wouldn’t last. Meanwhile Hammerschmidt meets up with former president Walker supposedly to discuss the story against Frank.
The final chapter ensues & everything starts to come full circle. With the ongoing terrorist situation Claire goes on a secret visit to a Virginia safe house to negotiate with ICO leader Yusuf al Ahmadi to try to convince him to release the remaining hostages. Frank takes over the negotiations at this point to spite Conway. As if thats not enough he deals another blow by informing Conway of the congressman of House Intelligence Committee outing Conway for his intervention in the Russia vote. This forces Conway to lay low & we for the first time see the cool calming demeanor breakdown in the motorcade as he gets upset with the family. Being the closing episode a lot of things re in play. Hammerschmidt requests a meeting with Frank & informs him of the story about to air & requests for comment out of respect for the “truth”. A word so deeply buried in this show. The real drama goes down in the situation room as the ICO leader betrays Claire on call with the terrorists demanding them to release the video & kill the hostage if he’s not released. Everything at this point begins to take a turn for the worst. The story airs, Seth hides in fear of the press, the Underwoods sit seemingly defeated. About the only two parties who are happy as a result are Jackie & Remmy who can finally leave all the bullshit behind & the Conways who see the story as their ticket into the White House.
However as the Underwood sit in their chairs reflecting upon the days events they hatch a plan in a way only they could. Setting aside the politics of appealing to the public & everyone else. Using the element of fear. Frank hosts a televised address to the world & specifically using the phrase “we are at war” in an effort to bring this concern to the forefront & downplay everything else ongoing. The scene finally cuts to the situation room as they witness the killing of the last remaining hostage televised to the world. Center stage is the Underwoods staring straight at the screen & camera. Tightening the shot as for the first time ever we see both Frank & Claire break the fourth wall.
We don’t submit to terror.
We make the terror.
Season 4 comes to a dramatic close in a way that only HOC can do. That all said of course there are many underlying storylines & characters to address. Aside from the Underwoods storyline Season 4 is about multiple plots that ultimately come to focus on the Underwoods. It’s layered with multiple stories & people working their way up to address their own agendas. Sometimes the plots are more obvious while other times we only get a glimpse to simply be reminded that this agenda is still ongoing.
Some of those plots being:
Tom “the Hammer” Hammerschmidt
Throughout S4 we see Tom as a bystander to everything ongoing in the Cards world. Whether it’s watching from his couch while the news roles on or in talks with people still interested in the story. As the Goodwin plot plays out & finally snaps because no one will listen we see Tom finally reprise his role. Investigating in the shadows & retracing the earlier seasons happenings. He visits Barnes apartment, Freddies BBQ, and even interacts with characters who are sick of Underwood like Remmy Danton. Piecing together the whereabouts of not just Frank but his trusty secret service agent Meechum. Ultimately concluding that much of the documents & reports were falsified & that Frank was the source of Zoey Barnes. That the previous allegations towards the acting President could be true. Tom represents the outlier in House of Cards one of the few characters who seeks the absolute truth. While many other characters are doing their best to bury that he seeks it.
New Additions Worth Mentioning:
The fresh new family that proves to be the second battle for the Underwoods aside from themselves. Young, open, and just as tactical as the Underwoods. They play upon the fact that their a shining example of the American family. They have kids, they look great on camera, and take advantage of the social media age to promote their agenda as a wholesome family. Everything they do from the first time they’re presented on camera filming the husband trying to shave the son & wife hair are all a future play. Everything is a political move with them. We do however at times see the wife’s humane side seeing beyond the politics. Yet she can’t be counted out for one second.
Claire’s Doug proves to be a resourceful ally in this season. Initially threatened by Frank she shows throughout the season where her loyalty lies in the first lady. Moving pieces into play effectively to ensure that the Claire’s agenda plays out. Despite her constant doubt by Doug, Frank, and others her presence this season showcases that whatever the future may hold she will have some role in it.
Overall S4 excelled in amplifying the drama while strengthening it’s cast. Claire (Robin Wright) had an incredible performance throughout the season showcasing her ability to transition from a cold to sympathetic demeanor. Showing that she can hold her own & be just as effective as Frank. Showing that she makes up for more than just half of the Underwoods. However this isn’t to downplay Spacey’s amazing performance. Daunting & threatening as ever as President Underwood. The earlier chapters focus less on Frank breaking the fourth wall to address us the viewers & shines a light on his internal struggles. The things he doesn’t quite address. His fears & conscious from the killing of Zoey Barnes & Pete Russo to the constant civil war soldier figure in his life. The supporting casts also plays an integral role in the season. Doug Stamper continues to do whatever is in his power to push Frank’s agenda along all the while facing his own demons. We see this more than ever in his decision to bump the #1 donor for a liver. His play to save Frank’s life ends up costing the life of a father of a family. One that he later finds the memoriam page for & proceeds to donate to. This donation triggers contact from the recently widowed wife who Doug then begins a contact with. While we can see he his attraction to her be it sexually or as a mother figure in his time of need no actual relationship begins. Rather we see them meeting in private or for coffee but never committing. Thomas Yates the famed author & now speech writer also proves to be integral to the story. Ensuring that the words of the Underwoods are always powerful & meaningful to the public. Seeing them for who they are. Whether or not his relationship lasts with Claire is yet to be determined. However one thing we’re sure about is that Underwoods are together for the long run politically speaking & they’ll stop at nothing to maintain that power.
In the face of everything ongoing from the story breaking, the Conway’s, and of course the american people they stay on course. If you feared their power before then by the end of this season you’ll be absolutely terrified (or enthusiastic, that’s your call). Keeping in mind throughout the season that a deck consists of 52 cards no more no less. Season 4 ends at chapter 52 & while season 5 has been confirmed you can’t ignore that number. A house of cards built on 52 individual cards. A house that is as only strong as it’s base, however one single card that’s misplaced or fallen over leads to the ultimate crumbling of the whole house. This show has always been about the dynamic of power. Building from the ground up to what we left off with. The ultimate crumbling of the Underwoods yet rather than a mess being left behind we see them rise from the ashes. Taking the collapse in stride & rebuilding from it. This time stronger, better, and without fear of others. Rather this time using that very fear to destroy everyone in their path for power. In this case that means retaining the presidency & getting Claire as VP.
There’s a lot of questions as the season & binge watching ends. Leaving that inevitable void when one of your favorite shows seasons ends & your left waiting. Will the act of war actually work? Who’ll remain by the Underwoods? Who’ll betray them? How does this play out for the Conway’s? and many other questions. All which will be answered in 2017 with S5. Though this season did a amazing job of playing out the storyline while reinforcing their cast. Crafting a story in a binge worthy way that only HOC can. While left with some plot holes & downright jarring scenarios like the world wide surveillance plot. You can’t help but think after all is said & done as far fetched as some of these ideas may be they without a doubt mirror our current state in the world & the politics of it.
The House may have fallen but it’s far from over.
My favorite season thus far & it’s cast does an amazing job from the reoccurring to the new faces. Packed with it’s powerful scenes & tremendous performances House of Cards Season 4 doesn’t upset. While the fourth wall isn’t broken as much, when it is it’s powerful. The subtle humor & metaphors placed in subtly & sometimes not so much all play into the Cards world. Everyone has an agenda and no season better exemplifies that this one. Cinematography wise the season is shot in true HOC form with tight focus on characters & it’s common breaking the 4th wall technique. Aside from that we see a reoccurring style in which the scenes transitions from the past & future particularly when the main characters or practicing for a speech. This shows the timeline advancing while also seeing the behind the scenes of major events in the show. A mesh of storylines both in the fore & background that all add up to the S4 finale while also setting in motion the pieces for the upcoming season. If your reading this review then I can only imagine you’ve already spent your time binge watching it however for some reason you haven’t then close the window now & get busy.