Don’t start immediately with Season 4 as to understand and enjoy it, familiarity is required with the rest of the series so start with Season 1 if you haven’t watched yet or, refresh yourself unless you can remember a TV show or movie you are heavily invested in like me. House of Cards is a show that should not be missed!
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As the dread of our current, real world 2016 US Presidential Campaign continues, with none of the contenders establishing themselves as halfway decent choices to be our nation’s next president, it’s a sweet relief that we have Netflix’s House of Cards to entertain us and provide necessary escapism. Somehow this series’ versions of both the Democratic and Republican Parties provides more compelling, logical choices for President of the United States (POTUS) than the real Democrats and Republicans. Let’s review the match between Democratic candidate and incumbent POTUS Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and Republican candidate and Governor of New York (bonus points for being from my home state!) Eric Conway (Joel Kinnaman).
We pick up from Season 3 where Frank is campaigning in New Hampshire and Claire (Robin Wright), who has left Frank, is visiting her mother in Texas, Elizabeth Hale (Ellen Burstyn). Claire and Elizabeth (I assume her name is meant to reference Elizabeth, Francis Urquhart’s wife from the BBC House of Cards, now on Netflix) are not on the best of terms, with Elizabeth stating how much she despises Frank, and how it strained the whole family relationship of the Hales. Claire, always ambitious, unsurprisingly wants to run for elected office and contacts Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell), who has “made the Democrats relevant again” in Texas. For our non-American readers Texas is a state that is so much a Republican Party stronghold, the Democrats are practically inconsequential there. This is not like South Carolina, a southern state, and Frank’s home state, that is a Republican stronghold with some significant Democratic presence. The situation is similar in my home state of New York, a major Democratic stronghold, which makes it more surprising that Underwood’s opponent in the general election is a Republican governor of New York.
As Claire works to advance her goals and sabotage Frank, demons from Frank’s past, both seen and not seen in the series before, come back to haunt him. Frank is hallucinating, his murder victims of Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) and Washington Herald (a fictional newspaper) reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) tormenting him, in addition to phantoms of Claire and his great-great-great grandfather, Civil War Confederate Corporal Augustus Elijah Underwood. This coincides with the unexpected return of Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) and Goodwin’s not done with Underwood.
More surprises arrive this season as Kate Baldwin (Kim Dickens) and an unexpected event bring Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), former editor in chief of the Herald, to come out of retirement, trying to find out what really happened throughout the series, with Barnes’ stories and death and the fall of the previous presidential administration of Garrett Walker (Michel Gill), slowly piecing the truth behind Underwood. Also returning from season 3 is the mess of foreign affairs, courtesy of the show’s Vladimir Putin stand-in, Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Season 3, while not bad, was kind of a let-down as it focused too much on foreign affairs and less on domestic US issues. As someone who greatly enjoys reading and researching international events (I love to read the Wall Street Journal and The Economist), the subplot with Russia dragged on at times so it is refreshing to see that series showrunner Beau Willimon (The Ides of March, Farragut North) understood the feedback and spent no more than necessary time on Russia and focuses more on domestic affairs.
Secretary of State Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) becomes an unexpected thorn in the side of the Underwoods. Durant seems to almost be ahead of the Underwoods, a difficult feat. Meanwhile Eric Conway proves to be a more than formidable opponent, especially with his service in the US Air Force giving him a reliable boost in public opinion as the Islamic Caliphate Organization (ICO), the show’s equivalent of current terrorist group Islamic State (IS) becoming a major terrorist threat. The show even has a respected general warning Frank about the threat of Islamic State but Frank ignores it. This is not unlike how in the real world General Michael T. Flynn, in February 2014, as the then-Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), warned Congress and President Obama of the growing threat of Islamic State (then called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), only to be ignored and then retire on August 7, 2014, just as IS took over a third of Iraq and Syria. (General Flynn’s assessment is available in greater detail in the WSJ.) Through this Conway, on the outside a JFK-esque candidate, shows his own manipulative side and shows he will not be a walk in the park. Conway establishes himself as a very real threat to the Underwoods.
The drama is as exciting as ever and I feel the series has regained some of the glory lost in season 3 and is now back on track. I note that show-runner Willimon’s experience working on Democratic presidential candidate, former governor of Vermont Howard Dean’s, 2004 presidential campaign informed the manner in which Willimon writes this series. However, Willimon has now left the series and Netflix is looking for a new showrunner. I feel however that after Season 5 (I can guarantee there will be a Season 5), if they do not plan to end in the same manner the British show ended, then the series should end after either Underwood or Conway wins the election as that will probably be the best way to end the series. (Is it weird if I want Frank Underwood and Eric Conway to be the real life presidential candidates instead of the circus that both the Democrats and Republicans have provided?)
Image from idigitaltimes.com