TV Review - House of Cards: Season 4 & Its Best Moments

Weeks before this season was made available to the public on Netflix, it was announced that Beau Willimon who developed this show and who has been the head writer since the first episode was leaving the production. This season was Willimon's last, so presumably the last episode here is the ending that Willimon envisioned. However, Netflix renewed the show for a fifth season. It was unclear if Willimon knew Netflix would continue the show without him. If not, I believe I understand why Willimon structured the season this way. If so, I don't think this season was structured all that well. Essentially, Willimon dug the show into a hole from which it will be difficult to come back, but that could just make for the ultimate cliffhanger.

Willimon's show has always been dark and somewhat demented, more so than Shakespeare's Macbeth from which it has drawn many comparisons. It seemed that with this season, Willimon wanted to conclude on what might be the darkest and most demented in order to underscore the absolute cynicism that has always been with the show and any project associated with David Fincher. Fincher of course directed the pilot episode back in Season 1 and is still an executive producer.

Despite the cinematography painting everything in the starkest of lights with an air of gritty realism, the plotting and story lines are still patently ridiculous and tantamount to soap operas. Yet, given what has occurred in the real-life campaigns for the 2016 Presidential election, especially on the Republican side, the events on this show don't play as so ridiculous.

It's still mainly just devilish fun. Continuing the trend that started with The Sopranos (1999) and The Shield (2002), this show is about following the exploits of an antihero, or in essence a villain as he rises to power, or in this case tries to hold onto power.

Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects and American Beauty) continues his role as Frank Underwood, the President of the United States who is in the midst of campaigning for the 2016 election. He's highly ambitious and cut-throat, and he will do anything to get elected, including lie, cheat, steal and murder. This season, he limits himself to manipulation and bullying, which is his standard modus operandi.

Robin Wright (The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump) co-stars as Claire Underwood, the First Lady and Frank's long-time wife. Last season saw a lot of changes for her. She pushed Frank to make her U.N. ambassador, working closely with the Secretary of State, but tense relations with Israel and Russia forced Frank to remove her from that job. This created a rift in her marriage, which only grew wider, until it ended in an explosive moment in the Season 3 finale where Claire told Frank, "I'm leaving you."

Season 4 opens with the upcoming New Hampshire primary and Claire has indeed left Frank to campaign by himself. She has returned to her family home in Texas to be with her mother, Elizabeth, played by Ellen Burstyn. Claire has since cut off contact with Frank. This is a problem because if it's revealed that Frank is having marital issues with Claire threatening divorce, it would cause a scandal that could kill Frank's presidential bid.

One complaint of the show has been that Frank has never had a good enough adversary that has provided a good enough challenge to keep him from getting or maintaining what he truly wants, which is the U.S. presidency. Season 4, at least in the beginning, rectifies this complaint. That adversary is Claire. This season pits Frank versus Claire, and it's perfect. Claire is the perfect rival or antagonist to Frank.

For six episodes, nearly half the season, this rivalry is fun. It's thrilling and exciting, but, by the end of Episode 6, Willimon and his writers drop it. In reality, the rivalry is dropped in Episode 4 or "Chapter 43," but it's not officially dropped until "Chapter 45." Yet, its resolution is almost too easy and feels too quick. The power of the rivalry never reaches its full potential. We're teased with fantasy sequences that show Frank and Claire having a knock-down and bloody, physical fight, which represents the mental, strategic, political and battle of wills that could be. Yet, the show decides not to actualize that.

From "Chapter 46" until the last episode "Chapter 52," the series reverts back to business as usual, or a lot of what is now familiar from Season 1 and 2. There are a few callbacks to Season 1 and 2. In fact, Willimon and his writers circle around to those seasons, resurrecting characters whom we thought or could have eaily never been seen again. Those characters include Janine, played by Constance Zimmer, and President Walker, played by Michel Gill.

It's believable that Willimon intended for this season to be the absolute end because this season does close the loop in a lot of ways. Of course, truth being stranger than fiction means that despite Frank's demise being imminent, it could still be avoided in a Palpatine or Wag the Dog (1997) move. My preference would be for Netflix to cancel the series and let the final moments of "Chapter 52" be the absolute last words of Willimon's cynical view of politics and politicians, "We don't submit to terror. We make the terror."

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Available on Netflix.

Best Moments from Season 4 - Spoiler Alert!

14. Aidan (Damian Young), a computer programmer, does a shirtless dance in "Chapter 47"
13. Frank traces the hand of Meechum (Nathan Darrow) onto a White House wall in "Chapter 43"
12. Elizabeth insults Frank, "Not even being President could give you any class!" in "Chapter 40"
11. Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) is forced to have sex with Sam (Brian Stapf) in "Chapter 42"
10. Seth (Derek Cecil) tells Doug that he needs protecting from himself in "Chapter 49"
9. Claire meets with Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) at G7 Summit in "Chapter 45"
8. Will (Joel Kinnaman) admits to being ashamed to terrorist (Jefferson White) in "Chapter 51"
7. Claire records a robocall about gun violence in USA in "Chapter 47"
6. Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) calls Frank "a motherf@#$er" in "Chapter 50"
5. Frank has a drink with Meechum in "Chapter 42"
4. Frank dreams about Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) in "Chapter 45"
3. Frank meets with Will Conway at Atlanta Convention in "Chapter 48"
2. Frank confesses murder to Cathy (Jayne Atkinson) in "Chapter 49"
1. Claire tells Frank that she wants to be his running mate in "Chapter 42"

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