TV Review: House of Cards - Season Four
SYNOPSIS: The critically acclaimed Emmy®nominated drama has its Golden Globe® winning stars Kevin Spacey (as Francis Underwood) and Robin Wright (as Claire Underwood), whose characters have always been each other's strongest allies, show cracks in their relationship. In an election year, the stakes are now higher than ever, and the biggest threat they face is contending with each other.
REVIEW: Last year, many felt a bit underwhelmed by House of Cards. The third season found Frank Underwood ruling with an iron fist as the new President of the United States. The first two seasons of the show saw Kevin Spacey chewing the scenery and speaking directly to the audience as he did everything to destroy those around him on his path to the White House. It was a thrilling ride on the dark side of American politics and we as the audience had a special relationship with the main character as he addressed us directly on what his Machiavellian plan unfolded. But over the last year, something changed on the show. There were less frequent asides to the audience and the shock value decreased significantly. Would the fourth season return the series to it's roots?
The answer is a mixed bag. Over the first six episodes provided for review ahead of the season premiere next week, we find that the show picks up immediately where the third season left off. With Frank Underwood and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) on the outs, it became unclear how the power couple would exist with an election looming and the First Lady and POTUS on the outs. What we do get is a slew of new characters including Ellen Burstyn as Claire's mother, SUICIDE SQUAD's Joel Kinnaman as Frank Underwood's Republican opponent for President, and Neve Campbell as a campaign manager. All of these new faces fall seamlessly into the already packed roster of talent we know from recent seasons. At no time does the show feel like it is juggling too many storylines at once but that doesn't make up for what is missing this time around.
House of Cards has begun a shift from being a show that was very different from anything else on television (DEADPOOL with politicians) to becoming an R-rated version of The West Wing. Make no mistake, the drama here is still of a high level and it is a lot of fun seeing Kevin Spacey inhabit the role of Frank Underwood so fully, but the series now seems to be cruising along rather than throwing us the curveballs that made the first two years must see television. It could be the fact that this season picks up with no time jump and gives it the feeling of being the second half of season three and therefore comes across as being less of it's own story arc. But, when you compare the political machinations on this series compared to anything on network or cable television, it still holds it's own.
What keeps House of Cards from feeling vital and immediate is the parallel of the fictional election cycle during our real life election year. With the drama surrounding Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders and then everything that is Donald Trump, it may not seem quite as surreal having a candidate who schemes, murders, and back-traffics his way to the highest office in America but it still gives us a look into the skewed system that is the United States. The addition of Kinnaman to the cast gives this show an injection of younger talent while Neve Campbell is the best she has been in years. This takes some of the weight off of the other actors like the great Michael Kelly, Mahershala Ali, Elizabeth Marvel, and Molly Parker, but they all still shine.
The biggest aspect of the fourth season that sets it apart from the first three is the split between the Underwoods. We saw the cracks forming last year as Claire's desire for political office was muffled by Frank's greed and lust for power but the two allies could not be better matched enemies come this year. Frank's direct attacks on his wife this year feel like jabs and stabs while Claire returns with a calm mask that hides her slow poisoning of her husband's regime. When unified, Frank and Claire were unstoppable. Now, their chess match elevates this season to a civil war with repercussions beyond marital discord. People will die.
Based on the title alone, it would have been foolish to expect that House of Cards would end in any way outside of a massive collapse of epic proportions. We are already beginning to see the end of the Underwood saga. While a fifth season has already been announced, it is hard to believe there will be anywhere else for this story to go but down. But you better believe that Frank Underwood will take everyone down with him and that could include the entire country. Will he win reelection? Will there be international events that could spell doom for the campaign? Will Frank and Claire reconcile or destroy each other? It is a thrilling ride to find out the answers to these questions even if it is starting to feel a bit predictable. But, House of Cards always manages to surprise me in one way or another and the second half of the season may hold the shocks absent from the first half.