It can’t be a coincidence that the season 4 debut comes out right in the middle of the primaries. This elegant timing by the producers only adds to the hype surrounding the return of this epic political drama.
Carrying on from last years tradition, my boyfriend and I held our House of Cards day, complete with deep-South inspired snacks, where we vowed to dedicate our entire day to binge watching the full season.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little disappointed with Season 3. After the unforgivable murders of both Zoe’s Barnes and Peter Russo in Season’s 1 & 2, the stakes were high for Underwood to deliver another killer move (pardon the pun). Sadly, that moment never came, and the episodes plodded on slowly. However, it becomes apparent upon watching Season 4 that the writers were simply biding their time and building up to this.
This season is a real world-wind of highs and lows that will have you on the edge of your seat. Much of this is down to the show’s leading star, Kevin Spacey. He truly is a phenomenal actor, with his talent put on display this season more than ever before. He portrays Frank across a wide scope of emotions, ranging from anger and cruelty to remorse and even fear (I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes!!).
Frank’s monologues are really what makes the show. These intimate openings into his warped mind keep viewers coming back for more, wondering what despicable stunt he is going to pull next. He continues to shock.
With so many twists and turns, I thought it would be best to summarise this Season by analysing the range of themes which are explored through the many subplots which entail.
**WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD**
Season 3 was a fraught one for the Underwood’s. As we know, it ended rather abruptly, with Claire walking out on Frank at the height of his candidacy race. Relations still haven’t mellowed in Season 4.
The campaign continues, but Claire decides to fling a curveball into the mix. She voices a desire to run for congress in her native Texas, no longer content allowing her ambitions to fall second to his.
Frank is not happy at being undermined by her, and in his typical arrogant fashion, imposes a lockdown on Claire’s movement, to censor her divorce requests. She is imprisoned in her own home. Claire responds to this by enlisting the help of Frank’s old sparring partner, Oren Chase (the peach man from season one) to leak a racist photo of Frank’s alcoholic father alongside a KKK figure, just as Frank is trying to gather support in the mostly black and Hispanic state of his hometown Gaffney.
The impact this has on Frank’s campaign is of course deeply damaging, and he is not best pleased.
Continuing with the theme of power, this brings us to Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper. In the past, we have seen Doug in some compromising positions, the most concerning being when he buried Rachel Posner in a shallow ditch last season. His murderous acts aside, Doug kind of seemed to be getting his shit together. He had ditched the booze, got himself a hot physio girlfriend and reached the top of his career game. However, I can confirm he is still very much insane.
Example A – when he attempts to suffocate his co-worker Seth in order to obtain his ‘obedience’. Seth and Leann (Claire’s new equivalent to Doug) unite together to stand up to Doug, who crumbles at the prospect of losing power. With the temptation of alcohol looming, Seth tries to help him, but Doug mistakes this for manipulation. He does not recognise an honest act of kindness when it stares him in the face
The introduction of Claire’s mother provides a glimpse into of her former life, pre-Underwood. Like her daughter, Mama Hale is cold and callous. She makes it clear that she never approved of Frank and his impoverished upbringing, to which Frank respond sneeringly, “I just happen to be white trash that lives in the White House”.
Claire’s mother comes from old money, and she encourages her wealthy uptown ladies club to finance her son-in-laws rival candidate, Heather Dunbar, and in turn, support Claire’s taking down of Francis.
Frank has some tricks of his own up his sleeve. He announces plans to fund the Congresswoman of Texas’ breast cancer clinic and endorse her daughter in the process as her future successor. There go Claire’s plans …
New on the scene is a younger, fresher power couple to rival the Underwood’s. Governor Conway, a war veteran with chiselled good looks and a photogenic family to match, is the other front runner in the presidential candidacy race. The Conway’s are social media obsessed, and grant the public full access to their lives through a live webcam stream.
Their intentions are not entirely good, however, as it is revealed that Conway is using, Pollyhop, a search engine, to give him an insight into voters data and potential manipulate the vote. The topic of domestic surveillance is particularly relevant, in light of the Edward Snowdon leaks back in 2013, and the on-going debate over how much access National Security should have to our personal data. As always, the producers are on the ball with this one.
The race continues. Back on the same team, the Underwood’s play dirty politics with Cathy Durant. They concoct a plan to make Claire Frank’s runner mate, with Cathy unsuspectingly playing along under the illusion that the job is hers. However, when she finds out that they have been stringing her along, they do not anticipate her own comeback.
What I particularly enjoyed most about this season was the insight it gave into the backdoor theatrics which go into preparing the speeches that the President presents in public. You can absolutely believe that these type of performances are played out by Barack Obama himself in a private room in the White House before he takes to the stage. In Frank’s own words, ‘politics is showbiz’.
Cast your mind back to Frank’s days as Vice President, and you may recall the name, Lucas Goodwin. He was the journalist who worked alongside Zoe Barnes and became obsessed with uncovering the truth behind her untimely death. Frank halted his investigations by framing him for crimes against the State, which in turn, led to his incarceration. His life now is a tragic one. We find him reciting pornographic literature in his prison cell to a fellow inmate to help him get off, in return for sanctuary. We later learn that this is his ticket out of jail as he is actually working with the FBI for insider information, for the promise of a reduced sentence.
He is released under a new identity, but cannot forget about the corruption he uncovered. Desperate for the truth to come out, he goes to extreme lengths, including having forced sex with a male co-worker. It is all for nothing though, for when he goes to Heather Dunbar with the secrets of Frank’s torrid past, she sends him away.
With nowhere else to turn to, Goodwin does the unthinkable. He becomes the first man (surprising, considering…) who attempts the assassination of President Underwood! Frank is shot in the stomach, which shatters his liver. Meechum, his ever faithful lapdog, is killed in the altercation. For the first time, the audience must consider the prospect of a House of Card’s without Frank, as he is deemed to be in a critical condition.
Lucas’ pain is that of a man in complete despair, who can see no way back. Frank displays a different kind of pain, over Claire leaving him. Primarily, because he recognises the damage the split could do to his career. But additionally, because Claire is as much a part of his makeup as his shattered liver. He begs her to stay with him; ‘It’s us against them’.
This is not a word I thought I would ever associate with Frank Underwood, but as the season develops, Frank’s own fears begin to unravel. Whilst under aesthetic following the shooting, he experiences troubling night terrors. In the beginning, they form a violent dream, in which Claire stabs him and attempts to gauge his eyes out. Later, the dreams drag up memories of the crimes he has committed and the people he has killed. Zoe and Russo’s reappearances are an allegory for the suffocation of guilt that Frank feels.
Doug also battles with his own guilt, which he feels for the man on the organ donor list whom he bumped into second place behind the president. This man subsequently died due to the delay. Doug’s conscience convinces him to donate $5000 to his memorial fund, which prompts a grateful phone call from the dead man’s widow. Little does she know that Doug is the man responsible for her husband’s demise.
The emotion of Love is again identified in the most unlikely subject – Frank. In his most vulnerable state, he expresses love for those closest to him, such as Meechum and Claire. At first, Claire rejects this love. Just days after the shooting, she chooses to fly to Germany to meet for talks with the Russian’s and the Chinese, rather than stay behind in Washington to be with Frank. When she does returns, she takes a nap first before going to visit him. No love lost this season.
Their relationship has always been an unconventional one, though, and recognising this, Frank encourages Claire to seek out what she does not get from their relationship elsewhere. “One person cannot give everything to another person”.
This is where Frank’s ghost writer from the last season fits back in. When Tom Yates was first introduced in Season 3, it looked as though writers were setting the scene for him and Frank to hook-up. In fact, there was so much sexual tension in the room, you could cut it with a knife! As it turns out, the tension was in fact between Tom and Claire. They get together in Season 4, with Frank’s blessing of course, and Claire finally gets some actions (the poor woman has been starved of sex since the Meechum incident!!!).
There is a weird moment where the three of them sit around the dinner table, sharing a rather measly looking breakfast consisting of one slice apple (singular).
Speaking of three-ways, Meechum, for the short time he’s in this season, is still a love sick puppy dog for the Underwood’s. You can almost hear the seduction in Frank’s voice as he encourages Meechum to ‘spread his fingers a little’ when he traces his hand on the white house walls. Weird!!
Following his death, Lucas’ evidence is leaked to the press. It is dismissed as the ramblings of a madman, but one of his old journo friends debates whether there could be any truth in it? Frank is hardly short of enemies, and some deep delving uncovers many of the dark secrets he has fought to keep buried. Garret returns from the shadows, where he was shunned by Frank in Season 2. Remy and Jackie agree to cooperate, and in turn, release themselves from under the Underwood’s blackmail plot.
Frank’s world comes crashing down as Hammerschimdt goes to press with his sensationalist story of his corruption laced rise to power. Where does this leave the Underwood’s, now that their masks have been torn off? We will just need to wait until Season 5 to find out!!!