Netflix became a major player in no small part due to the success of their high profile, A-List political thriller House of Cards. The show became a sensation and with that came the scrutiny. As a result, the loyalty waned once the show left its comfort area and staked out its own terrain divorced of the British series and book it’s based on. Season Three was uneven but when a show establishes itself with the force that House of Cards did it becomes an organism all its own. As a fan base grows they project their needs and wants onto the project rather than letting the creators tell their story. In retrospect, it all seems like pieces falling into place. Season Four parlays what transpired in the previous season into something rich and decadent and the likely last season that will arrive next year aspires to bring it all home without resounding success.
The latest season focuses primarily on the campaign for the election as Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood struggles to stay relevant even though his path to the office was wrought with intrigue and controversy. Not only is he facing opposition from a strong and seemingly bulletproof Republican candidate in Joel Kinnaman’s Will Conway, but also from his own party. On his way to the top Underwood has employed deception, scandal, murder, and every other trick in the book to make his legacy and the fallout is massive. So much so that his own wife may represent his biggest threat.
It’s a delicious canvas for drama. Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey are the reason House of Cards is so compelling. They are like boxers, circling one another and throwing punches both sanctioned and below the belt with ferocity and regularity. Though their adversaries come and go they remain each other’s greatest strength and weakness and watching two world class performers go at it is truly remarkable. Regardless of how the show is marketed and who is presented as opposition each season, Claire and Frank Underwood are why House of Cards has become a part of the cultural tapestry.
This season is perhaps the most even-keeled in terms of material. It’s not as salacious or riddled with death as some which came before. The scheming is more subtle and the allegiances are more densely layered and much more embodied by shades of gray. The tendency for the series to become more hardboiled has been toned down and the soap opera has been pushed to the background in favor of more rewarding but less sensational drama. Joining the show are a few great additions, the primary one being the legendary Ellen Burstyn as Claire’s sick but venomous mother. Kinnaman is also a terrific addition and his sitdown with the president represents the season’s finest moment.
The brashness and swagger of House of Cards has matured into grace. It’s as if the show knows it’s no longer the epicenter of the zeitgeist but an elder statesman in a crowded market and is entering the home stretch with confidence and momentum for what will undoubtedly be a concussive and painful conclusion. It’s not a show for new viewers at this point. There’s simply too much that has transpired for someone to casually jump on board at this point. Especially considering just how much the ghosts of sins past haunt Frank Underwood this season. But for fans of the series, this is the righting of the ship. House of Cards is as good as it’s ever been.
Where that ship is pointed? Well, let’s just say the wait for Season Five is going to feel like forever.