What an amazing comeback! After a so-so third season House of Cards is finally back and it is by far the most bingeable season yet. It was almost painful to have to choose not to watch the next episode because of dumb inconveniences like work, sleep, and a social life. Had I been able to, I would have easily watched the entire season in one single sitting; it is that compelling and unmissable. Last season, while still much better than a lot of television out there, was just not the show I personally had fallen in love with: the plot meandered and lagged, Frank Underwood seemed small once he had finally made it to the White House, Claire once again walked away from him, some great costars had been disposed of and the newbies weren’t up to par, so much time was spent on a plot line I wished had been solved and wrapped up earlier. If anyone else felt the same and has trepidation about pressing that play button then fear not: this season is epic, and so juicy and evil!
The season opens with Frank and Claire Underwood at odds with each other. The power couple is not acting like a couple at all, and in fact is approaching implosion at a fearsome pace. The Underwoods are two of the most ferocious and cunning characters to ever grace the screen, and when they set their sights on each other they always hit their target and draw blood. The problem is that they are the only ones that can bring the other down, and when they are battling one another outsiders can begin to gain ground on them and havoc could be wreaked. Frank is in the middle of an electoral campaign, which is important not only to maintain his status as the President of the United States, but also because it would establish him as a legitimate leader and not just someone who lucked into the position without ever needing people to vote for him. Claire, though, is done with being arm candy – unhappy with the role of First Lady, Mrs. Underwood wants power of her own, especially after her failed stint as ambassador.
Kevin Spacey plays the vulnerabilities and cunning ferocity of Frank perfectly, but unlike the show which finds Claire attempting to get out from under Frank’s shadow, on House of Cards it is the capable Spacey whose light is dimmed by his awesome costar. It would be easy for an actor to play Claire as either an over the top scenery chewing shrew or just as a steely man-eating femme fatale. Yet Robin Wright has constructed someone so astounding and effortless in her behavior that it is nearly breathtaking to see her at work and it is no wonder that she is the one person consistently nominated for awards. Claire once again grows and develops in this new season. While Spacey and his character are more reactive to situations and events, Wright and Claire connive, reflect, and influence the plot in ways that as a viewer I found unpredictable.
But even the best main characters need a company of supporting actors to aid them, and this season sees a definite improvement on that front. Back as chief of staff is Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper. Thankfully he has fully recovered from his injuries and is on the wagon this season, which allows him to focus on his job as the president’s goon. This season Doug becomes nearly inhuman and animalistic in nature, he truly is a guard dog, loyal only to one person, sometimes detrimental in his blind devotion; as maddening as his behavior is, it makes sense and it’s great to watch. Thankfully Jackie Sharp and Remy Danton take a backseat to the action this season and appear minimally – their characters were always too showy and too central, when they should have been mere extras or guests to the show, and HoC course correct this season, relegating them to the background. Joining the cast are some welcome new faces. Cicely Tyson, who needs no introduction, and LisaGay Hamilton (The Practice) play a mother-daughter team of politicians who throw a wrench in Claire’s plans and who add to the marital instability of the first couple. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) plays the Republican party presidential candidate, a young handsome debonair candidate with social media savviness and an almost blinding thirst for power. Neve Campbell (Scream) returns to TV as an ally to Claire. Campbell is a good actress and is a welcome addition to the cast, in spite of the fact that her character is mostly just… there… for the whole season – things occur around her, but the character itself doesn’t really add much to the show, but doesn’t hurt it either. Finally, Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn joins the cast as Claire’s mother and I am predicting her Emmy win right now. Burstyn electrifies and energizes every single scene she is in, she is over the top in all the right ways, delivering her lines with such venomous diction that it’s a shock her scene costars do not turn into a pillar of salt after she is done with them. House of Cards has never been a quotable show, until now with the arrival of Elizabeth Hale.
“I am the mother. I AM THE MOTHER!!!” – Elizabeth Hale (Ellen Burstyn)
This season is also rewarding to viewers who have been watching from the beginning. If someone has joined the party late the payoff will be less affecting than for someone who has waited patiently the year between each season. Familiar faces pop up, themes and motifs that were either ignored in the past or nearly forgotten return and are impossible to ignore this time around. Just like the Underwoods think of every loose thread that could come back to bite them in the ass, so do the writers and it has never been as obvious as in this season. The final result is a show so well paced, so thought out, so shocking, and so mesmerizing that I am almost angry that all we get are thirteen episodes – in spite of knowing that it’s so good because of it. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of this show will likely pick this as their favorite season yet. My friends and I have been texting each other for the past week over the various plot points and revelations. I am so tempted to write more, but I know that it wouldn’t be fair to those who haven’t had the pleasure to watch all the episodes yet. After all, that’s what the comment section is for!