After two terrific seasons Netflix’s landmark streaming series, House of Cards, stumbled noticeably in its third season. Fortunately, Season 4 makes a strong comeback for this saga of perverse political ambition inside the Beltway. Many of the original characters return including President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), his wife Claire (Robin Wright), chief of staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), former aide Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) and his girl friend Senator Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), Vice President Donald Blythe (Reed Birney), and rival Presidential candidate Attorney General Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). The Season 4 roster has some strong additions: campaign manager Leeann Harvey (Neve Campbell), Congresswoman Doris Jones (Cicely Tyson), Republican Presidential contender Governor Will Conway (Jeff Kinnaman), and Claire’s mother Elizabeth Hale (Ellen Burstyn).
As the Underwoods’ marriage is on the rocks, Claire alternates visits to her terminally ill mother with the pursuit of her own political ambitions. Even if Frank prevails over his Democratic opponent Heather Dunbar, he must then contend with Governor Conway, a charismatic decorated veteran with a picture-book family, who video-streams his daily life via cellphone. Quirky data scientist Aiden MacAllan (Damian Young) shows the Underwood team how the Conway organization is undermining their campaign by using “Pollyhop,” a sophisticated personal information-gathering program, to target voters.
In the background, disgraced former Washington Herald journalist, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) attempts to dig up the dirt that could permanently derail President Underwood’s political career. Speaking of writers, former best-selling author Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) is assembling a fictionalized account of the Underwoods while sharing intimate moments with Claire, thereby creating yet another awkward behind-closed-doors problem for the President. If all of this were not enough, Frank Underwood must survive an attempt on his life, a dangerous confrontation with Putin-like Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), and a reluctant military campaign against ICO, a jihadist organization that threatens world stability.
The somewhat unusual 2.00:1 aspect ratio works very well on the small screen. As was the case in Season 3, cameras were 6K-capable Red Epic Dragon with Zeiss Master Prime Lenses. Starting with a 6K-Redcode-source format, a 4K DI master format was used for this 2K Blu-ray disc and yields a very natural appearing film both in its colors and details. Peter Konczal (Urbania) and Paul Elliott (Deadly Impact) shared the cinematographer duties and give viewers a beautifully balanced visual presentation that supports the tense atmosphere essential to a political drama.
There are two surround sound versions in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) format: English and dubbed-in French. The dialogue so vital to this show is crystal clear. The surround effects are modest at best and add a discrete touch of ambience.
When you open the multifold disc container, out pops a certificate for Digital HD with Ultraviolet download and miniature Underwood campaign stickers, and that’s it. For viewers with limited attention spans, there are optional recaps before each episode.
The Final Assessment
House of Cards’ top-notch scriptwriters cook up more crises in one 13-episode season than most presidents face during their entire terms in office. Robin Wright made her directorial début in Season 2 and now takes charge of seven episodes. This move proves significant since Season 4 finally sees Claire’s becoming the real power in the Underwood household. Of course, we are not finished with Frank Underwood’s story, as the often-bumpy ride of the first four seasons still leaves us up in the air and wanting more. The good news for HOC binge watchers is that Season 5 will air in 2017.
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