After a somewhat lackluster third season the popular Netflix Originals series House of Cards debuted its Season 4 on March 4, 2016. Loyal viewers of this saga of perverse political ambition, Oval Office intrigue, and Machiavellian machinations inside the Beltway will welcome back many of the previous cast including President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), his wife Claire (Robin Wright), indispensable chief of staff Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), former aide Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) and his girl friend Senator Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), mild-mannered Vice President Donald Blythe (Reed Birney), and ambitious Democratic rival Attorney General Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). Significant additions to the show include Neve Campbell as campaign manager Leeann Harvey, Cicely Tyson as Congresswoman Doris Jones, Jeff Kinnaman as Republican Presidential contender Will Conway, and Ellen Burstyn as Claire’s mother Elizabeth Hale.
As intimated in the previous seasons, Claire has her own personal agenda. With the Underwoods’ marriage on the rocks, the First Lady explains her frequent absences from the campaign trail as her needing to visit her dying mother. The conniving Claire wants much more out of life, and, in this case, only elective office that meets her high-level specifications will do. Attorney General Dunbar contests Underwood’s Democratic nomination for another term but even should Frank receive his party’s nod there is another challenge looming on the horizon: Governor Will Conway, a decorated veteran and all-American family man who video-streams his daily life via cellphone. Will seemingly has everything that the Underwoods lack: a cute-as-a-button English wife Hannah (Dominique McElligott) and two absolutely adorable children. Quirky naked-dancing data scientist Aiden MacAllan (Damian Young) shows the Underwood team how the Conway campaign is using “Pollyhop,” a sophisticated personal information-gathering program, to target voters.
Governor Conway is not the final obstacle to Frank’s efforts to retain the office that he assumed when incumbent Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) was forced to resign. Reinstated Washington Post investigative journalist, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) is on a mission to dig up dirt that could derail the President’s entire political career. Speaking of writers, former best-selling author Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) is putting together a loosely fictionalized account of the Underwoods, with occasional intimate moments with Claire and creating another awkward behind-closed-door situation for the President.
This season’s trials and tribulations of President Underwood mount up in rapid succession including a serious attempt on his life by bitter ex-con newsman Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) during a campaign rally, a confrontation with Putin-like Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) over international oil drilling rights, and a reluctant campaign against ICO, an ISIS-like jihadist organization, that threatens world stability. We rarely get so many White House crises in one 13-episode series but HOC’s scriptwriters were certainly up to this challenge.
Seemingly taking playbook pages from Shakespeare’s Richard III, we can only marvel at how Frank seems continually to surmount potentially disastrous situations to secure his spot on top (with fewer asides than in previous seasons). But those familiar with Shakespeare’s malevolent monarch know how his reign ended. We are still not finished with Frank Underwood’s story, but the roller coaster ride of the first four seasons frequently leaves us breathless yet always wanting more. From my perspective, it seems that this season’s House of Cards has recovered the momentum lost in Season 3 and confidently regains its original course coordinates. Political drama fans will find a lot to like in Season 4 delivered by a cast that could hardly be bettered and supported by an ace group of writers and directors. Sign me up for Season 5 when it begins to stream sometime next year.
House of Cards: Season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix
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