Season 1-3 spoilers on page 1, Season 4 spoilers on page 2
Gripping. Enthralling. Intense. All are words that have been staples of summarising House of Cards to people over the years and trying to properly convey, without spoilers, the feeling the show gives its audience. While last season took a break, for the worse, from this tried and tested relationship with the viewer, season 4 picks up the pace yet again and delivers 13 episodes of television excellence that leaves you wanting more.
For those who didn’t watch Season 3, and I wouldn’t blame you for it, Season 4 kicks off with a considerable divide between the indomitable Underwood duo. President Frank is in a tough spot in his re-election campaign and his marriage to Claire is on the rocks as she tries to make her own play for power but is thwarted. That’s the way it starts, but things move fast in House of Cards and by the end of the season the dynamic is considerably different between them.
House of Cards used to be one of these slow-burning shows, with the first half of the season setting the scene for the drama of the latter half – but this season turns things around. Each of the first five episodes or so features some major development that leaves you shocked, and it’s that unpredictability that makes it so interesting to watch.
What Season 4 does really well too is that it weaves complicated little backstories together in a way that hadn’t been done yet. There are so many loose ends in the story of Frank’s rise to the top, and most of which have not been cleaned up, and the way in which the show brings them back in to the fray to create even more tension is impressive. For those of us who have watched through the whole thing it really feels rewarding seeing cameos from older cameos and seeing how they could well be part of the inevitable Underwood downfall.
Again, the actors in the show give incredible performances that define the particular menace and evil that lies beneath almost everyone in the show. Kevin Spacey is once again masterful as Frank, with the old calm and confident villainy back to what it was in the first two seasons but all the while tinged with the slight emotion he began to show last year. Robin Wright too is fantastic, taking on a larger role in the show and managing to match Spacey blow-for-blow in the acting stakes as their two characters plot together and apart. The litany of side characters too all manage to add some life to the proceedings too, with notable returns of old cast members that get the extra screen time they’ve always deserved.
House of Cards’ cinematography is perhaps the thing that has always set it apart, with the dark feel behind everything ratcheting up the tension and mirroring the evil within the characters. Once again it is one of the best directed shows around, with every scene managing to ooze with a unique sense of darkness that keeps you in suspense. The unease you feel, or the shock you feel, at times is almost unbearable and while House of Cards is not a show you could say was an “easy watch” it’s certainly one you’ll want to binge through. I managed it in just about three days.
While I predicted last year that season 4 could be the last, with the House of Cards comprising 52 chapters (one for each card in a deck), the show has indeed been renewed for another season. Crucially though, it will not be produced or written by series creator Beau Willimon – which will certainly have a huge impact on the show. How much influence he had on the direction of the plot is unsure, but it certainly creates a little doubt as to what the fifth (and potentially final) season of House of Cards will try to do.
House of Cards is back to its best as one of the must-watch shows on Netflix. Every bit of it makes you want to watch more and thankfully there’ll be another season to show the next act of Frank Underwood’s ambitious plans.
Read on to page 2 for more story discussion… (with spoilers)