The final three episodes of House of Cards have such a tonal shift it feels as though it is the fifth season already. Arguments to the contrary, that the first half of this season have been more afterthoughts of the previous seasons, do not have merit. Naturally the plots will be a progression of existing events. The connectivity and constant re-emergence of old threats – Raymond Tusk, Petrov – add a level of seriousness to the show.
A detractor to this is Claire as Vice-President. It’s something that’s extremely hard to swallow as a viewer. Robin Wright is now executive producer and has directed four of this season’s episodes. It’s hard to believe she didn’t have a role in Claire’s promotion, and it is not for the better. There needed to be a severity to the reconciliation but a Senate seat or another ambassadorial position would have been more palatable.
She has no experience. She did not work for it. She has never been elected to any office by public vote ever and suddenly she is the backup to an ailing president. House of Cards, you stumbled.
Aside from this the series continues on, though watching them so sporadically means the endearment wears off quickly. It’s strikingly beautiful and incredibly well acted, but Doug is an unlikable character that needs to stop treading water. As the scandal comes out in the fifth season here’s hoping he will be an enemy of the Underwoods.
And here is where it gets really interesting. While the character of Doug is spinning his wheels the glacial news reporter angle has finally climaxed. After four long seasons including a murder, a wrongful imprisonment, a transfer and an assassination attempt the press finally has something concrete on Frank’s wrongdoings.
Tom sifts through the jaded catalogue of ex-Underwood supporters after Zoe’s pizza guy recognises Meechum. He approaches Heather Dunbar who points him to Remy. Ever-slick, Frank’s old Chief of Staff verifies just the right number of facts to keep the ball rolling.
Tom’s dogged attempts to coerce Freddy into a statement lead to the ex-con bashing him in an alley and smashing his tape recorder, admitting his foul hatred for the President but insisting he still would not budge. Earlier in the same episode he ran into Frank by happenchance and made light conversation about resigning for a job in a flower shop. When Frank asks him to cook his famous ribs as a send-off Freddy snaps, appropriately, and gives the President a piece of his mind.
A lot of time has been talking about a worthy opponent for Frank. His calculating mind affords him few true friends and in his own delusion he considers Freddy part of that inner circle. He seems visibly wounded and bewildered when Freddy calls him a ‘motherfucker’. It’s a neat highlight of Frank’s inherent narcissism and a fantastic moment of power for Freddy.
After the ex-president fills in a few more blanks Jackie and Remy give statements and respectively resign to live out a new life together away from DC free of the Underwoods. It’s wonderful to see two strong characters released from the Administration’s tyranny and get the closest House of Cards has ever gotten to ‘happily ever after.
Three characters are essentially put out to pasture to allow the series to accelerate into new territory next year. The initial showrunner has departed and a new chapter is set to begin.
The story breaks and Frank knows there’s nothing he can do. He confronts Tom face to face to no avail and confesses to Claire that everything could fall apart. It’s another moment of weakness for television’s greatest politician. Is he on his final descent to oblivion or will the show allow the character to rebuild himself?
Concurrently two radicalised Americans have kidnapped three people and gained mass press coverage by demanding to talk to the Republican candidate (Frank’s opposition) rather than the president himself. The team work valiantly together and are able to free two of the three hostages before the situation deteriorates.
There’s all sorts of deliberate and apt metaphors about the difficulty of handling extremists and where to draw the line in the sand as president. It also allows a military conclusion to pique the interest of the audience again after hours and hours of marathoning. This is the action-y it has ever been but thankfully, only as a response to the story.
The Underwood Administration continues to mirror our own by introducing a new enemy called ICO with all the same hallmarks of the Islamic State. Although they were first used as a re-election talking point things quickly become serious, mostly due to the press surrounding the final episodes.
If there was ever a doubt that Frank and Claire were evil, here it is. In an attempt to divert attention from Tom’s article the pair declare a full military response to ICO with the intention to comprehensively decimate them. It’s a purely selfish vendetta that will knowingly kill United States troops.
It re-establishes the series’ hard truths that Frank and Claire are despicable murderers that should be stopped. The audience has revelled in their villainy long enough. It’s time to wound them deeply or stop them entirely with this new showrunner. A Frank and Claire without the White House? Unthinkable, but also, tantalising.