House of Cards is one of the best shows on television. As it enters its fourth season it doesn’t falter a step. Its characters certainly do, but the show remains the pinnacle example of excellence in television and streaming.
Kevin Spacey roars into the role that he relishes so, continuing his portrayal of President Frank Underwood with the care of a surgeon. There are actors that fall into auditions and wind up on sitcoms and then there are actors that feel their character with every fibre of their body. With Emmys, Golden Globes, Satellites, SAGs and a Peabody under their belt, it’s safe to assume which.
Outside of House of Cards he directs and performs as Artistic Director for London’s legendary Old Vic Theatre, provides motion-capture for video game franchise Call of Duty and pokes his head in and out of comedy Horrible Bosses and its sequel. This year he became Chairman of major US film studio Relativity Studios.
House of Cards is playing a long game. It doesn’t need to resort to cheap thrills to keep the audience on board. Folks were chomping at the bit for this season and it did not disappoint. As such, President Underwood is still calm about the situation his wife placed him in last season’s finale. He explains to the audience his intentions. He’s patient – but still prone to fits of rage and reactions of wounded pride – but he will wait for Claire.
Only it seems the newest antagonist will need a lot of time. House of Cards has proven in its initial trilogy that nomatter the threat Frank and his team can handle it. The Vice-President. Zoe. The President. Zoe’s boyfriend. The hacker. The opposing political parties. His own political party. All are beneath his power’s reach. House of Cards didn’t do this by accident of course. The exhaustive power of the President was a major theme in season three and will likely continue throughout the rest of the show’s run. And it shows that when Frank is wounded it is by a fellow mad titan.
The Russian President is a prime example. He is the one person on the show that seems like a peer to Frank as he is the only other relentless, talented manic hellbent on his goal. Even as tensions with Claire boil over Frank still must answer to the world’s other superpower in diplomatic but invincible fashion.
So if the season four antagonist is to eclipse all that comes before, surely they must meet all these qualities. Claire Underwood is that person. As a reviewer one of the key points to touch is dimensions of character. The depth of their conflict and the breadth of their character. A character like Doug or Remy is three-dimensional with motives, goals, alliances, regrets and history all laid out for everyone to see. Most plot points supporting characters can only dream of.
Claire Underwood is all of this in more. She has been on this course since the pilot. The show has never held her up as a good person. She threatened co-workers, intimidated a rape victim for personal gain and was vital in fashioning the former President’s downfall. Every move leading up to this point has been parallel to the interests of Frank and Claire. Only now the roads deviate and the pair find themselves on opposite ends.
Expect things to escalate, obviously. Every player in town is so well-developed and interconnected that anything can happen. Every scene is a move on the board. Every conversation is a tournament and every word might as well be a bullet. This is war.
House of Cards has almost equally few peers as Frank Underwood. One of them is the six-season beauty Breaking Bad. When the audience presses play on Breaking Bad they have a tight forty-two minute story following Walt’s world moving their chess pieces. The same can be said for these two episodes of House of Cards. Frank’s word in yet again under fire.
Only the freedom of longform storytelling on television means that at the end of the day, Gus’ death was a significant but ultimately small moment of the journey from Walter White to Heisenberg. These episodes are stepping stones too, and it’s not quite clear what the long game is. The novels and UK series ended with an Underwood V Underwood metaphorical cage match but it seems unlikely the series will end – especially this year, as season five is confirmed.
The genesis of the villain has paid off, but there’s still more time left on the clock. Where Frank and Claire are at the end of the season is intriguing, and how the new showrunners will proceed is uncertain. Interesting. Unpredictable. Entertaining. House of Cards.