Synopsis: Francis wins his primary race, but at great personal cost – while the President fights for his life, Claire steps into his shoes for a negotiation with Russia. After Frank recovers, he’s faces a new challenger in the charismatic GOP darling, Will Conway, and in selecting his wife as his running mate. As a response to the threat of home-grown terrorists and a news piece exposing the couples’ illegal activities, Frank and Claire bring the nation to war.
Last season of House of Cards was not great.
The Underwoods are perfect antiheroes. They’re magnetic, powerful, sexy, conniving, dynamic, evil, vulnerable, passionate, ambitious, three (four!) dimensional characters all at the same time. We love to see them scheme. Manipulate. Negotiate. Win.
This show’s lifeblood is its power complex. It does its best work when the main characters aren’t spinning out of control — we love them best when they have all the straws in their hand and they’ve clearly outsmarted their opponents at every turn.
So that’s why somewhere amid all the nepotism and Russian nonsense, last season fell apart. If it were possible, the show got too political, and the characters’ best laid plans spun slowly, agonizingly, boringly out of control.
The power complex failed.
The power couple dissolved.
But this season it’s back.
Season 4 of House of Cards had a slow build to arguably the strongest mid-season showing of the entire series, finishing in a rather anticlimactic end.
There are three main story lines this season: Frank’s attempted assassination, Claire’s campaign for the vice presidency, and the couple’s campaign for the general election.
Throughout them all, the show tries to show us what it’s been telling us for 3 seasons now: that Claire is every bit as powerful, smart, ambitious, and ruthless as her husband. They’re the perfect match.
Unfortunately, I don’t quite buy it.
This season started with Claire announcing that she wants a divorce, a decision which isn’t taken seriously by her husband, and a decision which is quickly reversed midway through the season. For saying that she’s so strong, Claire gets pushed around by her husband and his staff an awful lot.
Claire’s decisions aren’t taken seriously and she doesn’t have many options to get back at Frank, so she leaves. Granted, then she destroys his chances of winning the primary election in his home state by leaking a photograph of Frank’s father standing next to a Klansman, so I guess the first lady isn’t completely toothless. But still — it always seems no matter how strong the writers try to make Claire, her husband is always stronger. The power inequity wasn’t as clear in the earlier seasons when they were working together, but when they split, it seemed like Claire revealed herself to be less calculating, less formidable than her husband.
That aside, I did appreciate that this was the Season of Claire. We learned about her complicated relationship with her mother, she started an affair with that hipster misanthrope novelist from last season, and all in all, she’s finding her bliss. Sure, it’s a pretty messed up bliss, but bliss nonetheless. She also ends up getting to break the fourth wall in the finale, so you know stuff is getting real.
After a rough patch, when Francis gets shot and almost dies, the power couple reunite and manage to get Claire on the VP ticket after some open nomination scheming. It’s also worth noting that our favorite secret service weird threesome puppydog, Meechum, died in the line of duty. His creepy-yet-sweet presence will be missed.
Cue the next hurdle.
Francis and Claire meet their GOP opponents, the gorgeously social-media savvy Conway couple.
The couple appears as the perfect foil to the Underwoods, all sweetness and authenticity. It’s wonderful. With two children and British doting wife Hannah in tow, the audience roots for him to win.
But when the filter comes off those Instagrams, it quickly becomes apparent that underneath Will Conway’s veneer of dutiful soldier and family man, he’s just as savagely opportunistic as Frank.
The two square off, eventually uniting to solve a domestic terrorism hostage situation (an ISIL parallel) that goes south. Around this time, one of the reporters from a few seasons back publishes an expose of the Underwoods’ corrupt maneuvers. In response, Francis starts a fear campaign, leading the nation into war against the extremists.
Final Thoughts: It was good to see the original power couple reunite and Claire gain more street cred, but the best part of this season was Frank sparring off an equally savvy Will Conway for the general election. House of Cards is back and better than ever, thriving off the added intrigue of new characters.