Minor spoilers, because I do not really care for this show.
I’ve endured another season of House of Cards hoping against hope that it finally lives up to its namesake and comes tumbling down. The shenanigans and tomfoolery that Frank Underwood has either orchestrated or somehow wiggled out of are stretching the bounds of believable at this point with the character himself absent of any of the charm or devil-may-care attitude that made him so watchable in the beginning. Now he is simply an asshole politician, if you’ll excuse the lack of delicacy. A lot of the fun of the first and second season was in watching him maneuver and beguile his way into power using his wits and bloodthirsty instincts. Even as bad a man as he clearly was, Underwood fascinated by winning at any cost and an audience loves a winner, morally bankrupt or not. It was classical, compelling, and Machiavellian until around the third season when the show shifted gears completely and became the Evil Twin of The West Wing, a far superior show in terms of scale and verisimilitude. Because as much as the acting and production quality had not changed much, the last thing we want to do, as an audience, is watch Machiavelli run for office, let alone attempt to govern. Make no mistake, though, the fourth season is a drastic improvement and a near return to form but like every season before it I was left with the exact same feeling by the end: just dirty all over.
When last we left off Frank is trying to save the economy by sacrificing Social Security and (failing at) matching wits with a thinly veiled mock-up of Putin (who is written as not such a bad guy, only putting up a front) only for Claire, his serpentine wife to turn her back on him at his most vulnerable, having suddenly come to the revelation that her ambitions would always come second to her narcissistic, murderous, amoral, power-hungry husband. Uhm. Hashtag Feminism? This abrupt about-face was supposed to leave us on the edge of our seats but instead felt unearned and not because her betrayal was unjustified, just long overdue if it was valid at all. And so from the start of the season Frank is scrambling for sure footing. Thankfully, the rift between the two of them is the dealt with efficiently allowing the rest of the story to mend itself into something resembling the real drama and suspense of a Presidential election. Because there isn’t nearly enough of that going on in the news.
Joel Kinnaman. Well. Joel Kinnaman is exactly as charming as a big wet blanket that someone has drawn a very handsome face on. I don’t understand the casting here because although he can play smart and confident, he’s absolutely tone deaf as a politician. I’m hoping that this season of House of Cards gets the Emmy nomination for Special Effects for its depiction of the man delivering a motivating speech to a crowd and then loses because I didn’t buy that shit for one second. His character Will Conway is very interesting, however, and a Conservative wet dream: Handsome? Check. War Hero? Check. Stepford Wife? British and hot, double check! Charismatic? ……….Pass. He’s also extremely tech-savy and morally flexible so he makes for an excellent opponent to Frank Underwood and a believable front runner in an election. Also, Neve Campbell is in this season. That’s really all I have there. The rest of the supporting cast does a lot to keep the plot moving along and is an absolute boon to the show as a whole. And they are finally, finally starting to close ranks around Frank. Suffice it to say things actually start to happen in this season and the high-wire act appears to be reaching a middle. For the first time since the end of the first season, I am genuinely looking forward to the next so whatever Beau Willimon put on his Wheaties, he needs to stock up on it. Oh, wait what? Strike that.
I don’t know if I’m masking my contempt for this show very well but let me be clear. I get that it is a quality television program with often great acting, good writing and directing, and the production value is on par with most HBO offerings, alright? That, I get. What I don’t enjoy is a show that bandies me about the head with hopelessness and despair from scene to scene. I’ll admit that I enjoy a show like, let’s say Breaking Bad, as dark as it is, because at most points there’s someone I can either relate to or root for and that’s just not the case in HoC. Every time a character even attempts to do the right thing or be good in some way the repercussions are almost instantly and staggeringly bad for them. I know this is the aesthetic that the show is aiming for, that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and only the strong survive and it achieves this kind of drama very effectively. But, and I know this is simply my personal preference, that’s just not the kind of world I want to settle down in for 13 hours at a time.
I will say this about Netflix’ flagship series House of Cards: it is a dark glass to see through that makes honest attempts at integrating real world scenarios into its plotlines. And where the aforementioned West Wing, which was admittedly an idealistic look at White House politics, would attempt and often succeed at solving these conundrums, HoC does no such thing. Instead, these events are used, as they often are in real life, to obfuscate or manipulate other players on the chessboard, or the public as a whole and again, although I respect that approach, it reminds me why I have such a hard time enjoying the show. The world is a cold enough place. Speaking of cold, my God the finale was chilling. Effective and truly disturbing, it stuck with me for a few days and, despite my preferences, I offer my sincere respect for how well it was executed. Which is the good thing to do, I feel. Which means if we were in the world of HoC I should subsequently be abducted by a pack of rabid dogs and framed for high treason.