House of Cards has been on an unusual projection. It started out stronger than any show I can remember, gathering a huge following on social media as well as by word-of-mouth. Its second season peaked at episode one but from there the show steadily declined in both story and quality through season three. But now the Netflix stalwart has been revitalized, reclaiming its spot as one of the must-watch programs.
When season two ended with Frank in the oval office, no one in the audience knew where the show would go, since the entire point was Frank trying to become president. As it turns out, the show runners didn’t know either. Season three was a jumble of tension with Russia, a trade deal with China, a new government employment program and a murder. Only one of those four things makes for compelling TV. Season four has remedied the mistakes of that directionless year by staying true to a small number of key storylines and not weighing itself down with extra characters and subplots.
Cards’ strength has always been Claire and Frank Underwood, perhaps the best power couple to ever grace the small screen. But now instead of them putting their heads together to gain power, kill people, or have a threesome with their Secret Service agent, they’re at war. Claire has always had more depth than the other main characters, and she was underutilized in season three. She’s now back in full force, using her cunning and wealth to either gain her own power or chip away at Frank’s.
The season opens on Lucas Goodwin, the journalist imprisoned for hacking to try to prove Frank committed murder. His story, though not initially tied to the main plot, is an interesting footnote that crescendos into a pivotal turning point.
The show’s main focus is Frank’s reelection campaign, which is interesting to watch as the actual 2016 elections unfold. There are no parallels between the show’s candidates and real life ones, though it is more noticeable when the show fudges things like holding the State of the Union after the Iowa caucus.
By far the best thing season four does is mirror real life issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement. That phrase is never actually mentioned, but it’s clearly alluded to, especially in episode three. When Frank asks for help of a black Texas congresswoman, she tells him, “When we stop getting beaten and shot, you’ll have my good will.”
There are a few new characters introduced, but only one of them deserves to be mentioned in detail. During their split, Claire goes home to Texas, where her mother, Elizabeth Hale. She’s a rich southern belle with a quick wit and a nasty attitude. Hale hates Frank and barely even tolerates Claire — she’s a wonderful addition to the cast.
I promised not to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that there are plenty of good twists in season four. The producers and writers have clearly learned from their mistakes, keeping the new stories much simpler and easier to consume. The pacing is also much better than in season’s two and three, which is great for when you watch four episodes at a time. I came into season four with admittedly lower expectations because of the previous two years, but I was thoroughly impressed. House of Cards has returned from simply disappointing to once again be the show everyone will be talking about.