Spoiler Alert: if you have yet to watch this season, skip all the way down to my conclusion and Nad Rating because I’ll be spoiling everything.
As I bingewatched my way through season four of House of Cards, one thought kept running through my mind: I never want this to end. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was so captivated by a single season of television (season five of The Good Wife perhaps?). In fact, it was pretty much perfect.
The great thing about season four is that unlike previous seasons, none of the subplots bored me or detracted from my enjoyment. In fact, the show felt enormously well focused and structured – everything completely falling in line with Frank and Claire’s sinister goals. And let’s be clear, Robin Wright was borderline transcendent this season. The ice queen underwent a fascinating journey in season four as she fought her way to Vice Presidential candidate, and I was completely absorbed by her sneaky tactics the whole way through.
Season four also featured the introduction of a number of engrossing new characters. As Claire’s very own version of Doug Stamper, Neve Campbell knocked it out of the park as Leann Harvey. While I ultimately wish she played a bigger role in the season, she was absolutely kickass in the first couple of episodes (when Claire was still striking out on her own). Here’s hoping she continues to be a formidable asset to the show in season five.
But chief among season four’s newest additions is Ellen Burstyn’s heartbreaking portrayal as Claire’s mother Elizabeth. Give this woman EVERY AWARD in the next year because she was spectacular in every single scene. Whether she was berating Frank (a President she considers “white trash”) or suffering on her deathbed, I could never look away. It’s just a pity she was never introduced in previous seasons because her time on the show was far too short-lived.
Above all else, the relationship between Frank and Claire is still unlike anything else on television. Their dynamic this season began with a whole lot of animosity (Frank’s skilful use of the State of the Union speech to undermine Claire, and her plastering of the KKK pictures featuring Frank’s dad) but the two ultimately united in their quest to destroy everything in their path. The masterstroke here is the show’s introduction of New York Governor and Presidential Candidate Will Conway. The Underwoods never really felt like they had a proper opponent who could stand up to them, but Joel Kinnaman proved to be an invaluable addition to the cast alongside his wife Hannah and their enormous social media influence (a fantastic touch considering our current climate).
The hostage crisis also provided the perfect backdrop for everything to come to a head in the final hours of the season. With our evil couple’s back against the wall (thanks to that pesky article), their decision to launch an all-out war is just the kind of batshit crazy twist the show excels it. The final execution was particularly chilling, with the camera closing in on Frank and Claire who do not even shudder at the sight. And then… Claire breaks the fourth wall! It’s a shocking move on the show’s part – signifying that she’s finally Frank’s equal. Does this mean we’ll be getting Claire monologues next year? Because I for one can not wait (and we had far too few Frank ones this season).
Bits & Bills
– The season’s first scene is predictably shocking: Lucas narrating some made-up porn as his cell-mate masturbates. Sick enough for you?
– Frank imagining that fight with Claire complete with stabbing and eye-gouging was just VICIOUS.
– The most chilling acting moment of the year: Elizabeth stripping off her bandana and screaming at her daughter: “I AM THE MOTHER.” Utterly gut-wrenching; I watched that moment twice.
– Icky moment: the mechanic blackmailing Lucas into sleeping with him in the back of a car.
– So any theories on why Frank drew Meechum’s hand on the wall? It was poignant though to see him reflect on it after Meechum’s demise.
– Leann delivering a handwritten divorce threat to the President made me laugh.
– The first true JAWDROPPER of the season: Frank getting shot and Meechum dying. That sequence just had me on the edge of my seat.
– Haunting moment: Elizabeth saying she hopes Francis DIES.
– I enjoyed watching Vice President Blythe take over as President as Claire manipulated him from behind the scenes. Her closing the deal in Russia with Petrov was also badass.
– Not much Remy and Jackie this season, but I can’t say I missed them. I particularly liked Leann and Claire blackmailing them with those incriminating photos.
– Hello Tusk! I didn’t miss you either!
– Doug choking Seth with a glass was beyond brutal.
– Robin Wright directed several episodes this season: her artistic flourishes are most evident in those White House dream sequences featuring Zoe and Russo (who does Frank’s knuckle tap on the desk). I love that the show tapped into its rich history this year.
– Does anyone else just want to give Cathy a hug? Even when she tried to stand up to Frank I couldn’t find her menacing.
– Typical Doug subplot: Doug blackmailing the organ lady and getting Frank to the top of the list. I actually didn’t mind his bonding with the grieving widow either. Romance is in the air!
– I love that Claire didn’t turn the plane back around for Frank’s surgery. She went to the summit instead!
– Dunbar dropping out. She sure fizzled out quickly this year!
– Love the juxtaposition between Conway and his hot wife having sex with a sick Frank and Claire.
– How bizarre was Aiden’s shirtless office dancing?
– Tom’s investigation of Frank was also engrossing – from questioning the homeless lady (who calls Zoe a whore) to the pizza place which Meechum used to frequent.
– Top-notch scene: Tom and Frank playing video games as the whole world waits outside assuming they’re discussing the terrorist threat. The tension between the two is just too good. Also, Frank almost choking on the sandwich was quite the red herring! I thought more would come of it!
– The fact that Elizabeth wanted to die to Claire could win? Beyond twisted, and actually sort of sweet. Also, her death is one of the single hardest things I’ve ever had to watch on television. So real, raw and powerful.
– I was dumbfounded when Frank actually told Cathy that he killed Zoe and Russo before almost stabbing her. Of course he pretended to be joking but WOW.
– Tom and Claire finally did it!
– Probably my favorite scene of the entire season: Claire making that inspiring speech at the convention followed by her and Frank being chosen for the ticket. That shot of the two celebrating with America behind them was oh so satisfying. Who else got goosebumps?
– Even more top-notch continuity this season: The return of Freddy who EXPLODES at Frank after he asks him to cook some ribs as a sendoff. “Motherfucker Mr. President” indeed!
– Unsettling: Frank casually discussing the affair with Tom and then telling Claire to keep at it. Oh, and let’s not forget that AWKWARD breakfast scene with the trio.
– President Walker! How forgettable was he?
– I practically cheered when Frank called Will a pretender in the kitchen. But I genuinley cheered when Claire asked Hannah if she regrets having kids. Hysterical.
– Terrific scene with Frank forecfully talking to the kidnappers on the call while Claire meets with their leader Ahmadi and tries to negotiate. I get so pumped up when they double-team people!
– Love the lighting with a resigned Frank and Claire as the sun rises. Until of course they snap and decide to start World War Three.
Frank: (to Doug) You keep track of all of her movements. Visitors, names, times, the color of their sh1t and how much it stinks.
Frank: You know, when she got married, I was sure she would wake up in a year or two. I had no idea it was gonna take her 30.
Frank: Claire is the First Lady of the United States, and you still think she made the wrong choice.
Elizabeth: Reduced to tabloid gossip? She might as well be living in that trailer park you come from.
Frank: Well, it was a peach farm. But you’re right, I am still white trash. I just happen to be white trash that lives in the White House.
Elizabeth: Not even being president could give you any class.
Elizabeth: (to Claire) You’re stronger than he is. But you gotta put him in his place.
Cathy: It’s likely he’ll be killed if we send him back.
Frank: So be it. He tried to slay a dragon and he missed the mark. Now he’s gotta face the fire.
Frank: (to Claire) Now, I can’t force you to see reason. But I will not allow you to become dangerous.
Doug: It’s as though she never left.
Frank: And that’s what I’m afraid of.
Frank: I always listen to you.
Claire: Only when it’s what you want to hear.
Claire: (to Frank) I can be a part of your campaign, or I can end it.
Doug: (to Claire) Ma’am… as far as threats go, we’ve been far more occupied with you lately.
Doug: (to Seth) If I can’t get your loyalty, I will have your obedience.
Frank: Find your steel, Claire.
Frank: Hmm… All three of us took bullets. Well, I know why we’re smiling. We survived.
Frank: Conscience has an unmistakable stink to it, sort of like raw onions and morning breath. But a lie stinks even more when it’s coming from someone who isn’t used to lying. It’s more like rotten eggs and horseshit.
Frank: We’re going to destroy them.
Claire: Yes, we are.
Frank: The only problem with common sense is that it’s so… common.
Frank: Oh Bob, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but politics is no longer just theater, it’s show business. So let’s put on the best show in town.
Frank: Do you know the main thing that separates a politician from the rest of the species? A politician is the one who would drown a litter of kittens for 10 minutes of prime time.
Claire: Yes, well, she also says that you’ve been alienating some of the other speechwriters.
Tom: Eh, well, their mediocrity is what’s alienating them. I’m allergic to it.
Frank: After the stunt you just pulled, I would’ve thought you love ham.
Conway: Isn’t that what power is? The people you collect?
Frank: Unbelievable! (to the camera) Well, not so unbelievable.
Frank: Can we get two Cobb salads in here, please?
Cathy: I don’t like Cobb salad.
Frank: Then you don’t have to eat it.
Doctor: You wanted a second opinion, sir. You have it.
Frank: I didn’t want a second opinion. I wanted a different opinion.
Frank: (about Cathy) After a dog’s bitten you, you either put it to sleep, or you put a muzzle on it. I’ve chosen a muzzle… for now.
Hannah: Do you regret it, not having children? Oh, I’m sorry. That’s too personal.
Claire: Do you ever regret having them?
Claire: I feel… numb.
Frank: I do, too. We make time. We can’t fight everything off one by one, Francis. But if we make this… we make it work for us. Create chaos.
Claire: More than chaos.
Frank: Fear. Brutal. Total.
Claire: I’m done trying to win over people’s hearts.
Frank: Let’s attack their hearts.
Claire: We can work with fear.
Frank: Yes, we can.
Claire: You should put on a fresh suit. The navy blue.
Frank: Yes, the navy blue.
Tom: (to Claire) That’s the first time you’ve lied to me… since you stopped lying to me.
Frank: (to the camera) That’s right. We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.
One of my favorite seasons of television ever and the finest House of Cards has ever gotten. Simply perfect.