[Warning: This review contains spoilers for Seasons 1-4 of “House of Cards.”]
“I think America deserves Frank Underwood. And in your heart, you know I’m right.”
Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, continued his ruthless search for power in the fourth season of Netflix’s hit show “House of Cards,” which premiered on March 4. Season 4 focuses mainly on the dynamic between Frank and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) and how their decisions shape the future of America and the world.
“House of Cards,” while without the bloody action of “Game of Thrones” or the movie-level production of “Sherlock,” captivates the viewer’s attention by weaving dark but juicy narratives into the politics that we are familiar with today.
In previous seasons, Claire and Frank had plotted and schemed together to get themselves into the White House. However, once they step into the long sought-for building, there is a split in their relationship, as the power couple realizes there is only one chair in the oval office—something Frank quickly decides is his. Noticing an imbalance of control in their relationship, Claire chooses to break away from Frank and leverage her prominence for tangible power.
By the conclusion of Season 3, protagonist—or perhaps antagonist—Frank has emotionally manipulated, bribed, and even murdered on his path to becoming the President of the US. Power-hungry and cold-blooded, he conveys his character and lust for authority particularly through his deadpan delivery as he strangles a dog in the first lines of the show.
“There are two kinds of pain,” he says. “The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain, the sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”
Fast forward two seasons, and Frank has risen from being the majority whip to being the President of the US. However, the obstacle of reelection stands in his way, and Claire refuses to cooperate, leaving him seemingly for good at the conclusion of Season 3.
Season 4, however, begins with the two reuniting, albeit initially as enemies, not as allies. As the season progresses, viewers can see that the story is clearly divided into two major arcs—the first on the dynamic of the Frank and Claire’s relationship, and the second on the consequences of past actions.
Claire demands that she be named his vice presidential candidate, and Frank accepts her proposal. Old ghosts come to haunt the two when Lucas Goodwin, former reporter of the Washington Herald who was wrongfully accused in Season 2, returns to attempt to assassinate Frank. While the endeavor fails, Frank is haunted on his hospital bed by the images of Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo, people he intentionally killed on his path to presidency.
The season concludes with the Underwoods scheming to distract the citizens of the US from their political scandals by creating a diversion: the show’s version of ISIS, ICO, and its threats of war. As the couple watches an American hostage be executed on tape, Frank turns to the audience and says, chillingly:
“Thats right. We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.”
Overall, the season serves to wrap up the loose ends from Season 3, as the dysfunctional, disparate relationship between Claire and Frank reaches an agreement. Past actions of the couple come to haunt them, but they begin efforts to brush it away through possibly even more violent actions. While the episodes struggle to live up to their famed Season 1 glory days, the overall season succeeds in developing the narrative further without much filler and delivers a clear, coherent message—that Frank and Claire Underwood are still hungry, and not just for ribs.