Catch up with our House of Cards Season 4 viewing notes here.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe here. No monsters in the White House.”
House of Cards’ power-hungry President may be waging a successful war against Republican candidate Will Conway, but it looks as though Frank may be about to run into trouble. These three episodes force slow-burning issues to centre stage, including terrorists, nationwide illegal surveillance data and the worst enemy of all: truth.
One problem President Underwood doesn’t have is with Claire’s growing close to Tom Yates. Once again, Yates is a fascinating addition to the cutthroat show. Understanding, but never judging, Yates seems to connect somehow with the Underwoods’ unholy union, but without ever being dragged down with them. His role may be to highlight their distorted romance to the viewers, but for the Underwoods’ themselves, his responsibility is far closer to psychiatrist than colleague.
Elsewhere in Beau Willimon’s duplicitous world, Will Conway’s ante-upping warnings bear fruit, as the dreaded Islamic Caliphate Organisation seizes three hostages. Joel Kinnaman’s New York Governor is dragged into the centre of proceedings by Frank and they are forced to tackle the issue together. Their political manoeuvrings are some of the best the show has produced, their barbed back-and-forths creating some of the most honest dialogue ever to leave Underwood’s mouth.
Boris McGiver’s reemployed reporter now has the power of The Herald behind him once more, and sets about Frank’s rise with a fine-toothed comb. Interviewing the people nearest to him, Hammerschmidt is getting far closer to the truth than the Underwoods would like, if only they knew. Often shrouded in secrecy and journalistic tricks of his own, Hammerschmidt has yet to uncover anything he didn’t already suspect – the strain here derives solely from who he’s getting his information from.
In addition to accusatory articles, his sharp political opposite breathing down his next, an ongoing invasion into everyone living person’s privacy, and running a campaign with his wife, Francis has just one more item on his to-do list: Stop terrorism. Conway’s constant badgering regarding ICO forces the President to act, which, of course, forces ICO to retaliate. Taking hostages on American soil, the plot not only amps up dramatically in the penultimate episode, but also gives the show another chance to weave digital surveillance into the ethical extravaganza.
A short video displaying the hostages is immediately analysed by every Government agency imaginable, creating an intriguing CSI-esque manhunt within minutes. A shadow on a wall is scrutinised, speech-echo-patterns are calculated, camera pixellation is studied – for a brief period, an intermission from the politics makes way for another montage of the real power of modern technology.
The contrast between the two couldn’t be clearer. On the one hand, the dominance offered by technology is displayed in full force, as Frank decides to utilise his illegal system to help solve the problem, while in the foreground, his Shakespearean deceptions and plots play out across the “old stone building” of power he’s so fond of referencing.
The episodes overall depict a multitude of problems for Frank that, if they don’t go his way, spell disaster. Episode 12 is notably thrilling, both in content and subtext. On the Underwoods’ stage, nothing is certain, but it’s undeniable that they are playing a game of risk and reward in which the stakes have never been higher.
House of Cards: Season 4 is now on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Spoilers and further consideration
– Hammerschmidt’s investigation gets on the record comments from Frank’s former President Garrett Walker, with Jackie Sharp and Remy Danton considering doing the same. Although Tom’s search for truth in Lucas Goodwin’s article hasn’t come as close to Frank’s real crimes, a perjury charge for a sitting President is more than enough to destroy Frank’s hold on power.
– Frank’s placing Conway at the centre of the ICO negotiations is not only a brilliant arrangement by the writers, but also an excellent chance for Underwood to force Conway aside when necessary and negotiate with the kidnappers directly. And Frank Underwood negotiating with idealistic terrorists is just as poetic as it sounds.
– The final 10 minutes of Episode 12 are stunning. After several full episodes of Conway fighting, insulting and goading Frank, our anti-hero finally responds. In true House of Cards fashion, his words cut Kinnaman’s American hero beautifully down to size – as though he was never a threat in the first place.
– The major step in Frank’s plan to fight ICO is to ask Claire to sit down with their Guantanamo-imprisoned leader and force his hand, by offering to fund his revolution. It’s a phenomenal moment in the show. Even in the context of House of Cards, it’s striking that the Underwood’s could decide to do anything even more deplorable than they already have. We should have known better.
Photo: David Giesbrecht / Netflix