“A First Lady as the Vice President? That’s ludicrous.”
Frank’s barely concealed lie to Tom Yates perfectly frames these three episodes. With the President out of hospital and back on the campaign trail, House of Card Season 4 shifts its focus squarely on Claire’s ascent to power.
Frank and Claire decide to let the leadership decide on Claire for themselves, with the Underwoods leaving a trail of breadcrumbs – and a few minefields – to ensure the party reach the correct decision. The two of them working together is spectacular to watch, a flashback to Season 1 with Claire’s persuasive nature contrasting Frank’s forceful threats to guarantee success giving the writers the chance to arrange some swiftly-cut scenes of the two working their unique magic.
The episodes also serve to introduce Frank’s opposite number. Much speculation occurred online when Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Robocop) was revealed to be starring in the show and it was not misplaced. Kinnaman’s Will Conway is written to perfection. Classic American good looks coupled with a conservative stance on terror and a liberal stance on manipulation, his bold introductions and almost comedic good-guy persona frame him as Underwood’s equal. Being far ahead of the President in the polls doesn’t hurt.
Conway’s main weapon is his relationship with Pollyhop, a search engine that subtly persuades voters towards him. House of Cards has always embraced the use of technology, but Season 4 has stepped it up a gear; the massive amount of data gives way to some beautiful tech montages set to grating industrial music – it’s HEROnymous’ style but on a goliath scale. The search engine move is met with Frank’s equally corrupt countermove – total domestic surveillance. Playing off Conway’s platform of anti-terror (specifically concerning Islamic extremist group known as ICO), the President manages to enact powers that give him total access to every phone call, text message and location. If Francis J. Underwood set out looking for power, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
When Conway isn’t Frank’s main target, his own party is; Episode 9 takes place at a Democratic convention staged to democratically elect Frank’s running mate. Behind the scenes, of course, the Underwoods are buying, trading, and menacing their way to making sure democracy works in their favour. It also brings to the forefront Tom Yates’ role within the show. With Meecham gone (and heartbreak abound), Frank and Claire seem to align with Yates, if only to have someone around who truly understands them. He alienates the rest of their staff and begins writing their speeches, immediately recognising the true purpose behind each one. It’s more intriguing than disconcerting to see someone side with the Underwoods without an ulterior motive.
After the conclusion of Season 3, this trio of episodes is almost exactly what the doctor ordered; Claire’s demand for respect and power is being met – and then some. The feminist subtext of the show is clearer than ever, even if it did take a replacement liver to get there. Embracing this, the reconvened duet of the Underwoods thundering towards even more power isn’t even intimidating anymore; it’s a pleasure to watch them finally sync up and start seeing what they can really do.
House of Cards: Season 4 is now on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Spoilers and further consideration
– Cathy’s rejection at the democratic convention was a mistake from the Underwoods, especially considering the number of times Frank has applauded Durant for being pragmatic and loyal.
– Frank’s dedication to his illegal surveillance effort does seem to be what he would call ‘a blind spot’ in that it’s a huge risk – but necessary, for now.
– Conway’s switch from smiling-boy-next-door/ex-soldier to calculating politician is a joy for viewers, his face-off with Frank being truly wonderful to behold. It’s tense, but respectful. The combatants seem almost relieved to be able to finally ditch the safety gear and throw down for real.