Saturday, 12 March 2016

House of Cards - Season 4

The politicians you love to hate are back as Netflix blesses us with thirteen new episodes in this new fourth season. House of Cards has played a major role in Netflix's extraordinary rise as a provider of original series, the show's place in history is secure.  

"Keep your friend close and your wife closer."
That could be the unofficial mantra for Season 4, well the first six episodes anyway. Show-runner Beau Willimon - who will be sadly leaving after this season - cleverly addresses right from episode one the problem in the closing kick of Season 3, which is as per normal, where the program picks up. This year, real-life presidential politics have caught up with the series. Granted that the fourth season release date could hardly seem more timely than to come in the thick of the election chase in the US, with fictional President Frank Underwood in the ache of a challenge as he seeks another term. Never mind that he schemed, plotted and literally committed murder to put himself in the White House: given the list of crises he had endured Underwood's time in office has mostly been of the "be careful what you kill for" variety. 

The main criticism I had, has been the lack of antagonists worthy of the Machiavellian politician. No surprise that in town of political animals, Frank Underwood is a shark. House of Cards remains one of the best show on air  nowadays in large part due to its splendid casting, from Spacey to Wright and down. As it turns out this season, the most formidable adversary Frank could face is his wife: Claire, who has come to see him as a drag on her own political ambitions and begun to plan her own future. In fact the cat-and-mouse game between them has genuine electricity, especially when Doug Stamper, back in the fold, is running interference. This is also on this front where some of the smarter political insights the show has exhibited begin to break down. 

Kevin Spacey is as per usual brilliant in this role. Old skeletons and older ghosts come back to haunt him. The show's history works marvelously to its advantage this season. Plus, Cecily Tyson is one of many interesting supporting characters this season, along with Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn and Neve Campbell. But more than ever, it's the First Lady - and Robin Wright - who rules this term. Her story resonates with issues, gender, race and power. Claire veers past Hilary Clinton into something quite closer to Lady McBeth territory. She's the most perfect realization of the precise and chilly aesthetic minted by co-creator David Fincher. President Claire Underwood? She has my vote. Though watching her cruelly impose her will on her mother - catharsis for the powerlessness she feels with Frank - is heartbreaking. 

Still, as their real-life counterparts might learn in the months ahead, there's a marked difference between the quest for greatness and the hard work of maintaining it. Basically they are the world's most powerful and evil couple. And everyone at the end of the season can agree, that is why I probably shouldn't enjoy Claire and Frank as much as I do. But I can not lie: I do. I love them. I hate them. I want them to succeed. I want them destroyed.                  

House of Cards has always aspired to a higher level of reality. Even if it sometimes stumbles in its handling of politics. Yes the Underwoods can have done all kinds of horrible things behind the scenes in their pursuit of power but even in this day and age it can temporarily burst the dramatic bubble, making viewers keenly aware that they're watching a work of flamboyant fiction. 

Wright framed many of the season's most striking images herself. Her direction of Episode 3 and 4 is magnificent. The show also made a leap this year into more surreal territory, going for experimental moments that blur the line between obvious symbolism and brilliant creativity. House of Cards exists in own pocket universe and aims for thematic timelessness, not timeliness. You can understand why... It has to work whenever and wherever we find it or take it, given that it's a bing-at-your-convenience show on a streaming service. This is all to say that if you want House of Cards to reflect US current political spectacle, you'll find fistful satisfaction. The drama is also very smart about media in the most generic of ways. 

Overall, House of Cards delights me, it indicts me. It is. On my level, a true guilty pleasure.

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