Treachery Creates Tension as Underwood Tirelessly Stacks the Deck

3 Stars

House of Cards is something of a social phenomenon—while most premier television programming is highly focused on raw action, the tale of Frank Underwood relies on the slow effects of character development and story-building. Though Season Four of the critically-acclaimed series is not quite up to par with its earlier installments, the show undoubtedly maintains its gritty charm with its latest go-around.

From the very beginning, the strength of House of Cards has been its characters. This season, the legendary Kevin Spacey returns as Underwood, the President of the United States. Though he brings nothing new to the table, he is still impressive in his role, delivering yet another solid look into Underwood’s life. The real standout this season is Robin Wright, who delivered an unforgettable performance as Claire Underwood, First Lady of the United States.

Another surprise this season was Neve Campbell as LeAnn Harvey, introduced into the series as a determined campaign manager. Though somewhat hidden in the background, her efforts were quite commendable—though she has played a smaller role than most, she will not be quickly forgotten.

Beyond its characters, House of Cards is perhaps most well-known for the tone it creates within episodes. The latest iteration of the show has not lost its touch. The most fascinating pieces of the season revolve around the relationship of Frank and Claire. The tension and complexity surrounding their relationship is masterfully crafted, and is what truly makes House of Cards a standout television show. Sex, crime, and greed will always be compelling, but the interpersonal relationships drive the drama.


 


Unfortunately, much of the strength of House of Cards is directly tied to its weaknesses as well. On a number of occasions, the show presents such a bleak outlook on political life that its frame of reference becomes somewhat comical. House of Cards— the fourth season in particular—has a tendency to go far beyond a realistic point of drama. Certain plot devices come off as melodramatic rather than just dramatic, which can be offputting for those not entirely investd in the twists and turns of the Underwood existence. This is not the fault of the actors—there really is no weak link among the long list of cast members. Perhaps it’s a combination of source material and writing, but in terms of plot, this is the weakest season of House of Cards yet.

For a show so devoted to its own grit, however, these flaws can be written off. It is generally natural for a television program to decrease in quality over time, and when dealing with the scale of international politics, a little bit of hyperbole may be in order from time to time. In essence, the latest Cards installment breaks itself down into a simple dichotomy: if its viewers are devoted to the genre of political drama, Netflix’s most famous show will fill that need without question. On the other side of the coin, those looking to enter into a mysterious genre won’t find their answer in House of Cards.

House of Cards is still good. It has all of the inner workings of “good” art—a driving message of corruption, a stark look at the human condition, and a masterful grip on theme and tone. For all of its flaws and disconnections, it has a quality of sophistication and poise—it begs to be taken seriously. Whether this happens, however, is largely dependent on the person in front of the screen.

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