This article contains spoilers for the current season.
“House of Cards” is one of the best series on television. I hesitate to say “on television” because this does not refer to the conventional TV format. The series has been credited for being the first successful exclusively online show. It launched the rise of Netflix’s original series platform and showcased the power of quality serial television in a binge-able structure. The political drama, based on a British series of the same name, is released in full dollops of 13 episodes at once for viewers to have the option of enjoying it like a 13-hour movie each season.
David Fincher, known for his films “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the producer and occasional director, using his unique authorship to elevate the series to the standards of movie quality. Each gliding camera move, elegant lighting arrangement and effective close-up brands the series as Fincher’s own. The camera is a constant ominous presence, eerily gliding through the beautiful mise-en-scène like a spectator scrutinizing a picturesque painting in the oval office.
The stylized cinematography is expertly complemented when paired with the Hamlet-esque plot. Frank and Claire Underwood are the sharks of Washington, D.C.; each human cog of the political machine is prey for them to swallow whole. Each season represents a stepping stone bringing them closer to domination of the capital city. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are masters of their roles, enhancing the material with a rich commitment to their characters by fully embodying the treachery.
Season four of “House of Cards” was released March 4 and I had a difficult time preventing myself from binging the entire season in one sitting. This season has upped the ante to fully address each loose strand and bring back old ghosts. Now that Frank has held office as The President of the United States, he is desperately clawing his way to being reelected for a second term against his main opponent Heather Dunbar as well as newcomer Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman of “The Killing”), the current governor of New York. Conway is young, charming and influential, but much dirtier than the public is led to believe. Meanwhile, Claire and Frank’s marriage is on the rocks which is hurting his campaign. Neve Campbell (“Scream”) plays Leann, a talented campaign manager who ends up working for Frank and Claire and inexorably gets entangled in their web. We get to see her managing the Underwoods instead of Ghostface, both equally daunting in my book. The challenge facing Frank this season is a build-up of defeated pawns from his past rising from the woodwork to dethrone his place on the chessboard as king.
The key theme of this season seems to be fear: fear of the unknown, fear of defeat and fear of uncontrollable forces. Holistically, this season revolves around Claire and her need to be Frank’s equal. The two have progressed from being an unmatched power couple to being opposing forces. To continue with the chess metaphor, Claire has undoubtedly been on Frank’s side of the board throughout their marriage. However, it’s finally time for her to experiment with the other side. This power play has even been depicted with the wardrobe choices this season, with Claire alternating between black and white. Claire and Frank’s faux politeness to each other is unnerving, with each silence cutting like a knife. This season we get to see the strengths of the Underwoods alone and together, competing and united. By the time the end frame is in place, a clear and chilling symbol is illustrated that declares their fate.
“House of Cards” is an expertly crafted, disturbing, beautiful and haunting work of art. It may be a piece of fiction, however, it reveals insights into our governmental structure and the many injustices and falsities that often exist in politics. Frank and Claire may be some of the strongest antiheroes on television, yet they are a warning statement exemplifying what politics should not look like and whose hands should not hold our country in balance. Barack Obama has stated that he is a fan of the series, yet it is important to keep fact from fiction. It goes to show that even the real President of the United States finds entertainment in the cautionary tale. After all, disloyalty, corruption and deceit make for excellent television.