It took me five days to go through all 13 episodes of Season 4 of House of Cards, which ranks second for me as I went through the second in one day. Watching Frank throw Zoe Barnes into a train gave me a sense of urgency to finish which I wouldn't experience again for nearly two years when I watched the first episode of Making a Murderer. Season three was "good not great" therefore I was slightly worried the show possibly had peaked with the combination of Zoe's murder and Frank's rise to the presidency. However after watching season four i'm glad to say my concerns were for naught. These thirteen episodes need to be recognized for what they are, not a television program, but a work of art. In terms of Season Four rankings House of Cards belongs with Dexter and The Wire of all time great senior years. By the time this show is finished it will rank amongst The Sopranos and Breaking Bad as one of, if not "the", greatest show of all time.
Season Four was broken down into four separate story arcs all centered around the main story, which is Frank's campaign for the Presidency. The first arc goes through episodes one through three and begins with us being reunited with Lucas Goodwin, who we haven't seen since season two after Frank and Doug had him imprisoned for cyberterrorism. Lucas's claims of Frank murdering Peter Russo and Zoe are true of course, but this is the era of the television anti-hero, where Frank was passed the torch from Walter White, who received it from Tony Soprano, therefore Lucas is as an antagonist for knowing the truth and wanting to speak out. Lucas manages to get released from prison and put into witness protection after coaxing information out of his cellmate while wearing a wire. More on this later. After announcing to Frank she's leaving him at the conclusion of season three, Claire heads to Texas to be with her mother, Elizabeth played beautifully by Ellen Burstyn, in addition to attempting to run for an open seat in Congress. It is revealed Elizabeth is dying of cancer, information Frank uses as a cover to the press so they don't get wise to their temporary separation. He then uses the State of the Union address as a platform to endorse another congressional candidate for the seat Claire was vying for, ouch. Claire in response has a billboard put up in South Carolina of Frank's father with a member of the KKK, costing him the South Carolina primary. It is obvious at this point they are both more than capable of tearing one another down. When Frank finds out Claire is behind this the two realize they are better working together than apart and agree to end the feud, however Claire declares to Frank if she's going to realign with him she wants something in return, the vice presidency. Frank emphatically declines her request, saying she's lost her reason. This is where we leave the Underwoods at the end of this section of the story. Meanwhile Lucas working at a rental car dealership under the name John Carlyle, manages to steal a rental car (by means i'm sure he wouldn't have preferred) and get to Heather Dunbar (Frank's main opponent for the Democratic Presidential Nomination), telling her his story and how Frank was involved in multiple murders, to which she tells him she wants nothing to do with this and leaves. At the end of this arc Lucas is a desperate man with nothing to live for and nothing to lose…
The story evolves into episodes four through six in a big way when after holding a rally attempting to do damage control for the KKK photograph…..FRANK GETS SHOT! Episode four was directed by Robin Wright and the scene where Frank is shot comes just as suddenly and as unexpected as the Zoe Barnes death scene. This show doesn't have a "Holy Crap!" moment all of the time like Breaking Bad did but rather a huge moment like this every so often, similar to Game of Thrones. House of Cards is notorious for putting these shots of adrenaline into the show to keep you hooked. Frank was shot by Lucas, who at this point had no value to himself or much of a further storyline. Lucas is killed in the attack and so is Edward Meechum, tragically, who was Frank's most loyal secret service agent (and sometimes make-out friend). On a side note if you really miss Nathan Darrow, the actor who played Meechum, you can catch him on Gotham as Mr. Freeze. In Frank's absence Vice President Donald Blythe assumes the duties of Commander in Chief, and quickly shows he is unfit for the job, relying on Claire to negotiate a bailout deal with Russia at the G7 summit. While all of this is happening Frank is having hallucinations of a three way with Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes (Corey Stoll and Kate Mara return for a couple of masterfully shot dream sequences) and waiting for a liver transplant. Doug uses his influence (threatening to shut down the department of health) to get Frank to the top of the donor list, which ultimately saves his life (and gets one man previously ahead of him on the list killed). Frank returns just in time as the deal with Russia is going through, and commends Claire for her tremendous work in dealing with Russia. The Underwood feud is over.
The final two arcs in the season deal with the upcoming election and a terror crisis all beautifully tied together for a climactic finish. We are introduced to Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), who is Frank's opponent in the election. Will is just as ruthless as Frank, using search engine algorithms to manipulate voters into finding him more appealing and tweeting almost everything he does for attention. The clashes between the two are similar to a game of chess and the dialogues the two characters have throughout are nothing short of extraordinary. Frank and Claire manage to manipulate their way in having Claire become the Vice Presidential nominee, in a way which likely couldn't be pulled off in the real world (I think) but nevertheless makes for good television. Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson), Frank's Secretary of State and running mate at the time confronts Frank about the betrayal she's endured and what happens next is both epic and chilling. In the Oval Office, to intimidate Catherine Frank confesses to murdering Peter and Zoe and nobody believed Lucas "because that's how good we are" and then laughs it off, leaving Catherine visibly rattled. This scene in itself, which occurs in episode 10 may have won Spacey an Emmy. In the background of all this is a subplot of Tom Hammerschmidt (the editor of The Washington Herald from Seasons 1-2) has uncovered evidence proving Frank manipulated his way to the Presidency (which he did) and going public with the story. The season ends with ICO (the show's version of ISIS) kidnapping a family and holding them hostage. They release two of the hostages but Frank uses the opportunity to bury Tom's story, using fear mongering (a despicable, yet useful tactic) to turn the public's attention from the controversy surrounding him. The season ends with Frank talking to the audience, and Claire looking on with him and declaring "We don't submit to terror, we make the terror." Utterly chilling.
This was in my estimation the best season of the series thus far. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and season four borrowed elements from some of the greats. The storyline in which Frank had fallen and Blythe had taken over was reminiscent to King Robert dying in Season One of Game of Thrones with a weaker leader taking the helm, and Claire going full Cersei Lannister in ruling through proxy. The dream sequences with Peter and Zoe were taken right from The Sopranos and the end scene of episode 11 with Claire, Frank, and Yates (who was sleeping with Claire) having breakfast together reminded me of the Skylar, Walt, Jesse scene of the same context from Breaking Bad.
The addition of Neve Campbell to the cast rekindled my love for Party of Five as a teen and was a solid addition to the show. Michael Kelly should be up for Best Supporting Actor again as Doug but Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul is my pick at the moment. Robin Wright is my lead pick for Best Actress but will get tough competition from Sarah Paulson in The People vs. OJ Simpson. Spacey should have no competition for Best Actor the performance was incredible Frank makes you hate him at times, fear him often, but above all, always respect him. Not since Tony Soprano has a lead character shadowed a show as heavy as Frank Underwood does. Five stars to Season Four. Bravo.