House of Cards is virtually impossible not to love. With Kevin Spacey at the helm, being flanked closely by Robin Wright, you know you’re always going to be in safe hands. Seasons 1 and 2 were breathless, mind-blowing television that left you stunned. Season 3 eased off the pace a little, and very much felt like a filler season, preparing us for Season 4. Unfortunately, this season just didn’t deliver.
Not that the season isn’t good – it really is. The problem is, it suffers from comparisons to itself. Were Season 4 to be reviewed in and of itself, it’d be great; gripping, twisting, controversial TV, it flows from one shock to the next, keeping you guessing the entire time. However, because it has to be reviewed in context, it isn’t enough. The shocks aren’t big enough, nor are the twists, the plot is good but not great. It’s an excellent TV season, but a fairly mediocre House of Cards season.
Spacey is, as ever, exceptional. He plays the part of the President perfectly – he’s ruthless, impatient, an angry man with much to prove, especially to his many and varied critics. He’s terrifying, and in that sense you can’t take your eyes off him. Wright is exceptional too – she’s the perfect foil to Spacey’s Underwood, as ruthless as he is, not an ounce of weakness. Many of the other returning characters are as good as we come to expect; Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper, Nathan Darrow as Edward Meechum, Mahershala Ali as Remy, Derek Cecil as Seth, to name a few – they’re all on top of their game, and play their parts in making the season flow. Then we have a couple of returning characters with bigger roles than have been seen recently; Sebastian Arcelus as Lucas Godwin, and his long time cohort Boris McGiver as Tom Hammerschmidt come back with a vengeance, and a welcome one, as their story arc really adds depth to the season.
Then we have some new characters; Joel Kinnaman, playing Will Conway, who’s the main Republican rival to Underwood’s Democratic Presidential campaign, as well as his wife Hannah, who’s the Claire to Conway’s Frank. They’re a great couple, really good rivals to Frank and Claire, and whilst they can’t hold a candle in the long run (but let’s face it, who could?), in the short they make for excellent bedfellows.
The problem with Season 4 is that, while a lot happens, it’s mostly all talk, and very little action. We have the issue of the Underwood’s marriage – will they break up, won’t they, what will happen and how, and are they just going to sit and talk, rather than actually doing anything? There’s the Presidential campaign – Frank being as underhanded and back stabbing as ever, being his full self really, but it’s all talk. And finally there’s the hostage situations – these are prime examples of events that have happened in previous seasons, and been done much better. We’ve seen Frank in dangerous places, he’s been in the desert in a bullet proof vest, and it’s been great. But not here, and not now. Now, it’s all talk. And it’s actually kind of boring.
There’s a death in the season – I won’t say more because I don't want to spoilt it – and it’s probably the biggest event of the season, though it’s over far too quickly. Which kind of sums up the season as a whole – potential, but it isn’t fulfilled. Saying this though, and all of the above, the season is worth watching, and really should be watched, for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s a great programme, and Season 5 has the potential to be amazing. Secondly, something happens right at the very end, the final 10 or so seconds of the last episode, and it makes the entire season worth watching. Trust me, I went from kind of bored, to being blown away with the flick of the switch. And I went from being able to give or take Season 5, to knowing I absolutely must watch it, in a heartbeat.
So do watch it, definitely do. But don’t expect too much, unfortunately. As Season 3 was a filler season, unfortunately mostly so is Season 4. But for the performances, for the characters, so you’re up to date on the story ready for what comes next, give it time. You won’t regret it.
EXTRAS: None, for some reason. Big disappointment.