“We’re all ruthless. We all destroy. But corruption, that’s a matter of perspective.”
Chapter 52 ends under the presidential seal. Claire Underwood joins her husband in breaking the fourth wall for the first time in the entirety of the show. And in a poignant finale, the audience naturally conceives that Frank Underwood’s journey is far over, or at least in his own mind; preemptively, Underwood’s true power has yet to be fully revealed. House Of Cards leaves us wanting more.
TV enthusiasts and industry insiders alike, embrace House Of Cards amongst the debate of which shows are the most groundbreaking. Jessica Jones, How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and Breaking Bad are frequent contenders.
With the ease of discussion and occasional dispute over the internet, the most discussed topics in TV have become colour, feminism and realism- three topics which have heavily featured in discussions amongst HBO’s Girls and ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder. Alike, House Of Cards has found itself at the forefront of such controversies.
At times, TV must represent the reality of such a topic, anticipating any backlash that may follow. A period drama cannot cast certain races for authenticity and faithfulness to the craft and to history. Other times, it is by conscious or unconscious choice of the producers, writers and directors. Shonda Rhimes, (Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal) is widely known for her comprehensive casting in denying any specifics during some castings and is often celebrated for her casting choices as well as the formation of the characters within her shows.
But what makes House of cards groundbreaking?
Netflix in itself challenges the traditional ways in which we view a running series. Every season is published at once. It is enticing, and dangerous for anyone wanting to enjoy a social life at the same time. Does one pace themselves over a couple of weeks, or watch the series in its entirety over a weekend? Netflix of course entrusted Kevin Spacey along with Beau Williamson and a $100million deal to bring House Of Cards exclusively to Netflix.
The streaming service have now renewed the contract for season 5 despite showrunner Beau Willimon leaving the series. Head writers Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese have been assigned co-showrunner status and will continue to see the series into 2017.
“Thanks everyone for all the kind words. There’s no show without the fans & you’re the best fans imaginable. Excited for you all to see S4!” – Beau Willimon
Scepticism has floated around as many have debated whether season 4 should have been the end, now contending that season 5 should finalize the series. Nevertheless, in a time of important political talks, the relevancy of House Of Cards and the importance of seasons 4’s final episode, is one to remain a firm favourite; for its applicability for todays politics, as well as its emotive values, the value it adds to the craft of television, and its bitter earnestness. But what about the content of the show?
Not only for the fourth series, but throughout, an unsympathetic hero and protagonist dominates the series. Frank Underwood embodies much of what a president should be, bold, courageous, intelligent and determined. However, his ethics are often astray, his relationships are convoluted at best, and whilst he breaks Diderot’s fourth wall, giving the audience unprecedented access to truths reserved only for the eyes and ears of the audience; a combination of his fervent drive, patriarchy, patriotism, self-assurance and eloquence of his speech, forms a captivating and almost loveable character.
A husband who, against the traditional portrayal of a marriage, encourages a wife to remain entangled with their political writer for her own happiness. It is easy to say that he ‘allows’ her to do so, but the act of possession doesn’t fit within the marriage of Claire and Frank Underwood. Instead, they present an empowering, if somewhat unconventional, discretionary yet viable partnership. There is at times a sense of ownership. And affairs have formed within various times of the marriage, which has become a political brand. Their team is powerful and effective. Their mutual understanding of one another’s idiosyncrasies helps form a large part of the shows carnival of emotions, chicanery, political twists and exclusive attributes, thus creating the three-dimensional characters and plots.
They are not the only two three-dimensional characters within Washington. Doug Stamper thrives on the singularity of his character His labyrinthine association with Zoe Barnes, particular relationship independently with both Frank and Claire underwood, and the more recent connection to Laura Moratti.
But it is Claire’s relationship with her mother that becomes one of the most powerful and honest relationships of the season and possibly in television currently.
In the ill condition of Claire’s mother, House Of Cards portrays, with a unique sympathy to each character involved: Claire Underwood, Tom Yates, Elizabeth Hale and at times, Frank Underwood, equally touching and calamitous relations and truths. We can study a daughters bitter connection to her mother through the inferred tender relationship to her late father.
How one copes with a dying mother is sensitive matter, and yet the reality of any singular experience differs. This is where House of Cards is bold and faithful to the characters. Their love for one another is entangled between their past and the two strong women they have become. Their estranged relationship allows their time together to show both the tender moments and the harrowing.
Her style never changes, nor does her attitude. A Saint Laurent bag, Moschino Jacket, Ralph Lauren boots, and Dsquared2 dresses, forms Claire Underwood’s wardrobe. It is something assumed to be drawn from her mother’s life. A woman who, in her dying days, dresses immaculately. And despite the tensions between them, Claire’s involvement in politics and the reminiscing over claire’s collected baby teeth, the lighter moments never overshadow, nor eliminate the traction of their bond.
Circumventing clichés, the thoughts, emotions and actions of each character, construct fully developed characters. But what is most captivating about season four, is the role women have played both on and offscreen.
Women dominate a large proportion of the season. Jackie Sharp, Catherine Durant and Heather Dunbar’s storylines are important and spotlighted. Celia Jones, Janine Skorsky and Leann Harvey play smaller, but equally high and significant roles, whilst Hannah Conway’s seemingly minor role, allows the audience to view Will Conway from a different angle.
As the wife of New York Governor and Republican presidential nominee Will Conway, Hannah at first, stood as the face of a perfect marriage, but went on to challenge ideas that surround female archetypes. She asked Claire a feminist’s nightmare-question- “do you regret not having children?” And panics at the consequential questioning on whether she regrets having her children. Her presentation of their family life and the revealing of her and Will Conway’s true attitude towards Claire’s political proposals is fascinating.
There is little space for misogyny. Any sexual discrimination forms part of character and plot line. And behind the camera, joining some of the other series’ directors including Tom Shankland (The Missing, Ripper Street) and Alex Graves (Game of Thrones, The West Wing) is Robin Wright. Wright made her debut directing credit for episode ten (chapter 23) of series 2, and has continued to provide the directoral credits for a further four episodes of series 4.
The scripts are dense, the topics are both realistic, bitter, edgy and frightful. Often very heavy-handed and intense with this season handling terrorism head on and a hostage situation with extreme force. heartstrings are toyed with as Claire tries to negotiate with terrorist Yusuf Al Ahmadi and Frank is potent in both situations.
To some degree, the terrorist plot line appears out of course with the show. The fight for POTUS is sidetracked by an entwining terrorist plot. It does however, form a situation in order for characters to be seen actively handling politics, and presents a situation that elevates tension, comments on real threats that politics face, and leads to the final and poignant scenes of the season.
“We don’t submit to terror, we make the terror”– Frank Underwood
Frank fears his future as prison becomes a threatening possibility. Anticipation has been set out for the future of American politics, the future stability of the country and the fate of the many corrupt characters. The season has been erratic in part, but season four is quickly becoming a favourite from the turbulence of emotion and drama sets up a cascade of expectations for season 5.