Best to Binge Watch: House of Cards – Season 4

House of Cards


By Calum Henderson

In an era when the leading candidate for the Republican nomination believes everyone including the Pope is fair game for his own special brand of snide abuse, and when a previously unknown socialist senator from Vermont can give the Democrat’s perpetual president-to-be a run for her money, how can a fictional drama about American politics possibly compete with the madness of reality?

That was the question on everyone’s lips as the most recent season of House of Cards was released on Netflix earlier this March. In the opening episode, President Francis Underwood is struggling to prevent the premature end of both his presidency and his marriage. You can now enjoy House of Cards for reasons of nostalgia alone; to recall those long distant days when a presidential candidate spent most of his time trying to play down controversy and ingratiate himself with his electorate, rather than boast about his own outrageous wealth and call for a ban on all Muslim immigration.

As I write these words I am halfway through the most recent season. In the opening episodes alone there have been plot twists and cataclysmic events that any other show would save for the season finale. This gives you an idea of just how bold a television show House of Cards is, that is if it can be called ‘television.’ It is more like a very, very long film, broken into fifty-minute chapters. Made for the era of binge-viewing, each episode glides seamlessly into the next, the season slowly unfolding like a titanic Shakespearean tragedy.

The intricacies of American politics serve as a pretext for a show which masterfully explores divided loyalties, the clash of egos, and, above all, pure, unadulterated ambition. President John Adams famously talked of ‘a government not just of laws, but of men.’ In the Underwood administration, more a government of bastards, the only law is survival of the fittest.

Underwood is a bulldog leader, a kind of malevolent Winston Churchill, his ruthlessness and determination matched only by that of his equally monstrous wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright. Together, over the course of the four seasons now available to enjoy, the two deceive and manipulate their way to the very pinnacle of American politics: The White House. Spacey and Wright make the show, capturing the audience with their intense performances. The rabid fan, sitting up to all hours in order to see what the Underwoods will do next, becomes a victim of something more than Stockholm Syndrome: not only do they love their dastardly captors, but actively side with them and hope and wish they will succeed.

House of Cards is complex and enthralling enough to take your mind off almost any outside distraction and can be easily devoured in one go. Although as the Underwoods would know, biding your time and playing the long game is an important skill in politics as well as life. Readers with strong self-control may want to savour it over a longer period of time. But whatever you do, just watch it.

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