One of the few luxuries I’m affording myself from time to time is trying to keep my DVD and Blu-Ray collections complete on my very limited budgets, and of course the fourth season of House of Cards was high on my list. It’s only been released here about a week ago after becoming available on Netflix a few days earlier due to the usual “international licensing” nonsense. Anyway, I was binge-watching it the last few days two or three episodes at a time and here’s my thoughts on it.
First, unfortunately I have to chime in with what many critics were saying when it was released in the US. Despite of a lot things thrown in to spice things up, this season is nowhere near as interesting as the first three ones. There are some definite pacing issues with the overall writing and the series loses itself in some well-intended, but ultimately ill-fated attempts to humanize the characters by exploring their backgrounds. Claire not getting along with her mother was “in the air”, as they say, from the beginning and it wouldn’t have needed so much attention, especially amidst a million other things like the assassination attempt and the numerous balance-shifting twists in the electoral race. They simply jazzed it up too much.
The Lucas storyline that ultimately lead up to the shooting is just plain ridiculous and they should have let it rest. If you met such a person in real life, you don’t have to be Frank to dismiss it as dealing with an utter lunatic. It does the series a disservice and takes it into a direction where it needs to squander another two episodes to explain everything away. I feel that’s also true for Hammerschmidt picking up the investigation again in later episodes. It just doesn’t have the bite and impact it needs to have in all the noise of the surroundings and the calm nature of this investigative journalist doesn’t help. I found myself thinking that it would be a good thing if he just bled to death after Freddy beat him up. That’s how annoying and bad it was. I also don’t think it’s the right way for Frank to go down. If at all, this should play out like a sharp court drama or a Western with a shoot-out at high noon.
One more misstep is the choice of subject when referencing foreign politics. The writers may have thought having the Syria conflict in front of their eyes every day and using it as a model would be a good idea, but I definitely think it is not. This is simply “hitting too close to home” and is bad for the series, because in two years (when it’s presumably going to end) we will look back at it and laugh at how dated it already looks for the simple reason that even current events one year after filming show how unpredictable such stuff is and that it always develops in another direction than you think. That, BTW, is also the reason why series like Quantico or Homeland will fade into oblivion very quickly and radically one day. In my opinion it would really have been better that they kept it simple and abstract and used a different premise, even if South American or African dictators getting their due may be a cliché.
Overall it’s probably safe to say that this isn’t the best season of House of Cards so far. The writers threw too many ideas in the pot without really thinking things through and there was no good reason they even had to. The election scenario alone would have offered ample opportunities for all the bickering and political intrigue and ultimately that’s what I want to see. I understand that they need to explore other things, but everything loses too much momentum when they stray too much from Frank‘s plotting and scheming. I also felt that some of the acting just wasn’t as good and over the top, mainly for some newly brought in characters like that eccentric computer guy that does the search engine analyses or Gov. Conway. Don’t even get me started on Frank‘s many “bad hair day”s. A lot of it left a lot to be desired and one can only hope that in season five the series recovers and regains its edge, sharpness and wits that made it so brilliant in previous seasons…