Review: 'House of Cards' returns with subterfuge, monologues you crave

The latest season of Netflix’s knockout original program “House of Cards” is a weird one. The series has never shied away from the bizarre or the disturbing, but in this new season, the characters practically thrive on chaos and anarchy.

Kevin Spacey returns as Frank Underwood, who has gone all the way from snubbed congressman to President of the United States. The first character we see, however, is not Frank or his wife Claire, played by Robin Wright, but Lucas, a character the audience saw thrown in prison in season two and then subsequently disappeared, until now. This becomes a theme in the new season, though, as literally dozens of characters you thought you would never see again make appearances, ranging from cameos to significant contributions to the story.

The first third or so of the season deals with the fallout of Frank and Claire’s argument at the end of season three, and after watching the pair alternate between helping and undercutting one another for years, it’s gratifying to see the two engage in all-out war. Claire even gets her own equivalent to Doug Stamper, someone willing to go to the ends of the Earth for their employer. 

Although Spacey remains perfect as Frank Underwood, the writing feels a little off whenever he has to actually do presidential things. Faced with the possible assassination of a Russian media mogul, he just goes, “not my problem.” The Underwood from two seasons ago would have immediately started looking for a way to turn this to his advantage, but now he doesn’t even entertain the possibility until his hand is basically forced.

There are some really dark moments in this show, including one character being blackmailed into sex and a grisly execution, but at other times the framework for the story feels silly. The writers try to manufacture a crisis by having Russia stop shipping oil to the United States, which causes gas prices to go up to seven freaking dollars a gallon. If any of the writers had actually checked how much oil the US imports from Russia, they might have found that it’s a pitiful amount that would never come close to causing gas prices to rise that high. I don’t mind suspending my disbelief for the sake of the story, but if Netflix is targeting people who know anything about politics, they should put in the effort to make their stories more believable. 

Speaking of stories, Lucas’ is the most compelling for the first few episodes, because he’s a man armed with nothing but the truth going up against the most devious politician in the world. The ending of that story is totally unexpected and awesome, however, and concludes his arc in a way that feels true to the character. 

The most memorable stretch of episodes comes midway through the season, when Frank is out of the picture for an extended period of time. Watching how each character reacts to his absence and how that power vacuum is filled is fascinating and gives us an unseen look at how each character reacts when the one constant in their lives is taken away. 

After a while, the number of cameos that last less than 30 seconds becomes staggering. It makes you wonder if every single actor that ever appeared on the show had a clause in their contract saying that they must appear in every single season or something. Every time I thought the writers couldn’t squeeze any more out of these characters, they’d bring back a character that I had literally forgotten about so they could spout about two lines and then vanish back into the void.

There are multiple attempts to pull at the audience’s heartstrings, and they’re hit and miss. I rolled my eyes when the writers felt the need to remind me that Doug is willing to go to extreme lengths for his boss, but I genuinely felt sad in one scene with Claire and her mother. There’s a great moment when the absurdity of some of the things Frank has done is lampshaded in a joker-esque moment, but overall the writing is just good with a couple really great scenes.

The whole season fits together really well, as the threats to the Underwoods at home and abroad begin to build until they’re practically crushed under the weight of it all, but then the season ends right as things get really good. I thought this would be the last season, considering that the original BBC show only lasted 12 episodes, but Netflix seems determined to keep this gravy train going. The ending is not a cliff-hanger, at least, but the audience certainly doesn’t get the closure that most will be hoping for.

“House of Cards” remains one of the great television shows of our generation, but the cracks are starting to show. Whether the writers can keep this up forever has yet to be seen, but the new season of “House of Cards” is still worth watching, regardless of the show’s ultimate fate.

Score: 9/10


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.