By Hugo Harris
Don’t panic – I know I’m one of one of the lucky ones. Unlike most Durham students still swamped by the stifling conditions of summative season, this week I was able to indulge myself in the glory that is binge-watching the latest season of House of Cards in 24 hours, and what a 24 hours it was. In short, it was all there: the scheming, the sex, and (most importantly) the political sabotage. The stakes were raised once again; and, to avoid ruining the experience for some of you poor souls, this short appraisal will be strictly spoiler-free.
To be frank the fourth season of Netflix’s Emmy and Golden-Globe wining drama, bears no resemblance to its first. Whereas the tale of Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) used to be the series for the cool, sophisticated aficionados of the US political scene, House of Cards script has now descended into downright farce. Yet, given the rise and rise of he who shall not be named, such farce is terrifyingly prescient – in one of his characteristic ‘breaking of the fourth wall’ asides, Frank himself acknowledges that ‘Politics is no longer just theatre; it’s show-business’ – and one is inherently predisposed to giving the series’ scriptwriters more slack than they perhaps deserve.
Spacey and Wright are terrific and continue to play their characters with panache. However, due to one pivotal and perhaps the series’ most shocking incident, the supporting cast have the chance to make their mark like never before. Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) is one individual who has a very satisfying, albeit morally ambiguous arc, whilst many long-lost ‘friends’ return to give season four a much needed grander scale after the particularly intimate backroom deals of the previous series. Moreover, newcomer Ellen Burstyn, playing Claire’s mother Elizabeth, steals scenes in a way that gives unseen levels of emotional heft to House of Cards. The audience gets a tentative sense of what makes the Underwoods tick; the pair really are partners in more way than one.
As such, House of Cards has an unquestionable return to form this year. It is true that one’s capacity to enjoy it relies more heavily than ever on your love for seeing Spacey overcome the odds and delight in every smirk and wry glance he makes. Nevertheless, the series provides all the cliff-hangers necessary for you to ignore the late hour and just watch one more instalment. Whether its storyline can maintain the momentum necessary to be relevant during the 2021 presidential campaign remains to be seen, but who cares about that when the roller-coaster ride ebbs and flows with so many twists and turns.
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