DISCLAIMER: This post is full of spoilers! You have been warned!
I admit that I was pissed when I saw it
I had told everyone they wouldn’t do the assassination attempt thing. After all, West Wing and Scandal had already done it (not to mention films like Bulworth and Taxi Driver). Should I prepare for Julia Louis-Dreyfuss to take a bullet next season on VEEP?
But, there it was in episode 4: Zoe Barnes’ old pal Lucas Goodwin attempts to exact revenge on Frank Underwood by going all John Hickley, Jr. on him. NOTE: This happens as Underwood is approaching some protestors to discuss why they hate him, so NOBODY DO THIS! If you’re a politician, just ignore the haters in person and throw shade on them on Twitter. Much safer
But, after I got over my disappointment at HOC‘s recycling, I chilled out and enjoyed a great season. This is a nice rebound from a somewhat underwhelming season 3. I would rank the seasons, thusly (descending order): 2,1,4,3
The interesting addition to this season is Frank’s dreams/visions which run from the semi-erotic (think Eyes Wide Shut) ultra violent (Quentin Tarantino meets David Lynch). He dreams of murdering Claire before the assassination and then, while in a coma, he dreams of banging Zoe. The ethereal feel of Frank’s subconscious are woven throughout the season and add a textural changeup
If Robin Wright doesn’t win an Emmy for her work this season, it won’t happen. Claire Underwood deftly reconciles with her husband (kind of), attempts to run for office in Texas, make amends with her dying mother (played by the wickedly talented Ellen Burstyn, who probably deserves a supporting Emmy), watches over her wounded hubby, negotiates a deal with Russia, and maneuvers her way onto the party’s ticket with Frank. Lady MacBeth needs an Adderall
Frank survives the shooting and faces down Republican challenger Will Conway, a handsome veteran who has a family so beautiful that they would make Norman Rockwell weep. Claire arranges for Frank to be embarrassed in South Carolina by some old pictures of his father in Klan garb, so Heather Dunbar beats Frank in his home state. That’s right: Having a family member with Klan connections hurts you in The Palmetto State these day
Heather continues to dog Frank until the press finds out that she met with Lucas prior to the assassination. She is investigated and does the unthinkable: She tells the truth. Her campaign dies
Meanwhile, Conway continues to crush Frank, even after the president climbs out of his hospital bed. So, Frank and Claire deftly engineer a plan to put Mrs. Underwood on the ticket as vice-president, screwing Secretary of State Catherine Durant and throwing the Democratic Convention in Atlanta into a tizzy. It’s Claire’s mother who suggests that if Claire helps her end her life, it could be a political bonus for the Underwoods. After her mother’s death, Claire returns to Atlanta from Texas where she secures the spot as Franks’ running mate
Then, Frank has to face the threat from ICO (HOC‘s version of ISIS). As Conway scores political point after political point, President Underwood reaches his limit and allows an American to be beheaded without military intervention, under the presumption that showing toughness to terrorists will reap political benefits. And that’s the end of season 4
We get to see some old friends (Zoe in dream form, Freddy the Rib Man, and even our old buddy President Walker) and a few new ones (Neve Campbell is just great as Claire’s consigliere). Ultimately, this is a satisfying season and, I think, we could get two more from Beau Willimon and his troops. I had previously thought that next season might be the last, but we haven’t even made it through re-election
As for Frank, it becomes clear that he is the Bizarro Jed Bartlet. While both are Democrats and both have been shot, Jed is from the North and Frank is from the South. Jed attended the University of Notre Dame, while Frank went to the (fake) Citadel. Frank lies for political gain, while Jed’s lies are about his illness. Also, Frank kills his political enemies while Bartlet tends to hire his. Also, Jed Bartlet doesn’t arrange lovers for his wife
The 4th wall breaks are used judiciously and always make perfect sense. It’s really amazing that Willimon doesn’t overuse the device. It has become something we all expect, so it seems that the audience anticipates it and the more you delay it, the more they want it. Kind of like a rock band doing their hit from thirty years ago: The boys may get tired of doing it, but the audience wants to hear it every night
Kevin Spacey so inhabits Frank Underwood that it seems almost cliche to talk about how good he is. In fact, the assassination attempt and subsequent coma give the rest of the cast a chance to shine. So, in that, I suppose the plot device should be seen as a plus. Frankly, given our violent culture and our history, it’s almost impossible not to do a presidential drama without addressing violence to our Commander-in-Chief. As Frank points out, one in 10 presidents are assassinated and 1 in 4 are shot at. I suppose the sadness is that getting shot is such a part of our reality, not our fantasy
But, if they bring in a blue dress next season…