Amidst an election season where a reality TV star is literally alluding to his penis size on national television, the fourth season of “House of Cards” couldn’t have come at a better time.
Beau Willimon’s popular Netflix drama, which was released earlier this month, is a brilliant satire of the election cycle.
“Politics isn’t just theatre, it’s show business,” says its star Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).
Like Sen. Ted Cruz, President Underwood wasn’t “born wealthy, or handsome, or charismatic, or nice, or likable, or even fine.” He’s the type of guy who would suggest that an opponent was dropping out the election if he would get more votes.
Despite how much you wanted to punch him in the face after the third season, President Underwood is a masterful chess player and writers Willimon, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs, Bill Kennedy, Laura Eason, John Mankiewicz, Melissa James Gibson, Frank Pugliese and Kenneth Lin manipulate his image so that even though we don’t quite like him, we’re curious to see what Underwood would do when faced with ghosts from his past.
And there are plenty of spurned ghosts — Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), Democratic Whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), The Washington Herald journalists Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), to name a few. (Some of them even make cameos in Underwood’s spooky hell dreams.)
But that’s not all that haunts Underwood. There’s plenty of former presidents who roam the hall of the White House. There’s Bill and Hillary Clinton, who aren’t mentioned directly, but it’s hard not to see the parallels between the Clintons and the Underwoods. Frank is a man who’s still haunted by an affair with a younger woman and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) is a woman with her own political aspirations.
Then there’s the ghost of a young JFK. He comes in the form of New York Gov. Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman), a tall, young and charismatic republican presidential nominee. He and his wife, Hannah (Dominique McElligott), look like the glamorous Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — donning the covers of glossy magazine spreads and sharing their fairytale marriage in viral online home videos.
Opposite Kennedy, of course, is a Nixon, and this Nixon has been orchestrating an unorthodox and illegal game of political dominoes since even before he was a democratic whip in Congress.
In one telling scene, Underwood and Conway even acknowledge how their story lines appear. “If you were a democrat, you’d be unstoppable. You’d be the new JFK,” says Underwood.
“And if you were a republican, who’d you be? Nixon?” Conway counters.
Willimon and crew bludgeon you with analogies, splicing in with as many current event parallels you can possibly think of — the threat of a powerful and tech-savvy Islamic group of terrorists invading from home, what might happen if there was a brokered convention to select a presidential or vice presidential nominee, search engines predicting elections, politicians releasing their emails to the public, a candidate’s connection with a member of the KKK, how impossible it is to pass legislation through congress, how even more impossible it would be to approve a Supreme Court nominee through Congress, and you get the idea.
It’s as if Willimon and crew threw everything into a blender and mixed it together. The result’s awful and outlandish, one step removed from a melodramatic episode of “Glee.” But it doesn’t matter that the plot doesn’t make much sense or that raw eggs doesn’t sit well with pickle juice. We’ll drink it anyway.
Season 4 of “House of Cards” is now streaming on Netflix. “House of Cards” was written by Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies and others, based on the 1990 BBC mini-series and the novels by Michael Dobbs.