House of Cards Season 4, Episode 12: The Live-Binge Review

The Underwoods and Conways confront terrorism.


As in previous years, I’m binge-reviewing the latest season of Netflix’s House of Cards, the TV show that helped popularize the idea of “binge watching” when it premiered in 2013. Don’t read farther than you’ve watched.

Episode 12 (Chapter 51)

Stipulated: This show is ridiculous. It’s best not to think of the levels of coincidence that were required to bring the Republican presidential nominee and his family into an overnight stay with the sitting Democratic president. Like the Underwoods themselves, House of Cards’s writers believe that ends always justify means. The ends, in this case, were some electrifying scenes of Frank conversing with Will, Claire conversing with Hannah, and radiant little brats running all over the frigid museum that is the Underwoods’ domestic life. In their kitchen showdown, Frank managed to deliver Will a punishing ego check, but note his phrasing: He said that if Conway wins, he’ll be revealed as a fraud. Which means Frank agrees with what Yates said—Will is too smart to slip up and lose his momentum. He really could win.

Terrorism has finally been put on the list of hot topics that Cards deals with. But unlike with some past ripped-from-the-headlines plots, there’s a profound disconnect between reality and fiction. In our world, ISIS has been a barbarous spectacle for years. Meanwhile, the world of Cards, it seems, is not one that is acclimated to beheading videos and hostage situations. It’s a world that is slightly less numb than ours. To be sure, the fact that the kidnapping and extortion threat on this show happens in America, to a random family, pulled off by Americans, makes it uniquely horrifying. But the captors’ request to speak to Conway also contributes to it feeling less real, more a plot contrivance than a terrifying fable.

Then again, the scenes of war-room negotiations with the terrorists were as tense as anything the show has served up. And I can’t wait to read the fact checks on the forensic domestic surveillance methods on display, like when the FBI isolated bird songs deep in the background of a phone call and used it to figure out the caller’s region. The episode’s cliffhanger suggests that the season will end with the most horrifying demonstration yet of just how big a risk Frank is willing to take in the name of political gain. Those gains may be for naught, though, since Garrett Walker took time from his guitar collecting to talk to Hammerschmidt.

Read the review of the next episode.