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 7 (Chapter 46)
You could call this Chapter 46 or you could call it the start of House of Cards season 4.5. The arc of the previous six episodes, centered mostly on the struggle between Claire and Frank, has drawn to a conclusion for now (and Frank’s almost fully recovered from his life-or-death ordeal, with the only significant effect seeming to be a head of grey hairs). Instead of carrying over the storylines and tensions that accompanied that struggle, we get a fresh slate of ‘em, and the result feels like a whole new show. Or like an old one. Frank’s back to addressing the camera on a regular basis. The frequent cross-cutting from the director Tom Shankland feels like it’s out of a Steven Soderbergh film. I’m not complaining: There was a lightness to the hour as it embraced trashy fun rather than high melodrama, and the conflict it sets up is a good one.
The Conways are a fiction so tantalizing that you wonder why the real political parties haven’t served up something like them already. Will is a particularly charming incarnation of the film/TV trope of a young handsome veteran governing a state from across the ideological aisle. But the gimmick of his family curating their life on a publicly accessible cell-phone camera is a plausible bit of marketing genius. It’s also totally ghastly: a reminder that social media has turned us all into politicians and valorized vanity (did you catch the Conways watching themselves in the mirror as they had sex?), not to mention the ease with which it turns children into props. How many episodes before the Underwoods plant a dirty photo in their stream? One?
Or maybe the Underwoods will come up with a plan that’s yet more devious, generated by a working relationship that’s stronger than ever. When Frank was mansplaining the need for steely guts toward the start of the episode, I worried that the peace they’d established would turn out to be fragile. But throughout the hour, we saw them support and improve each other in concrete ways, most obviously by rehearsing negotiations with the NRA lobbyists and congressional leadership.
The NSA plotline seems a bit ridiculous; you can practically hear the screenwriters brainstorming ways to work in hot-button issues like domestic surveillance and ISIS into the story and then hitting upon a way to join the two. Whatever. The scene where Frank imagined a duel with Conway in front of the portraits of his predecessors was classic Cards fun, and while it seemed for a bit that he was waffling about wiretapping for ethical reasons, the real reasons for him to pause, it later became clearer, are the political and legal risks. But, as Claire points out, their big advantage is that they’ll go farther than anyone else to get elected. It’s significant that for the first time, though, Frank has wondered aloud whether this particular step might be too far.
Read the review of the next episode.