House of Cards Season 4, Episode 8: The Live-Binge Review

The prodigal novelist returns.


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 8 (Chapter 47)

No one was asking for the return of Tom Yates, a certified phony whose writing, one hopes, is meant only to be a parody of deep thinking and not the show’s attempt to offer the real thing. Both Frank and Claire have an inexplicable attraction to him, but they have the pretense of realpolitik reasons—blocking his book from coming out—to hire him as a speechwriter. He, meanwhile, chooses not to sell out the Underwoods because he wants to find a new ending to his novel inspired by them. Get ready for more shots of people looking out windows as Paul Sparks mumbles on about clouds and ghosts and sunsets as metaphors for whatever is happening in the plot.

It’s enough to make you miss the astringency of Zoe Barnes, whose ghost haunts this show more than ever. Tom Hammerschmidt’s investigation has kicked off what feels like the beginning of House of Cards closing its own loop, circling back to people and sets we haven’t seen since 2013. I’m not sure what the point of the phone call with her DUI dad was other than to make her into an even more tragic figure in the afterlife and to remind us of one of the most gut-churning depictions of Father’s Day ever. But Hammerschmidt’s visit to her old block (D.C. folks, where do we think she lived? Petworth?) turned out to be pivotal because it confirmed that the journalist was onto something. It also showed that dumb luck is sometimes essential to an investigation: Meechum’s image was on TV at the exact right moment.

The Underwoods’ machinations with a VP pick and a gun-control bill purposefully sunk by the NRA were, perhaps, not the easiest thing to follow. And it’s not clear to me why Cathy Durant wasn’t in the running from the start if she’s such an acceptable candidate to all involved. But the backroom dealing did give the chance for the show’s creators to smirkily serve up another all-too-relevant exchange: “A Supreme Court confirmation in the middle of the election?” “Grow a pair.” The prospect of a brokered convention may also turn out to be prescient if the #NeverTrump crowd gets its way in real life. In Cards land, you can guess at why Frank pushed for chaos in the convention hall: He can manipulate it so that it seems like there’s an authentic groundswell for Claire to be his running mate.

She, of course, is helping that effort by taking an ever more visible role in the policy arena. Her robo-call speech on gun control again demonstrated how her political ruthlessness can dovetail with her personal magnetism and her sense for when and how to feign vulnerability. The show has suggested that Frank has a formidable match in Will Conway, but I wonder if Claire does too in Hannah. The Brit played hardball with the Vanity Fair editor, but she also authentically swooned over Tom Yates’s breakout (and fraudulent) novel, while her husband sneered that its main character was a “pussy.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that moment. It certainly doesn’t remind me of Claire and Frank.

Read the review of the next episode.