House of Cards Season 4, Episode 6: The Live-Binge Review

The message of the show isn’t as complicated as it seems.


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 6 (Chapter 45)

Frank lives, and his ammonia visions have shown him the way and the light of Claire. When he says he needs her more than she needs him, he’s acknowledging an imbalance that’s long been hinted at but never articulated. He’s admitting to the reason Claire’s mother hates Frank, and the reason Frank’s floundered whenever Claire has wandered from his side in past seasons. He’s also probably relaying what Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo told him in their painful-looking dreamworld ménage à trois. As a viewer, it’s nice that the Underwoods have reconciled, of course. Somehow, the show made you feel for Claire even as it very clearly demonstrated that she was taking advantage of her husband’s near-death experience and that she might even have wanted him to die. When she curled up at the foot of her bed before greeting Frank, it was a rare moment of wariness and visible nerves from her. It’s a visceral relief for her and for us when it turns out that he’s not mad.

But can I admit to a smidge of trepidation? This season is the most fascinating Cards has been in a long time, and that fact stems from the dynamic created by Claire vs. Frank. When it’s them against the world, we come to realize the world is mostly a jumble of proper nouns—congress members, foreign leaders, brunette journalists—all trying to bring down the un-bring-downable couple.

The rest of the episode offered the umpteenth reminder of the thesis of the show, which is that doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is usually smart. Claire shouldn’t have left her husband’s side and she certainly shouldn’t have been allowed to represent the U.S. in private negotiations with a foreign head of state, but it all worked out. (Perhaps the most wrenching moment of the season so far, surprisingly, was the couple of seconds when it looked like Claire had failed at persuading Petrov—before she landed on the appropriate blend of ridicule, intimidation, and emasculation needed to bring him to heel and deliver herself a much-needed policy win.)

And when Dunbar highmindedly chose honesty in her deposition about Lucas, she wrecked her campaign. Of course, the underlying message about the virtues of less-than-virtuous pragmatism becomes a bit muddled when viewers realize that there was a third way for Dunbar—she could have just stuck to telling the truth without grandstanding so much. But for however much the show might want you to think it deals in shades of grey, its moral vision is pretty absolute. There is Frank and Claire’s way through the world, and there is the way of Dunbar, Blythe, and other parties yet to be steamrolled.

Read the review of the next episode.