Clearly, this article is bristling with spoilers for seasons 1-3 of House of Cards.
It seems weird to think that two and a half years ago, House of Cards wasn't in our lives. And for many of us, neither was Netflix. As a huge David Fincher fan - he's the best director in Hollywood today - I knew this series was going to be something special, especially with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright involved.
What I didn't know was that it would change the way an entire generation of viewers watched television. Let's take a look at how House of Cards got it so right, and what we can expect as we look ahead to season 4.
A gloriously twisted relationship
Too often on television the "wife" character is completely passive. She exists to humanise the powerful male who drives the story, but she herself offers nothing to the narrative. Claire Underwood is the very antithesis of this. She and Frank are a team. They consult one another. They can't survive without each other.
This co-dependence is demonstrated perfectly in the first season when Claire goes to stay with her hipster ex-lover Adam Galloway. He offers everything Frank doesn't - his job (he's a photographer, natch) doesn't tie him down to one place. He's free to travel the world. His apartment basically has no furniture, because he's like, totally enlightened. But after a couple of days sharing Adam's bed and posing for photographs, Claire becomes restless. Adam offers a simpler life, but Claire doesn't want that, or rather, it can't satisfy her the way her real life does, the way Frank does. She feeds off the scheming, the machinations, the power.
It's refreshing to watch a female character who is in every sense the equal of her partner, and Robin Wright absolutely kills this role. She simply is Claire, and for a lot of viewers, myself included, she and Frank are the heart of House of Cards. Without Claire, it simply wouldn't work.
The forgotten art of the plot twist
We've all seen a lot of television, and we as an audience can be pretty cynical. We like to second-guess the story, and then when a bomb is dropped we can say I knew it! I knew she would die! Didn't I tell you, Grandma? Now pay up, bitch!
(Do not take money off your actual grandparents, except at Christmas and birthdays. And don't call them bitch - save that for your bros.)
House of Cards does not give us the luxury of second-guessing the story. It lays out what it wants you to know - for instance, we pretty much know from the first episode of season 1 that Frank will engineer a way to become Vice President, it's just a matter of when and how - and keeps the rest of its hand close to its chest.
Remember Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), the first season's inquisitive journalist? She was our protagonist, with Frank somewhere in the void between hero and anti-hero. We liked Zoe. She was in all of the promo material for season 2. And then Frank, in the cunning disguise of a bowler hat, pushed her into the path of an on-coming metro train. I can hardly recall a more shocking moment of television - it was true jaw on the floor stuff, and it raised the stakes. It removed any doubt about how far Frank would go in his quest for power, and it announced House of Cards as a show willing to take a major risk.
It also taught me a truly important life lesson, namely: when you're blackmailing somebody dangerous, don't meet them at a railway station. Just go to Starbucks.
So what do we know about season 4?
- The cast is expanding. Horror fans of my generation still consider Scream one of the all-time great slasher flicks, and Neve Campbell went down in legend for her performance as Sidney Prescott, who has now spent four movies watching her friends get diced, slashed and murdered by the Ghostface. Campbell is set to be a series regular for season 4, although further detail is thin on the ground.
- There's a new power couple on the horizon. They're rumoured to be British, so presumably neither party will be a politician in DC, but that doesn't mean they couldn't make trouble for Frank - one could be a lobbyist, for instance, in the vain of the deliciously slimy Remy Danton. The true purpose of their introduction may be to drive Frank and Claire back together in the wake of their split in season 3's finale - because divided, those two wield possess a much smaller fraction of the power they wield when they're united. Francis needs his Lady Macbeth.
Doug Stamper is back in Frank's good graces. Doug, you may recall, is one of Washington's most effective fixers. And yes, "fixer" is a euphemism for some seriously dark shit. He gets his hands dirty - really dirty - and asks no questions, and his loyalty to Frank is absolutely invaluable. Even his name stinks of danger. Putting Doug back in the President's fold suggests Frank is really going to need the razor-sharp instincts of his most effective right-hand man in season 4.
Claire Underwood and the Hillary Clinton equation
As the US gears up for the 2016 Presidential election, at which Hillary Clinton is the clear favourite to become the first Madame President, it would certainly be timely for House of Cards to give its scheming First Lady a shot at Frank's job. This is something fans have been speculating about right from the beginning - but it really hinges on whether or not Claire's loyalty to Frank is absolute, or whether she could betray her husband and put her own ambitions first. I'm all about Frank and Claire working together, but if Claire were to take the throne... well, I think I'd be okay with that.
But it would certainly give Hillary a lot to live up to...
- Credit to Barelt1 on DeviantArt for this ridiculously awesome fan art.
You know a show is good when it inspires fanmade poster art like this...
- Frank and Claire bond over cigarettes and blood, which makes this eye-catching Presidential poster extremely apt. Credit to ERABOY and Society 6.
- Does Frank cry tears of blood? I wouldn't bet against it. This awesome artwork was created by Ben Whitesell.
Are you stoked for House of Cards season 4? Still think you can second-guess the story? Can Claire and Frank work out their issues, or have their paths diverged? Leave your opinion in the comments...