‘House of Cards’ Recap: ‘Chapter 40’

‘House of Cards’ Season 4 returns to join the election fray with candidate Frank Underwood. However, his greatest adversary is not one from an opposing party!

It’s primary season! With the country in the midst of an election year and the battle for the Democratic and Republican nominations receiving constant coverage, there’s only one show that truly highlights the political landscape as we know it: The Walking Dead. Just to be clear, it’s out of my system. There will be no more jabs about the zombie apocalypse and politics, I promise! I can’t promise I won’t make other ridiculous references though There are just too many good ones and I’m not throwing away my shot! (Oh I went yeah I went there, and I’ll do it again just you wait, just you wait…)

Frank Underwood is politically savvy, democratic, and diplomatic. As the incumbent, his campaign is well underway, but Underwood’s often less than savory approach to getting what he wants has taken a more domestic turn.

The advertising campaign for this season was downright meta, complete with a presidential portrait being put on display in the Smithsonian. Or better yet, there’s an “official pardon” out for anyone who needs to be excused from their regularly scheduled lives to watch!

Following Super Tuesday and yet another GOP debate, House of Cards debuted its fourth season, and the timing for the Netflix political drama could not be better! Obviously, like everything Frank Underwood does, this is by design. What an election season it’s shaping up to be in both our universe and the one where the former Whip makes it all the way to the highest office in the land.

Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus) actually states in the episode, “[Frank Underwood] is the government” and that might as well be the tagline for the entire series.

It’s refreshing to remember how we got to this point and exactly who is in play right now because it has a direct impact on where the real battle for elected office is being waged.

Easily my favorite part about starting a new season on Netflix is the opening credits. Once the full binge-watching experience has begun you really see them again but that first episode it’s special. It’s not just the heralding of the future, it’s preparation. And House of Cards has this really rousing, inspiring theme that’s also kind of dark and gritty and deeply concerning. This time, those first few moments reminded me of a scene in Thor: The Dark World.

Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Cameo from… by nejcek

I think it’s the sarcasm about having a “rousing discussion about truth, honor and patriotism” that resonates with me. And honestly, I waited all episode to get Frank’s attention to hear just that. Which was the only thing missing from the first episode and it was missed.

The first episode checks in with all the key players, including the above mentioned Lucas who we haven’t seen since he went to jail after attempting to prove Underwood’s part in Zoe Barnes’ (Kate Mara) death. He serves a direct reminder of what happens when you try and undermine the man who perfected that particular tactic. Nobody gets in the way of Francis J. Underwood.

The narrative is very similar to the one we’re experiencing in the current candidacy, though it’s actually alarming the way our primaries are playing out more like a farce than the one actually made for TV. Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) is also running for the Democratic nomination and, despite being the incumbent, the party does not want Frank to run. He’s not going to listen, so he’s out and about stumping for primary voters.

Elizabeth Marvel as Heather Dunbar in House of Cards Photo: Netflix

Heather is sort of inconsequential to the hour except when she comments on the current state of the Underwood marriage rumors. Which, to be clear is neither an actual story of any kind, nor is something worthy of a sound bit from the competition. Seth (Derek Cecil) points out this very point during a press conference, but the media is the media and they were looking for something to latch on to.

However, in this case the media wasn’t all that out of line. The episode starts by immediately throwing us into the middle of the story close to where we left off. Claire is not with the president. She’s gone back home to Texas, and Frank wants as much information on what she’s up to as his team can find.

Kevin Spacey & Michael Kelly as Frank Underwood & Doug Stamper in House of Cards Photo: Netflix

Doug (Michael Kelly) is naturally up to his same dirty tricks as Frank’s most trusted and loyal attack dog, whereas Seth feels jilted and makes a decision for his own benefit that will definitely come back to bite him as the story unfolds. Doug is a disgusting human being and I want to hate him but he’s such an enjoyable character to watch. He’s calculated in a way that makes him seriously dangerous, and when he went to deliver Frank’s threat to Leann Harvey (Neve Campbell) I really thought he might shoot her with her own gun. Especially if she seemed unlikely to heed the president’s expressed wishes to stop working with Claire. It would have been a really messy and strange way to start Season 4 for sure, but Doug always seems like he’s on the brink. It’s not like his impulsive choices haven’t caused problems for everyone in the past. He’s not a loose cannon, but he has the ability to be. That was made especially clear when he preempted Claire’s meeting with the congresswoman.

It’s clear that Claire committed to her promise to leave Frank. When we do see her again this season she’s walking back into her mother’s home in Texas. We find out that she hasn’t been there since her father passed away. It takes Claire two days to even speak to her mother, which is no wonder because Elizabeth Hale (Ellen Burstyn) is a formidable woman. Claire incorrectly assumes that her mother doesn’t want to see her. After a tense, but oddly loving, conversation Elizabeth makes it clear that her daughter is welcome to stay. However, she is extremely affronted that Claire is treating the house like a hotel; a way station on the path to success.

Of course Elizabeth’s renewed connection with her daughter doesn’t stop her from telling Frank off when he pays her a visit. She still sees him as white trash despite living in the White House. The confrontation between the two is a stunning moment. This older, sick woman, speaks to Frank like an insolent child, and he has no recourse but to stand there and take it.

Funny thing is Frank doesn’t respond so well to being reprimanded or defied. In order to move the conversation away from Claire’s mysterious absence from his campaign, he convinces her to go forward with the story that she is spending time with her sick mother. Claire, for her part, uses the opportunity as leverage to make sure Frank stays out of her political aspirations. He agrees to support her on the condition that she show up to the State of the Union, and they go outside to address the public.

Robin Wright & Neve Campbell as Claire Underwood & Leann Harvey in House of Cards Photo: Netflix

Later that night, Frank returns to the White House to prepare for his speech. After inviting Meechum in for some company, he dozes off. We get to see a sparring, angry stabbing match that resulted in Claire attempting a Game of Thrones style move on Frank before he was woken up from the…nightmare? An arousing one though? I’m not actually sure what was happening here. The fact that it was Meechum (Nathan Darrow) was the one who accidentally woke Frank up gives me suspicions about the entire point of a dream sequence like that.

Where it’s usually Underwood who finds some way to highlight the raw, bendy nature of manipulating the a political scheme, it was the final moments between Claire and her mother and Lucas’ reintegration into society (albeit in the Witness Protection Program) that hold the most weight. Season 4 kicks off with an unceremonious yet difficult shedding of identities.

The proverbial gauntlet has been thrown, but which Underwood will end up on top? And how far will the other fall? Now the real race begins!

House of Cards
Photo: Netflix

House of Cards Season 4  is now streaming on Netflix! #FU2016

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