After watching the credits roll on the season four finale of “House of Cards,” I’m left a little confused with questions — so many questions.
Matching the tone of past seasons, President Frank Underwood and First Lady Claire are bent on maintaining their power — at any cost. The plot of “House of Cards” has shocked viewers in the past, but season four’s ending is sure to leave fans questioning how far is too far — even for the already corrupt Underwoods.
This season’s focus is on the upcoming 2016 presidential race. Still reeling from the potential of a public divorce, Frank is campaigning for the Democratic nomination alone. Not only is he fighting the other Democratic nominees, he has to compete with the young up-and-comer Republican nominee, Will Conway.
Conway is the kryptonite to the Underwood’s political machine. He represents everything that they’re not — a veteran, all-American man with family values who’s in touch with both young and old voters. It’s this contrast in character — seemingly good versus evil — that sets the stage for the entire season.
Early on, Frank does what he does best and sabotages the campaigns of other Democratic nominees to become the front-runner for reelection. Even so, he’s still far from being the favorite candidate to win. Conway’s charismatic draw makes him the clear leader for the presidential nomination. That is, until there is an attempted assassination on President Underwood.
The attempted assassination leaves the president fighting for his life, which gains him huge sympathy points with voters. Meanwhile, Claire more or less gains control of the White House through her easy manipulation of Vice President Donald Blythe, the acting president during Frank’s recovery. It’s at this point that the twists seem to keep coming, leading us all the way to the ultimate cliffhanger at the end of the season.
After the president’s recovery, he’s still embroiled in a dead-heat race against Conway, with each side coming up with ways to discredit the other. At the same time, a new candidate for president emerges in the Democratic race, leaving Frank scrambling to keep his race afloat.
Adding to the threat, Tom Hammerschmidt, the old editor for the Washington Herald, picks up former reporter Lucas Goodwin’s investigation on the fraudulent practices of the Underwood regime. He unearths startling evidence of the Underwoods’ fraudulent rise to the White House, and readies to release the shocking story at the end of the season.
As Frank and Claire continue to fight against the release of their story that could destroy the presidency, a new terrorist organization, ICO, or the Islamic Caliphate Organization, kidnaps American hostages and threatens to kill them without the release of the organization’s leader — who’s currently in Guantanamo Bay.
With the potential threat of American blood on their hands, the Underwoods make a decision to use this incident to their advantage in an attempt to detract power away from the upcoming release of their story. It’s a decision that leads to the execution of a hostage, and a deliberate attempt to escalate America into a state of war.
After watching the final episode, my head was spinning. How did all of this take place — in one season, no less? How do they plan to work this story out next season? How does the show maintain at least some sense of plausibility? I don’t know.
“House of Cards” has always had a fictional story that’s at least somewhat plausible, but this season’s plot teeters close to the edge of reason.
Season four’s story seems like two separate seasons intertwined, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The wildly-changing story bounces the viewer all over the place. There’s so many moving pieces to the plot that it’s hard to establish what the focus should be.
The show does a phenomenal job of making the race feel real. The show’s timeline follows the same presidential primaries that we’re following today. The parallel between “House of Cards” and today’s presidential race is the strength of this season. Especially with the emotion that so many feel about our real-life candidates, you can’t help but be swept up into the same feelings with the show.
But without the excitement of being able to link the show to current events, there’s not much that allows the show to be connected to reality. The show’s strength in previous seasons was the realism of the events that took place. Yes, they were sometimes extreme, but they were ultimately possible.
With the continual twists dragging the show further and further into fiction, I’m left wondering what’s next for a show that used to be able to grab my attention. How do they dig themselves out of this mess of an ending?
Final Score: 6/10
Collegian Reporter Dan DeHerrera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.