Don’t worry there won’t be any spoilers, but something would be wrong if this blog didn’t post something on the fourth season of House of Cards. There is still no word from Netflix if this is to be the last instalment, and in all fairness this one will be hard to beat. Viewers were gripped by seasons one and two, leaving us anxious for the third. The truth be told season three was a filler – the feeling here at least was that the producers were waiting for the onscreen drama to reflect the off-screen reality of a US presidential campaign. Whatever, it worked. Frank Underwood, the ruthless and calculating megalomaniac we have all grown to love and hate, is right back in the seat.


Season four, which has now cost me two nights’ sleep, launches a full frontal, no holds barred assault on the Oval Office and on the machinery that is the President of the United States. Without succumbing to clichés – which is a feat in itself – some old faces return to the centre of power and join with the regular cast of the Underwood’s inner circle to perform a tour de force of art imitating reality. Everything from the scandal that just refuses to go away, to the rise of Russia, to Middle Eastern terrorism becomes the stage on which Frank and Claire Underwood, with the help of the ever-faithful Doug Stamper, turn over our naïve perceptions of power.

Okay, we’re not all that naïve. Nixon and Clinton made sure of that, but what Kevin Spacey – as Francis Underwood – delivers is a breath-taking performance that takes us right inside the raw personal ambition at the heart of Western democracy. As much as governance in Washington was modelled on ancient Rome, we are left under no illusions that the men and women it produces have developed little in the past two millennia. The Underwood’s, who make even the best power couples look like beginners, work the system with every tool and weapon at their disposal.

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What Tom Hammerschmidt discovers is ultimately what we have always known about ambitious people in places of power – they never got to where they are by playing fair. The devil always gets the best lines, and Doug Stamper certainly doesn’t disappoint, “If I can’t have your loyalty, I will have your obedience.” Patriotism, loyalty, and obedience have always been more useful to tyrants than love and respect, and – as we have come to see – Frank Underwood, like all presidents, real and imagined, knows their value. Freedom and democracy, as Claire callously reveals, are to the White House what religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are to the bad guys.


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