Skip to main content

We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.

House of Cards
Season Four

(SPOILERS) Well, it’s a massive step up from the middling third season, mostly hitting its targets in making Claire (Robin Wright) as steely and reptilian as President Frank (Kevin Spacey). As such, Season Four of House of Cards is somewhat superior in the first half, when the Underwoods are at sabotaging loggerheads with each other, rather than the resumption of the new united front in opposition of Republican, selfie-obsessed pretty boy Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) in the second. It’s a particularly nice touch to have her stare into the camera in the final shot too.


Mostly this show is as politically disconnected a fantasy as The West Wing, merely replacing altruistic motives with Machiavellian ones. Frank and Claire have no one calling their shots, perpetuating the notion of an Oval Office that actually issues edicts and exerts control. But there are occasional neat touches along the way.


If Conway’s strangely garbled Google-esque search engine election-rigging formula never really convinces as anything that would work (which is probably why the writers are so vague about what exactly Pollyhop can do and how it keeps him ahead), and Frank’s countermeasures CIA surveillance is a crude grab at invoking Snowden topicality without really being remotely relevant, and ICO is just the latest forlorn attempt at making capital from a fictionalised War on Terror, at least the final curtain, as the President, backed into a corner, goes to war as the only way out, is appropriately, ruthlessly cynical (“We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror”). The only problem is that, for every time the makers come up with something neat, they miss something even better. I fooled myself for about 10 minutes into thinking the hostage abduction might be a false flag designed to gain capital as part of a ruse to undermine Conway, but it was just more sub-Homeland terrorists-on-home-turf nonsense.


The Frank and Claire Show, with her running for VP (the kind of unlikely conceit that actually just might work, given public appetites for gloss over substance, but just as likely really wouldn’t – you’d have to completely love them as a celebrity couple to get public onside) looks more and more like a parallel with the Clintons, with all the skeletons attempting to break open the closet doors. Against that, her relationship with Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) is a little laboured, and the kind of thing, in its extended form as the US show is, that reminds you this kind of material works so much better as a finite, focussed satire; that they’re wrapping it up after five seasons is probably as much about Spacey wanting to do other things as getting out while the going is good and there are still a few storylines left to plot.


The assassination attempt on Frank made for good dramatic capital for a few episodes, even if I never really bought into Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) being brought to the brink, and the whole deathbed hallucinations thing was dreadfully overplayed. Which lead into the Big Bad of the season, and, while his arsenal of hooks isn’t terribly convincing, Kinnaman really delivers as Conway; it’s one of the best roles he’s had, in fact.


But, while House of Cards manages to be more-ish in a manner a number of Netflix shows just plain aren’t (the Marvel run, and I’ve mentioned I’m really struggling to summon enthusiasm for Bloodline Season Two), and it’s nice that it leaves characters for a while and then returns to them, there is a sense that rather than a shrewdly devised and calculated schematic for a show that wants to be as elegant and poised as this one, it’s actually going around in a lot of circles (Boris McGiver’s Tom Hammerschmidt picking up the investigation into Frank again), often spinning its wheels and patching up holes rather than ploughing ahead with intent. What I’d have liked more of is the unlikely, and the idiosyncratic, like the Damian Young’s offbeat NSA data scientist listening to rap on his headphones as he fucks people’s lives up.


The show has definitely proved it works best when making the Underwoods devilish equals, be that as opposing forces or working symbiotically, showing off both sides at various stages of the season. So, however the final chapter goes, and possibly nervously so without Beau Beaumont running things anymore, it needs to keep that in focus.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.