House of Cards has managed to retain its constituents' loyalty and love in spite of some not-okay missteps by its Commander In Chief. Particularly in its last season, Frank Underwood's (Kevin Spacey ) bloodlust seemed to become rote as watching him do the unthinkable over and over gave his villainy predictability. To boot, some of the turns just felt outrageously implausible, like Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) --chief of staff of United States--lying off to Caracas during the primaries to beat up a hacker, fly home and proceed to enact more carnage before deciding against it and then changing his mind to go ahead and totally kill someone.
With a new season comes the opportunity for change though -- like a new administration. Season 4 debuts Friday and brings some change to Netflix's White House. Here are the four things we're digging about House of Card's Season 4.
1. Frank + Claire/Frank vs Claire:
One of the lingering, if frustratingly too detailed elements from last season is exactly what's going on with these two power maniacs. One of the tragedies of their relationship is that Frank and Claire (Robin Wright) seem to genuinely care for each other; deep beneath their well of resentment and bare-knuckle death matches, each wants the other to succeed (as long as it suits the other's present desire). For better or worse, nobody understands these psychopaths as well as they understand each other. As the new season opens, we're less wrapped up in their mess, although they continue to take "It's complicated" to soaring new and sometimes delicious heights. Their love-hate thin line blows about like string in the wind but now their petty messiness feels more fun to watch as other people enter and new power plays begin.
2. The political drama gets more real - too real
One big criticism of seasons past was that Frank's sagas felt unbelievably over-the-top. Frank's milieu isn't any less crazy, but in early episodes, the believability factor is cranked up a notch due to the fact that some of the situations seemed ripped directly from up-to-the-minute headlines. Super Tuesday, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes into play, as does racial politics, with a mini-scandal so akin to what's happening in the real-life political realm right now it'll feel like the writers had ESP. Given the debates we've been watching through our fingers, suddenly HoC's cray-cray seems much easier to believe.
3. The newcomers
The buzzed-about arrivals of Ellen Burstyn and Cicely Tyson are absolutely worth the buzz. It's a delight to see these esteemed actresses, whose life stages might cause some "some sweet old lady" prejudice, get so savage. As Claire's mother, Burstyn is great as her initial Southern, sugary aplomb becomes a gloriously icy, making her and Claire's relationship gasp-inducing good. Good use is made of 91-year-old Tyson too, whose regal, elder-of-the church aura should not be mistaken for a reluctance to metaphorically shank a b---h. You will want to cheer for them both. Neve Campbell arrives this season too although, in the first six episodes, her character feels more like a functional leg in the table that forms the story rather than someone we're obsessed with like the aforementioned. Still, Campbell, like her character, embodies a cool, muted intensity and reserved beauty that makes her a good complement to Claire.
4. Something returns
We can't spoil who or what, exactly, but you'll see something from the Underwoods' past re-emerge in the first episode and that something becomes a force. You won't see the impact of its return coming but when it does, you'll probably howl out loud. Is it an entirely novel, totally unheard of plot device? No. But it's exciting, and, considering how uneventful last season was, this sudden shift will induce a turn of events that helps breathe new life back into the series.
House of Cards Season 4 begins streaming on Netflix Friday March 4.
Watch: Are House of Cards' Francis and Claire Underwood based on Bill and Hillary Clinton?