The end is nigh—or so we think. In the final episodes of House of Cards season four, we come to terms with what’s going on from the start: Claire and Frank never truly loved each other but rather are a political union made for world domination. A modern day Catherine the Great married to Alexander the Great, with the only question of who is more powerful and willing to do what it takes.
And that question keeps on leaning more and more into the grey area. For the first few seasons at least, we always figured that Claire supported Frank in everything he did, always there to provide support and some outside the box thinking. But as we delve further into her character this season, we understand that she may be more of a megalomaniac than we once considered. We knew that they both had it in them, but we didn’t know where their limits were, or if they even had any to begin with. Sure, Claire may not have personally killed someone, or multiple people for that matter, but she knowingly went along with everything just to get ahead: the same reasoning for Frank.
In these last episodes, we truly find out about these characters’ workings. We know that Claire is coldhearted now thanks in part due to her mother’s (played by the wonderful Ellen Burstyn) coldness and hatred towards Frank. However as an audience, we’re made to sympathize with her, not only because she is dying of leukemia, but because she really is looking for the best in Claire—she hates Frank for limiting Claire when she has just as much potential, if not more, to become a powerful leader. That’s why it didn’t come off as shocking when Claire’s mother Elizabeth gave Claire the option of assisted suicide, to help her campaign and gain power with Frank as a husband/wife president/vice-president duo.
Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect, the general thinking of every character in the show as well as the audience: the Underwoods were under attack from the press about the nepotism involving Claire’s candidacy, as well Hammerschmidt’s (Boris McGiver) investigation in Frank’s whereabouts concerning the deaths of Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes, and not to mention the campaign against Republican favorite Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) and the terrorist attacks against the US. Of course everything falls into place, along with a cliffhanger to leave the audience waiting for next season.
We see the inner workings of a political duo that does somewhat know the end is near. What is season five going to bring us? Either they get elected and the audience becomes disinterested in their political maneuverings since they have already reached the highest level they can; or rather, they lose and the audience gets sucked in for some more scheming until they somehow get politically powerful in another way. Of course, the economists among us would say the makers behind House of Cards would want to go with the latter option, but the audience and appreciative storytellers would want the former.
There’s nothing wrong with milking an excellent idea if you produce excellent work, but after season five, there’s really no need to go on. It’s on the edge of becoming The Simpsons: people will watch it nonetheless, but the binge-watching and the suspense will get lost. It’ll lose its magic touch that it had for the last four seasons, since no one is going to want to waste a whole day watching a full season if they know it’s the same manipulating with no movement forward. The series has now entered a very delicate state in which it can either end in complete chaos and choose to never visit it again, leaving the audience completely hooked on from the start, or end with that chaos and the possibility of continuing on, only to lose whatever addicting qualities it had from the beginning.
There are only so many times you can show the same guy win and lose before the people lose interest. He’s already president, we’ve seen what he has done, and now that he’s going for reelection (and his first technical term), there’s only so much he can do that was different from last season. When looking at the series holistically, it does a great job of differentiation among seasons and episodes, but when looking towards the future, repetition seems like the only option.