Review: Netflix regains thrill with ‘House of Cards’ season 4

Why do we all love watching Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright act so damn evil? Is there some deep, dark, and as-of-yet unconfronted part of us that we recognize in them, or is there something inherently attractive about their particular brand of bad?

After a lackluster third installment of Netflix’s pioneering show (really, can we please forget it even happened?) the fourth season of “House of Cards” brought back much of what we loved — and feared — about Frank and Claire Underwood.

The third season left off with the couple at war. Frank — now President Underwood, and at numerous junctures in the current season, reminds you to refer to him as such — upset Claire by refusing to focus any of his attention on furthering her career. He, in turn, felt slighted by her, claiming she was unsupportive of him during what ended up being a closely contested re-election.

While it is understandable why the writers chose to further their plot and heighten the show’s tension with this marital rift, the failure of the third season can largely be pinned on this decision.

Although it did provide for moments of interesting drama, the simple fact remains that the Underwoods are at their reptilian best when they are a team. There is perhaps no better duo of supervillains on TV, and Netflix made good on its past mistakes by bringing the couple back together in season four.

In addition to the aforementioned election, which serves as the show’s narrative backbone, there were substantial aspects of this season that mirrored some of the most pressing issues recently confronted in reality.

The previous season’s undulating crisis with Russia and its Putinesque president (played by a brilliant Lars Mikkelson, older brother of Mads) comes to a head, there is a scandal involving one of the candidate’s father being involved with the KKK, a hostage situation and (spoiler) subsequent decapitation video orchestrated by the Islamic Caliphate Organization, and some more-than-questionable use of third-party surveillance technology by the NSA.

Spacey and Wright are technically impeccable, as usual, and are once again able to conjure up an arcane concoction of evil, ambition, and sex appeal with their performances. This season welcomes back its usual cast of characters. Notably, Michael Kelly returns as Underwood’s recovering alcoholic Chief of Staff Doug Stamper, and Elizabeth Marvel makes another series of appearances as Underwood’s boringly righteous opponent in the Democratic primary.

Fresh faces also appear and deliver the show an added kick and some interesting new twists. Claire’s mother, Elizabeth Hale (played by the genius Ellen Burstyn) is especially pleasurable to watch as she wishes death upon Frank and enters a fatal battle with cancer.

In terms of the season’s many new plot developments, however, no two new characters are more instrumental than Leann Harvey, a political consultant played by the excellent Neve Campbell, and Damian Young, the head of an elite analytics firm that the Underwoods use to gain an upper hand during the election.

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