Written by Dylan Brandsema
EPISODE 401: “Chapter 40”
Season premieres are tricky things. Any show with a dedicated fanbase will have those who come to expect certain things from season premieres, and in the past, House of Cards has become known amongst viewers to have bombastic, crazy, but also similar season premieres. Going into Season 4, “Chapter 40” takes a different approach, keeping things reserved, not too heavy, and moves things along at a fair pace instead using up all it’s rocks on one bird.
The episode begins by catching up with Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), who fans will remember as the man who was locked away for trying to destroy Frank Underwood by exposing him for the murders of our old friends Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo back in Season 2. We meet Goodwin again as he narrates an erotic story to his cellmate Gagik for purposes of self-pleasure, to which he is told he does well. This cold open doesn’t give us much story insight – in fact, in gives us none at all – but shifting the focus immediately to Lucas, who was completely absent during the 3rd season, likely tells us that the skeletons that have been in the closet for so long are soon to come back to life.
This episode also introduces us to two new major key players who we’ll surely be seeing a lot of this season: Neve Campbell, who plays LeAnn Harvey, a woman who’s helping Claire (Robin Wright) with her new campaign to run for Senate, and the unexpected, legendary Ellen Burstyn, who plays Claire’s dying mother, Elizabeth. Almost immediately, both Campbell and Burstyn feel right at home in the series cast. With their past relationship is never made all that clear, Campbell and Robin Wright have natural chemistry, and the plotting and conniving that happens between the two makes her feels like a familiar face, but with a fresh purpose. Burstyn as Claire’s mother is a brilliant casting choice, and every scene between her and Wright is a joy to watch (especially the emotional climax the two share in the episode’s last scene). She has regrets about her relationship with Claire since she joined the political circle, and she has an unparalleled contempt for Frank. Surely we’ll be seeing more of her in the coming episodes, and surely she’ll be an important player.
Much of the episode’s focus is also on Frank’s journey to the New Hampshire primary, where he and Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) now face a new candidate in the race, Conway (Joel Kinnaman), and Americans are beginning to grow suspicious of Claire’s absence on Frank’s campaign trail. As the show always does (well), much of the drama here comes mixing political maneuvering with personal relationships, specifically between Frank and Claire, who after the nail-biting 3rd season cliffhanger, are at a crossroads, and are finally starting break their formerly rock solid team dynamic. There’s a sudden, violent, dream sequence towards the middle of the episode which is surely a foreshadow of events to come, and will mostly likely be the dark cloud about to pour down on the rest of the season.
“Chapter 40” isn’t a terrifically exciting episode, but it picks up where the 3rd season left out competently enough, and it paves the path for what looks to be an intense new season. One thing it should be given credit for is a fresh change of tone – much of the 3rd season, especially the latter half, was pitch dark, with an often depressing tone, sometimes feeling too much the realm of gloomy ominousness (understandably so, given the events that took place). It doesn’t feel that way here. There’s a lot going on, but it never feels heavy-handed. With all the new characters and plot happening going into the 4th season of House of Cards, things are starting to feel new again.
Recap: House of Cards Season 4 Premiere OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10
Dylan Brandsema is a staff writer for Pop-Break specializing in film and television. When he isn’t writing reviews or spending too much analyzing the medium, he’s writing and directing his own independent films as well as drinking way too much soda. Currently at full-time film major at Full Sail University, Dylan eats, sleeps, and breathes everything related to the cinema. You can follow him on Twitter @SneakyOstrich69.