Posted in Television

At Home With the MacBeths

Woman of the Hour
Woman of the Hour


In this election year no dream appears beyond reality, yet Season 4 of Netflix’s “House of Cards” fulfilled the wildest one yet: Claire Underwood grabbed the brass ring as her husband’s running mate, an achievement denied to even as savvy an operator as Eva Peron.

But is this a good move by the House of Underwood? If he’s reelected, she’ll be a constitutional heartbeat away, in prime position to grease the skids for his demise, whether politically or–gulp–literally. Yes, she’s that ambitious, and her futile attempt to grab a Congressional seat in no way dampened her desire. Frank senses it too, otherwise why the recurring nightmare of that horrendous death match?

While we’re on the subject of bodily harm to Chief Executives, if you don’t think that assassination attempt was totally orchestrated, boy, do I have a bridge in Brooklyn for you. So many details beg so many questions: Why was Lucas Goodwin there, let alone armed? The latter fact was so out of character—words were always his weapon of choice. The omission of Janine’s name from his suicide note was indeed strange; was this a clue that the letter may have been a forgery? And perhaps the ultimate tip-off: Meechum, not Lucas, fired the first shot. “House of Cards” is so twisted I can easily see either Frank or Claire setting this up: Claire, for obvious reasons; Frank, to gain sympathy so he could move ahead in the polls, though I imagine he had hoped the cost would have been a flesh wound, not a shredded liver. Of course we can’t eliminate from the list of suspects any of the enemies the Underwoods made on their way up, but it’s more delicious to think both Frank and Claire had motive and opportunity.

Season 4 left us with a great deal to mull over, but before we do I have a couple of issues that need airing. First, why were so many important scenes shot in half light? It felt like “House of Cards” was living in a perpetual gray dawn. But for me the biggest error was the omission of a recap of what led to the resignation of Frank’s predecessor, President Walker. The events Tom Hammerschmidt investigates in Season 4 happened back in Season 2. For the life of me I couldn’t remember who Lanagin was, or why those travel records were significant, let alone Meechum’s involvement in their alteration, or the details of Raymond Tusk’s role in Frank’s ascension to the Presidency. I love “House of Cards,” but I do work for a living—I don’t have time to revisit an entire season’s worth of episodes in an effort to locate key events. A “Previously on ‘House of Cards……'” would have been welcome indeed.

So in no particular order let us consider:

Claire and Tom Yates. This has been on the horizon for eons. I don’t see good things ahead, no matter how healing he may be for her. Discord is already apparent: “That’s the first time you’ve lied to me since you stopped lying to me.” Whoever would have predicted that Mickey Doyle (and his giggle) could turn into such eye candy?

A great star turn by Ellen Burstyn as Claire’s mother. I wish we had had more of her and her relationship with Claire. Let’s hope for some flashbacks next season.

Cathy Durant, imminent under-the-bus victim. I suspect once she’s out of the administration she’ll have a great deal to say about Claire’s honing her way into the negotiations with Petrov.

Jackie Sharp and Remy Danton. They’re finally free, and I suspect (hope) we haven’t seen the last of them. Ditto Heather Dunbar, ex-President Walker (love Michel Gill’s speaking voice) and Kathleen Chalfant as the Katherine Graham stand-in.

Doug Stamper. I can’t remember when I hated a character so much. What is it he’s got going with the Widow Moretti? Is this out of genuine guilt or will he marry her for insurance?

The Conways, aka the Underwoods in embryo form. Will is as ruthless as Frank and plays the game almost as well, but it’s obvious Hannah’s blood runs at a considerably warmer temperature than Claire’s. I’ve got one request for the showrunners, though—stifle their annoying kid.

So the nastiness has been ratcheted up to an extreme, all the more to relish the Fall of the House of Underwood. We seem to be well on our way. The boat is leaking in numerous places: Frank has started a war against ICO to scare the electorate into giving him a full term; Tom Hammerschmidt’s story just broke; and perhaps most damaging of all, Aiden’s technology is now in the hands of the feds who will shortly realize the full extent of Frank’s domestic surveillance.

It’ll be agony to wait another year to see how this unravels.

Posted in Television

Farewell Downton Abbey

A Well-Deserved Round of Applause

After six seasons and an hour-and-a-half grand finale, it’s over.

“Downton Abbey” rode off into the sunset last night to join other beloved British imports—“Upstairs, Downstairs,” the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, all the “Prime Suspect” shows, and a host of other series that have graced PBS. Much was crammed into that “Downton” Christmas episode; in fact all the loose ends were tied up with the speed and thoroughness of a NASA launch checklist.

I’m surprised “Downton Abbey” lasted as long as it did. While the first season was superb, soap opera tropes began to appear with some regularity in Season 2: Matthew’s miraculously regaining his ability to walk; the fortuitous death of his fiancée, leaving him free for Lady Mary (I have to confess I flipped the channel from the Super Bowl to “Downton Abbey” just to see the season ender in which he finally proposed. I almost had to turn in my New York Giants hoodie over that move). With Matthew’s death we lost that important outsider’s viewpoint. He was the character we identified with—the unexpected heir, the middle class stranger suddenly in the midst of all that wealth. It might have made for a stronger, less predictable “Downton Abbey” had his portrayer, Dan Stevens, not left the show. However, what remained was still entertaining if perhaps not quite as engrossing as before.

During the previous months I made it a point to avoid spoilers since I really did want to be surprised by the final events of the show. But little seemed startling, with the exception of Carson’s forced retirement (if anyone seemed able to go on forever, it was he), and the return of Lady Rose and Atticus for Edith’s wedding. Other developments, if not surprising, were still satisfying—Mary’s pregnancy, Moseley’s promotion to full-time schoolteacher (and his broadly hinted-at courtship of Miss Baxter), Miss Edmunds’ catch of Edith’s wedding bouquet (with Tom as the sure-to-be groom), Barrow’s appointment as the new butler of Downton Abbey. Other events were just plain delicious: Spratt’s skill as Edith’s “agony aunt” and Isabel’s out-muscling that nasty daughter-in-law, the former Miss Cruikshank, with Violet’s help, in order to marry Lord Merton (who, for someone first diagnosed as suffering from pernicious anemia, looked suspiciously more robust than he had in a long time).

You may recall that several weeks ago I predicted the final outcome of “Downton Abbey,” so let’s see how my unspoiled guesses match up to reality:

  1. Robert’s belly pain turns out to be serious but is cured by the superior medical technology afforded by the county, thus ending the interminable hospital debate. Bingo–I get 1 point!
  2. Anna carries the baby to term and gives birth to a healthy child. Another point.
  3. Edith marries Bertie Pelham, the guy who stayed up all night to get that issue of the magazine to press. Ditto. Kudos to Mary for setting this up, though Edith may have a tough row to hoe with that gorgon of a mother-in-law (I wouldn’t have left Marigold with her on a bet). Here’s hoping a “Downton Abbey” movie really happens, just to see Edith’s story continued.
  4. Daisy marries the new footman who wants to go back to the land (and who’s been avoiding Thomas like the plague), and they move in with Mr. Mason, eventually assuming the leasehold.  Half a point since the only thing settled was Daisy’s move to the farm, though she was certainly ogling Andy plenty by the end of the finale.
  5. Isabel and Dr. Clarkson finally end up with each other. Wrong! Minus one point.
  6. Marigold’s identity is revealed but Mary knew it all along. Half a point since Mary didn’t intuit—she only learned the truth by eavesdropping.
  7. Mary ends up with Henry Talbot, race car driver, though I’m still hoping Charles Blake, the agriculture expert who previously joined her in pig slop, stages a last-minute intervention. He’s such a better match for her. Another point, but these two have zero chemistry. I still say Charles would have been much better for her.
  8. Tom becomes an auto magnate and eventually stands for Parliament. Right church, wrong pew. He’s not a magnate yet. Score a quarter point.
  9. Violet, as always, has the last word. And she did!