Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is manning the Oval Office solo to start season four.
Scream's Neve Campbell (R) comes aboard as a power-hungry woman who capitalizes on Frank and Claire's (Robin Wright, L) breakup.
Screen legend Ellen Burstyn gets in on the backstabbing action in season four.
Television producers—they’re just like us. After watching the final episode of House of Cards’ third season, where Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) appeared to end their marriage in the seconds before the credits rolled, executive producer Dana Brunetti had the same response as every fan of the show: What?! “What happens next, was my reaction,” he says.
Brunetti, of course, has some idea what is coming up. As someone who has been involved since the beginning, he’s privy to creator Beau Willimon’s five-year path and plan for the Underwood power couple that manipulated and murdered their way into the White House. But he is keeping it as close to the vest as the Underwoods would.
Yet, Brunetti—a self-professed fan of the show—is not unlike the rest of the viewing public and even tried to binge watch the last season after it was released on Netflix.
“The problem with reading the scripts and knowing what’s happening is you don’t get to enjoy it like everybody else,” he says. “So I decided after watching the first few ‘final cut’ episodes [during the production process], that I wasn’t going to watch the rest of the season [until it was released].”
The problem was, Brunetti couldn’t keep up with the speed at which the rest of the world was consuming his show. “I didn’t binge it all in two days,” he explains. “So I had people starting to talk to me about my own show that were spoiling it for me. And I couldn’t tell them that they were spoiling it.”
This time around there is good reason to clear the schedule for the entire weekend. The one constant in the Underwoods’ journey to world domination has been their unconditional support for each other, but with the apparent split, all bets are off. Brunetti is excited about what the big shake-up means for the show.
“It opens the door for so many more possibilities, and it raises the stakes,” he says. “And it heightens the suspense because now there’s a great cliffhanger. It leaves everybody wanting to know what’s going to happen. The most common question I get asked is, ‘What happens?’ When you’re hearing that, you know the audience is going to be excited to see the next season.”
Season four promises not just appearances from new cast members Joel Kinnaman, Ellen Burstyn and Neve Campbell, but darker turns and lots of crazy.
“Just when you think that things can’t get crazier, they always tend to do that, just like real politics,” says Brunetti. “In our first season, we kind of thought, ‘Maybe we were pushing it a little too far.’ And then, you go home at night and you watch the news, and you’re like, ‘Maybe we’re not pushing it far enough.’”
Indeed, considering the political landscape in the United States in light of the current presidential race, House of Cards doesn’t seem all that farfetched. “When you think crazy things are happening on our show, it’s fascinating when it actually happens in the real world as well,” says Brunetti. “And we’ve had people in public office say that they wish they could do some of the things that the Underwoods do. But I think what’s most intriguing is, if you could do it, would you?”
Brunetti reveals that their initial plan was to have the rise to the presidency last four or five seasons, but creator Willimon decided to speed up their journey.
“We started to realize that gaining power is fun, but holding onto it seems to be more fun,” Brunetti says. “So we sort of know where it’s going in the long trajectory, but again, it’s subject to change.”
House of Cards has already been renewed for a fifth season, but after four years Willimon is stepping down as showrunner.
“He was the creative force behind it,” says Brunetti. “His brain is a fascinating thing, and the stories that he brought us were what made the show what it is. But I also think it can be a good thing to have fresh blood come in and new eyes to pick up where he left off and see where it can go. We haven’t replaced him yet, but it’s going to be large shoes to fill.”
Willimon may be letting go of his reign, but Frank seems to be holding on to his presidency tooth and nail. That is hardly the main concern, though. Who is Frank without Claire?
“They were the ultimate power couple, and so without her, he’s kind of a ship without his rudder,” says Brunetti. And Claire? “Well, Claire’s a very powerful woman, but she needs Frank as much as he needs her.” And whatever happens between the two lovebirds, there is one thing that remains true: “They’ll do anything to get what they want,” says Brunetti. Even if it kills.