I Binge-Watched 'House Of Cards' At 3 AM And Now I'm Frank Underwood

by John Haltiwanger

My fellow Americans, it's approximately 3 am EST on Friday, March 4, 2016, and I'm about to embark upon a great crusade: I’m going to watch season four of “House of Cards” in its entirety (all 13 episodes) in one sitting from the moment it's released (right now).

This is going to be one hell of a ride given I’m already fairly sleep-deprived.

I was inspired to do this by my brave and illustrious colleague, Eitan Levine, who recently binge-watched “Fuller House” (also released at 3 am by Netflix) and tracked his psychological state throughout.

Given my love for politics and “House of Cards,” I thought I’d follow in his glorious footsteps.

I already know this is going to be tough, but this isn’t about me -- it’s about you, and it’s about America.

This is bigger than me, and sometimes you just gotta suck it up and watch about half a day of television and not sleep in order to test your mental limits and tell other people what it was like. Right?

OK, glad we’re all on the same page.

Let the games begin…

Here is my stream of consciousness review of “House of Cards” season 4, with reflections on my mental and physical state throughout the marathon viewing experience.

I did my best to leave out any major spoilers (and trust me, I really did leave out any mention of some HUGE moments). But, fair warning, this definitely gives away some important details and isn't completely spoiler free.

Here's a time-lapse of the whole experience followed by episode-by-episode analysis.

Episode 1 -- 3 am EST

The show picks up basically right where it left off -- Frank is on the campaign trail, and Claire is still pissed at him for being a generally awful human being.

Almost immediately, we are reminded Frank and Claire are the freakiest/most f*cked up couple in history.

Also, we quickly find out Neve Campbell is in this season, and she plays a pretty Machiavellian badass.

Ellen Burstyn (legendary actress), is also in this. She plays Claire’s mother. She absolutely despises Frank and refers to him as white trash.

Frank had a great response to this,

I just happen to be white trash who lives in the White House.


This first episode is definitely a little slow and just seems to be setting the tone for the rest of the season.

Looks like season four is going to be all about Claire. I’m not complaining. She’s a great character.

One thing is for sure, there’s going to be a lot of tension between Frank and Claire as she pursues her own political ambitions.

Episode 2 -- 4 am EST

Not gonna lie, I'm already a little tired, this is gonna be tough, but in the words of Frank Underwood,

There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.

I will take the pain for the greater good. Thanks for the inspiration, Frank.

Episode two is also a little slow, but we get to see Jackie and Remy again. They are deep in the midst of a love affair (as they were last season) and I smell a scandal on the horizon.

Now it’s getting good!

Frank does something that severely screws with Claire’s political aspirations. Man, seems like this whole season is just going to be the Underwoods duking it out, no matter who they have to crush along the way.

And Frank finally talked to the camera in this episode, I was beginning to wonder when he'd notice us!

But on a serious note, this sh*t needs to speed up soon because I’m getting tired and need some excitement.

Not necessarily asking for Frank to push someone in front of a train (RIP Zoe), just looking for things to get spiced up a bit.

After writing the above statement, I realize it was just 15 minutes ago I wrote, “now it’s getting good.” Sleep deprivation is starting to take hold and my thoughts are less coherent. Fun times.

Episode 3 -- 5 am EST

This episode starts off with Frank Underwood singing gospel in a church and I’m impressed by Kevin Spacey’s pipes.

Seems like this season is really trying to give us a glimpse into Frank’s psyche. The man seems more insecure than in past seasons, maybe he is human after all? Or maybe he’s just more calculated than ever. Either way, he's carefully analyzing every move he makes.

Lucas keeps popping up here and there, and I don’t understand why he’s even still on this show. His character is incredibly depressing, and I’ve not slept enough to deal with his pathetic, sad life. Just sayin’.

Also just realized Doug Stamper has been non-existent the past few episodes and I miss that menacing manipulator.

OK, never mind, two minutes later he’s back -- momentary panic over. We are back, we are getting Doug back (yes, that’s a reference to “The Hangover,” please bear with me).

The show is also now starting to touch on themes that are actually relevant in the real-world (unfortunately): racism, Confederate symbols in the south, the KKK. Respect to the writers for that.

Episode 4 -- 5:45 am EST

I’m worried I’m starting to lose track of the narrative a bit due to exhaustion. Time to drink more Red Bull.

Honestly, I would not recommend watching the show like this. You don’t really get a chance to enjoy it and you think more about sleep than what’s going on. But I’m not giving up, don’t you worry.

With that said, A MAJOR INCIDENT goes down in this episode. This would be a huge spoiler, so I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens. But I will say it involved Lucas, and he really went off the deep-end.

Episode 5 -- 6:30 am EST

At this point, I'm losing it a bit. But the show is starting to get really good. Definitely took a couple of episodes for it to pick up steam.

But if I was to give any more specific details, you might want to kill me.

Let's just say Frank hit a physical roadblock at a complicated time for the US diplomatically, and Viktor Petrov is back on the show. Petrov is basically Vladimir Putin AKA America's greatest geopolitical rival.

Still, while I'm enjoying this season so far, there aren't as many parallels to the real world or topical issues as I hoped there'd be, at least not so far.

Episode 6 -- 7:15 am

Is this real life? My body is shutting down a bit.

Honestly, I've been to all-night parties that are easier to last through than this. When you're moving around and talking to people it's way easier to stay awake and alert. But sitting back and relaxing on my couch is making sleep seem extremely appealing. But I shall not give in!

Don't want to give too much away, but there's some really trippy sh*t going on in the show right now, a consequence of something major that happened to Frank.

Long story short, he's having some wild dreams involving characters from past seasons. The interactions he's having with them are like something out of a Darren Aronofsky flick.

Am I hallucinating from exhaustion or is this really happening on the show? Hard to tell at this point.

It seems the crazier Underwood gets on the show, the more sleep-deprived and consumed by temporary madness I become.

Episode 7 -- 8:00 am EST

Out of nowhere, Joel Kinnaman shows up as a new character. He's a Swedish actor you might've seen in shows like "The Killing." He's playing the role of Will Conway, a young pretty boy Republican running for president (kinda reminds me of Marco Rubio).

We've also got the first appearance of ICO (Islamic Caliphate Organization), which is basically the equivalent of ISIS in the world of "House of Cards." Interested to see how the show explores this topic.

At the moment, they're talking a lot about government surveillance and the way in which airstrikes further radicalize local populations -- both are major issues regarding terrorism in the real world.

They've also started to focus on the theme of nominating a Supreme Court judge during an election year, which is extremely relevant right now.

I'm really enjoying this season so far, but I'm also so tired I'm finding it difficult to pay close attention to what I'm watching. This is normally when I'd be leaving for work, and my roommate just dropped in to check on my psychological state. He felt comfortable leaving me alone so that's definitely a good sign.

We're making progress!

Episode 8 -- 9 am EST

So the last episode ended with Frank and Claire talking about destroying people, and now I'm a little revved up.

I'm still tired but pumped these two are going to start kicking ass and taking names again.

Coffee is definitely helping me get through this, but I fear a crash and burn is impending.

Do NOT try this at home.

Honestly, I'd love to tell you what's going on in this episode, but my brain is shutting down. The Underwoods are currently focusing heavily on gun control, but there was also just an old, flabby white dude dancing shirtless to EDM on the screen a second ago, and that was a little too much for me to look at circa 9:15 am after over 24 hours without sleep.

Do yourself a favor and break up your binge-watching sessions into small segments -- a couple episodes at a time. This is not a way to watch a show and comprehend it, your brain naturally wanders to other things after a certain period of time. At this point, mine is fairly focused on waffles (unfortunately, I don't have any).

But I was alert enough to catch Frank Underwood drop one of the hottest lines of the season.

Spot on, President Underwood.

Episode 9 -- 10 am EST

Episode 9 opens with the DNC in Atlanta. Won't say exactly who Frank ends up running with, let's keep that a surprise.

The cool thing about this season is it gives a fairly decent overview (albeit fictional) of the sequence of a presidential election and all of the hoopla surrounding it. This came out just in time for the 2016 election.

They've even done a good job mixing in real-world media figures into episodes, I've seen everyone from Wolf Blitzer and Van Jones to Gretchen Carlson. It makes it all feel very real.

I've actually come to a point where I'm so sleep-deprived yet invested in this show I've almost forgotten there's an actual election occurring in real life. Binge-watching is clearly not good for the brain.

Episode 10 -- 10:30 am EST

I cannot wait for this to be over. It's not that I'm not enjoying the show, I'm just really sleepy and at the point where coffee isn't helping anymore. But life could certainly be a lot worse.

Everything that's been happening in the season is starting to collide in this episode. I don't want to give away too much, but all of those trying to take down the Underwoods are seemingly one step away from doing so. But I'm sure the combined ruthlessness of Frank and Claire will help them overcome in the end (the show has already been renewed for season five, after all).

In other words, I think some people are about to get got. It's funny how shows like this somehow make it feel OK to cheer on miserable and evil people (like the Underwoods).

Episode 11 -- 11:30 am EST

So much of what goes on in this show is completely implausible, but whatever, it's great entertainment. That's basically all I could think about during episode 11.

I think we all love this series because it reaffirms our cynicism surrounding politics. But it's definitely not an accurate representation of reality, because if it was, we'd all be completely f*cked.

Anyways, I've got two episodes left, the end is nigh.

Episode 12 -- 12:20 pm EST

There's almost no point to the Underwood's relentless pursuit of power other than the pursuit itself. They have no specific goals or values, they just seek control. That theme is really strong this season, and particularly in this episode.

I can't believe I'm almost done, and that I started watching over nine hours ago. I'm not sure if I'll ever do something like this again. I might sound like I'm just complaining (and I am), but this was way more mentally exhausting than I anticipated.

I'm definitely going to need to re-watch this at a slower pace so I have the energy to take everything in and get all of the details. I feel like I missed a lot by sprinting through it.

Episode 13 -- 1 pm EST

I have been glued to my couch for basically half a day at this point, but this marathon is almost over. I've actually really enjoyed it, in spite of the sleep deprivation and my struggle to form coherent thoughts.

This was a really solid season of "House of Cards," it started a bit slow but picked up at the right moments while touching on a lot of issues we're currently dealing with in the real world.

The final episode was easily the most intense from start to finish (without giving too much away, I'll tell you there's a tense hostage situation). It was my favorite episode of the season by far.

Watching the season all the way through is definitely worth it, but I'd suggest you do so at a reasonable hour and take long breaks in between episodes. I took the hard route so you wouldn't have to.

This season ended on a goose-bump inducing moment, where Frank and Claire stared deep into the camera and essentially told the audience messing with the Underwoods leads to a lifetime of pain and suffering. It was a powerful way for the season to culminate.

If you've watched season four already, you know what I'm talking about. But if you haven't had a chance yet (because you're not insane and didn't say up all night like I did), I'll let you enjoy watching it all the way through.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go learn how to be a human again. Food and sleep might be a good start.