House of Cards season 3 review
Fall of the house of Underwood
If you haven’t caught the first two seasons of “House of Cards,” this review contains spoilers from chapters 1-26.
The third season of Netflix’s cornerstone program, “House of Cards,” despite fervent fan anticipation, underwhelms in plot progression and character development when compared to its electric first season, and less-exciting, but still shocking, second season. While the instant-streaming political drama keeps all the same rhythms that give the show its distinct tone, the spectrum of disbelief is stretched to a snapping point at times as the writers explore stories that are more convenient and subsequently delusional for their characters than what one might expect if Golden Globe and two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood were really a sitting American president. While rumored to be a two -season program, then a three-season program, the open-ended finale suggests a possible fourth season for 2016. Perhaps this is mainly due to storylines that are drawn out across the entire thirteen episodes that, instead, should have been resolved across six or seven, giving the third season of “House of Cards” a largely “filler” vibe—meant only to satisfy our lack of Frank, Claire, Doug Stamper, etc. until a tighter story presents itself for next year.
Frank Underwood enters 2015 just as one would expect the man who pounded the Oval Office desk to enter—by urinating on his father’s grave in a bizarre oedipal act. While Spacey hits every mark as President Frank Underwood, one can’t help but notice his change of title seems to have had an effect on either the writers, or just the way that character is specifically written. As he grows more powerful in his new role as the American president, Frank Underwood seems to have magically figured out everything in Washington, D.C. and now has to fix his sights globally. There’s one issue with this: Underwood’s rivals constantly present him with contrary evidence/ proof that he simply won’t always get what he wants. On top of this, he also won’t compromise in any of his deals. His stubbornness isn’t presidential and isn’t even true to character. When faced with similar issues in the past, Frank doesn’t dig his heels in and refuse to budge—he calls an audible and creates some back alley arrangement which results in manipulation of the highest degree. Frank’s two biggest problems in the third season are that Claire decides she directly wants his power, and that Doug Stamper, despite surviving, has fallen off the wagon. The lack of a Doug and Frank dynamic this year really hurt what made the show work so well in the earlier chapters.
The third season hinges on Frank, who without Doug to counter Claire, is unhinged. As if he didn’t learn from the near-treason conspiracy involving Xander Feng and Raymond Tusk, the president starts a pissing match with a Russian dictator who directly represents Putin right down to the creepy demeanor and anti-gay rights platform and starts a presidential race against Heather Dunbar, the very attorney who sought to try him for treason because of his involvement with Tusk and Feng. What’s most unbelievable, however, is that the American people would consider Frank as a legitimate candidate. The circumstances of his presidency are sketchy at best and, even if characters don’t know Frank like the viewers, he still carries a slimy political record. It’s just too hard to imagine that Frank Underwood could dupe the entire country anymore without having Claire or Stamper constantly devoted to one common goal. The goal of the Oval Office held them together and now the achievement seems to have broken them up—one thinks that they (Doug, Claire, Stamper, Seth Grayson, even Meechum) would have had a broader plan beyond Frank’s hasty “AmWorks” program with an autobiography when they conquered America last year. Viewers expected Frank’s murderous, megalomaniacal push toward the presidency to amount to more than just a panicked, frantic man that cries against his desk without a clue. Despite all of the complaints about Frank’s trajectory, Spacey still brings the evil, southern charm to the delightfully devilish character—even if he doesn’t murder anyone this year. Frank’s little moments with the camera still steal the scene.
Golden Globe winner Robin Wright (A Most Wanted Man, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) reprises her role as First Lady Claire Underwood. Claire has undeniably been the key member of the “team,” as Frank constantly points out to other characters and the viewer. This season it’s proven more than ever as Claire’s attention turns more toward her new position in the United Nations than keeping Frank in his position for 2016. Her ambassador role plays intricately into Frank’s arc with the Russian dictator, Petrov, as the two countries try to ease Middle East tensions. Claire’s arc for the season was perhaps the easiest to swallow as she continues to not let the power get to her head. The U.N. ambassador never digs her heels in and makes delusional refusals like the soft whiner that Frank becomes. She simply gets the job done like she always has. Even when they aren’t dealing with a Russian or Middle East crisis, Claire still remains at the forefront of the season as her marriage with Frank becomes one of the biggest troubles all year. The marriage issues extend beyond the political realm as Frank’s sexual attraction to his wife is questioned and Claire decides she would like to wield the power Frank holds. Claire and Frank are rarely on par with each other this year, which is one of the best aspects of the show—perhaps this explains why the third season is harder to swallow.
After Rachel brained him with a rock and abandoned him in a forest, many (myself included) expected the season two finale to be the end of Doug Stamper. However, Stamper survived after surgeries and a coma. Michael Kelly (Man of Steel, Now You See Me) returns to play Stamper in this year’s shakiest subplot. Most of the third season premiere (Chapter 27) focuses on Stamper’s recovery over Frank’s new political regime. Obviously, Rachel is still out there somewhere after she left him for dead. She is the final loose end of the Peter Russo affair from the first season—one of Frank’s dirtiest skeletons in the closet—and the end must be tied if they’re going to continue in the Oval Office (or even avoid a murder implication). Despite his ridiculously lengthy and depressing search for Rachel, Stamper also insinuates himself into Heather Dunbar’s (a charmingly curt and optimistic Elizabeth Marvel- True Grit, A Most Violent Year) midst/ team.
While the third season lacks the excitement and cohesiveness that the magnificent first season held, “House of Cards” never strays too far away from the characters and settings they’ve established in creator Beau Willimon’s (The Ides of March) semi-realistic world. Frank, despite getting soft, still keeps all of his same mannerisms all the way down to video games having a profound effect on his decision-making. Stamper, although insatiably obsessed with Rachel, still proves undying loyalty to his mentor. Claire, however redefining the nature of the team on a whim, still manages to…manage. 2016 will be a monumental political event for the United States of America and it’s safe to assume that the minds behind “House of Cards” will translate that to whichever type of screen you stream the Netflix sensation for the fourth season. Now that Frank knows he’ll never be F.D.R., what will he do to secure his legacy? However Frank goes about it, perhaps the journalism angle can come back into play. Nothing has been as exciting since he formed an arrangement with Zoe Barnes.