Season three picks up where season two left off, right after Frank’s perfect execution of his enemies last season. In ‘Chapter 27’, creator Beau Willimon throws us back in with the sharks. Frank visits his father’s grave in Gaffney, South Carolina. “I wouldn’t be here if I had a choice, but I have to do these sorts of things now. Makes me seem more human, and you have to be a little human when you’re the president” says Underwood. He says this to us, the audience, breaking the fourth wall in style. The quote shows how politicians do what they need to get into power. They smile and kiss babies. Once in office, they do what they want, when they want, however they want.
Frank (Spacey) is depicted as some sort of god in the first two season, throwing Zeus’ thunderbolt at his enemies, as and when he needs to, making his hit list look like puny demigods on Earth, until Raymond Tusk came along who acted as Hades to Frank’s Zeus. Season three begins with us witnessing a post-Walker government after his impeachment at the end of season two. After spurning Frank’s by giving Secretary of State to Kern, Walker was on Frank’s hit list and his demise would take time and meticulous planning. Through the first two seasons, Frank’s dispatching of his enemies is entertaining and fun to watch… if I can admit to that?
With Frank (Kevin Spacey) as President and Claire (Robin Wright) as First Lady, their war on Washington has ended, and this third season allowed the show to embrace the political ecosystem of the Capital to fulfil its potential. Now, with all their “enemies” either dead or politically ruined, there is nobody left for them to kill. So, the power struggle this season is between one another. And that White House culture encourages that. It’s like a prison, and its inmates love to kill each other, blood sport if you will. Once previously allied in their quest to reach the top of the ladder, now they’re on opposing sides of the chessboard.
With each season, the stakes only get higher and scripts only get better. Whilst Spacey and Wright’s performances are brilliant, their increased screen time compared to seasons one and two allows them to grow more. They both do their best to out act each other, and in that they succeed at the highest level. Their marital arguments are irritating at times, but they’re only human. Yet, they become even more human when they give in to each other’s demands in their pointless attempts at trying to be “human” when in fact everybody knows their marriage has always been calculated. The Underwoods are a power couple, why even try to pretend otherwise?
Whilst the season explores the Underwoods’ failing marriage, Claire isn’t the enemy Frank needs. He’s stuck in a rut, as he has nobody to fight. The enemy of Frank Underwood is himself, and he knows how good he’s got it and wants conflict to come back. He enjoys taking people out. He loves the blood sport. He treats his Chief of Staff Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) like a dog and treats Majority Whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) not much better. He wants them to make a mistake so it gives him something to do. He appoints Claire as UN ambassador which he knows will work against him. Quite frankly, he’s bored and needs some excitement.
After the kerfuffle with the Chinese in season two, House of Cards continues to follow the threats of the real world. China are a growing threat, and so are Russia. The real threats are not IS in the East in their bullshit war over sand and oil. The real enemies that actually mean something are Russia, China and Iran. And the first of the three is given a face in this season with Lars Mikkelsen (Star Wars Rebels) playing Russian President Viktor Petrov, the show’s Vladimir Putin, or who I like to call Vlad The Impaler (21st Century Edition). He’s an enemy worth boasting about. Viktor to Frank is what Moriarty is to Sherlock Holmes, every bit his equal and more.
Also this season is the aftermath of what Frank did to Garrett at the end of last season. He tied a corruption scandal around his president’s neck. And with this noose, all he had to do was click his finger and Walker would be flapping in the wind. Frank is a grand master, but we reap what we sow, and it’s impossible to milk a cow whose udder is dry. Petrov and the aftermath of last season dominates half of or so of season three. The second batch of episodes follows the Underwoods’ marriage, or lack of. In addition, we are witness to Frank having to defend his presidency via an election campaign in which he has to battle opponents from all sides.
Season three is by no means perfect but it still holds up against the first two seasons. There’s many different storylines that may prove hard to follow for certain members of the audience. But it utilises these storylines and gives them just conclusions, even ones that they brought over from season two. It’s by no means tied up with a bow, but they are given just closure nonetheless. Now Frank has the presidency, but it’ll be tougher job to try to keep it. Season three introduces Fear The Walking Dead’s Kim Dickens in an important role, though still as a secondary character. House of Cards’ third season still lives up to the hype of the first two and that’s good.
House of Cards continues to be one of the best show on Netflix’s slate of original programming. From its performances to the direction to the story and relevant themes to the present, the show is necessary watching. But I’ll forgive those who avoid it, after having one of the election campaigns in living memory.