Jan 4, 2017

[TV] House of Cards: Season 3

For one reason or another we had managed to skip this season of the show. Maybe it was because this was before we got a Netflix subscription while we had one for Season 4? Maybe life just got too busy. But somehow we missed this season and watched the fourth one too soon. Stupid, stupid us.

And yet the season still kind of worked. The show's characters just take you away like that.

But the third season of House of Cards is a critical one and I feel a lot better now that we finally addressed this game in our knowledge of the show. While our mistake helped establish that every season can almost stand on its own if you really force things, the greater tapestry of the entire show across the seasons is an even more strikingly beautiful tapestry of sorts.

This season helps bring into question a lot of things that we've believed to be true over the first two seasons. The biggest fact being that no matter what happened, Frank and his wife Claire were in the perfect alliance of power.

Synopsis: House of Cards is an American political drama series based on the British mini-series of the same name. The US version was created by Beau Willimon for Netflix.

The season begins with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as President of the United States. His key focus for his presidency is to get his jobs program, America Works, off the ground. The biggest problem of the bill is figuring out how to fund it and they eventually end up with some pretty exotic methods for doing so.

At the same time Claire (Robin Wright) is put forward as a possible ambassador to the UN. Doug (Michael Kelly) resurfaces after the beating he received at the end of the last season but Frank won't work with him under the present circumstances. And the Democratic Party decides to pressure Frank into committing not to run for President in the next elections so early in his term.

What I Loved: The overall narrative arc of the series is filled with compelling political stories involving controversial situations involving Russia and other foreign powers. But through all of these smaller stories, the bigger involves the growing tension between Frank and Clair as they deal with their situations in their respective areas of influence. And the whole fall from grace is clear as day early on but to watch the progression from episode makes for one fascinating train wreck.

What was also jarring was how infrequently Frank would address the audience in the almost signature fourth wall breaking that we had seen in past season. This make sense as he's already attained his ultimate political goal and so the moments when he does turn back to the audience become even more powerful and jarring. I liked the little twist they added to things as this whole season felt like a big reminder that nothing will  be the same again.

What Could Have Been Better: The Doug sub-plot including his manipulation of Gavin Osray (Jimmi Simpson) felt too complicated for its own good and I wish we had less of it and not more. There were bits involving others that had managed to climb up by sticking to Frank like how Remy (Mahershala Ali) had become Chief of Staff but instead we got less of his side of things instead of more given how interesting some bits were.

And somehow Frank felt a bit off his game this season compared to all that he had achieved over the course of the first two seasons. I can understand it happening but it still felt wrong - especially when a lot of times it felt his main weakness was relying on Claire. I get why this could have been an effective narrative strategy to get to the end goal.

TL;DR: House of Cards in its third season really shook up the status quo and showed that a viper like Frank would still have to fight to stay on top. And to see the struggle between Frank and Claire with the journalist Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) stirring the pot does make for compelling television. Thus the season gets 4 controversial decisions by the Underwood Administration out of a possible 5.


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