REVIEW: House of Cards Season 3
When you reach the top, there’s only one way left to go.
That’s the dilemma facing our favourite slimeball politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and his equally conniving wife Claire (Robin Wright) in the third gripping season of House of Cards.
The past two seasons of House of Cards have been about Frank and Claire’s rise to power and all the manipulation, lies and murder that has entailed. It was incredibly fast-paced, tightly plotted and sinfully wicked. It was difficult to find tear one’s eyes away from the screen. The third, however, is a whole different beast. Frank and Claire have got what they wanted. In season three, suddenly everything isn’t so easy.
That’s not to say the third season isn’t full of fantastic moments. It draws its best moments from the crumbling relationship of the Underwoods and the (as usual) faultless performances from Spacey and Wright. While Claire has always been Frank’s just-as-evil superwife until now, it’s only with achieving success she realises how little her own talents are valued compared to those of her husband. Her vulnerabilities humanise her, but it’s still difficult to feel much sympathy for her. Frank too faces moments of uncharacteristic conscience. While I enjoyed this change of pace and it is probably realistic to demonstrate the strain that power can put on a relationship, part of the reason I enjoyed the first two seasons was because these characters were very successful sacks of shit. And I missed that.
Another problem with the third series is that by focusing almost entirely on the Underwoods, there is very little time left for anyone else to have a coherent storyline. Doug gets a predictable revenge plot against Rachel (after we learn he’s not actually dead, what). Remy and Jackie get some resolution to their on-again-off-again-relationship, after Jackie gets a quickie off-screen marriage to improve her appearance to the public. Somehow the new husband or stepkids never actually feature in the show. There are two new journalists who are sort of interesting, but after Zoe, we don’t get too close to journalists.
House of Cards has always been more of a glorified soap opera than something thought provoking, but this becomes painfully clear in the third season. There’s a lot to be desired on the politics side of the story. For example, one of Frank’s plans as President is to combat rising unemployment. We don’t learn why unemployment is rising, nor do we learn beyond the bare bones of how he’s going to solve it. Later, when [spoiler] Frank finally wins Iowa, there is no explanation as to how when everything prior to that moment seemed to indicate he was heading for the opposite outcome.
The third season of House of Cards is a mixed bag. Some fans will be sorely disappointed, while others will welcome a necessary change of pace. If your main draw to the series was the scheming and the lies and resulting success, you will feel underwhelmed. While it’s true Frank becoming President at the end of season two meant the third season would mark a transition, the change of pace highlights the show’s main strengths and weaknesses. The focus on Frank and Claire made fantastic work of two excellent performers in Spacey and Wright, but came at the loss of other storylines and characters. When all political storylines lacked any depth, the loss of interesting secondary character subplots is felt more deeply. That said, it’s still some of the best television not on television, and worth a binge-watch.
Season 3 of the critically-acclaimed political drama House of Cards is out on Digital HD on June 27 and Blu-ray and DVD on June 29.