“House of Cards” Season 3 was another one of those seasons of missed potential. Kind of like the series of “Dexter” as a whole. There was a lot of enjoyable events that happened and the acting was fantastic, but there were so many thing narratively that just didn’t make sense and took me out of the story as well as the unbelievable changes that Frank and Claire went through as characters…changes that felt tacked on in order to create drama and didn’t fit the calm collected leaders we had seen them be prior. I’ll get into it more in the actual assessment, but this is the summary of some of the issues I had with the finished product.
“House of Cards” was created by Beau Willimon and is one of the Producers on the series with David Fincher. There are a ton of writers and directors involved and when I do a lookback at individual episodes later (I think I will as the show is still great quality) I’ll give them the recognition they deserve. The series is also based off of the British series of the same name.
Season 3 begins with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as President dealing with a Congress that is divided and cannot pass anything, along with his own party turning against him. With Claire (Robin Wright) nomination to the United Nations as a diplomat the threat of Russia is also a major threat. From here he must deal with these internal and the external threats of the press and political rivals as he seeks to pass America Works and his eventual run for re-election against the idealistic Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel).
The Pros: The Cinematography – The show continues to be beautifully presented and I really like how dark Washington DC looks as well as how trapped most of the characters are presented as feeling. The visuals are certainly on par with past seasons.
The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal continues to work his magic and gives us the dark drama of Washington. His sound is unique but I love it. It is great writing music and fits the theme of the Underwoods beautifully.
Heather Dunbar against Frank Underwood – The political arc in the run for the presidency and for the Democratic Nomination between these two is fantastic! Dunbar starts out as an idealistic politician who slowly becomes willing to work with those who have no moral qualms like Doug (who survived last season). Seeing these two face off should have been the focus of this season as she is a worthy rival and a compelling character who surprisingly wasn’t explored enough. She also reveals just how sociopathic Frank Underwood really is in how she pushes him to further desperation.
Doug Stamper’s Rehabilitation- This was done really well. Doug resists his addiction to alcohol and his obsession. He gives into his addiction when he feels abandoned by Frank Underwood (which felt out of character on Frank’s part) but we see him connect to his brother and work against Underwood with Heather Dunbar and later once again with Frank Underwood when he kills his obsession and gives over his soul for power again and leaves Dunbar. The season ends with him once again Frank’s right hand man. Michael Kelly brings a lot of depth to this role.
Thomas Yates – Thomas Yates is a fiction author who Frank Underwood hires to write his story and to sell him to the general public. It is through Thomas we see how guarded the Underwoods are around others and one another (though this felt unbelievable in regards to the Underwoods this season). Still Yates was a great character, ex-prostitute and junkey who hooks up with the Nobel award winning journalist who is one of Frank’s major critics named Kate Baldwin. He writes a story about how the Underwoods are power and their relationship is political (which I agree and disagree with) and that is when his story ends. He apparently helps Claire see that Frank only cares about Frank, which felt weak after all the exploration of the Claire and Frank relationship the last few seasons.
Middle East Conflict – The conflict takes place in the Jordan Valley and involves the United States trying to convince the United Nation to send peace keeping troops to the area to keep the peace. We see just how politically savvy Claire is on this when trying to get the different sides on the same table. It is successful for a while until Russia creates a crisis that leads to Claire losing her power and a return to the status quo.
Pussy Riot – This Russian Punk Rock band who is famous for protesting against the loss of liberty in Russia appears in this. They are handled much better than Russia is in my opinion and protest the Russian President’s visit with the Underwoods in the White House. They are later called heroes by Frank as another snub to Victor, the Russian President.
Heather Dunbar – Dunbar had a good arc even if she could have been fleshed out more…but this was supposed to be a show about the Underwood’s so the nature of the show hurt how her story is told. Still, her corruption was done really well overall this season. She’s a complicated person who realizes just how ambitious she is in the end and that she is willing to become Frank to get there. Elizabeth Marvel does an amazing job!
Okay: Kate Baldwin – This is a character who was ambitious and a noble reporter who sticks to her ethics (she won’t publish Yates’s story he wrote about the Underwoods because she is sleeping with Yates and it is a conflict of interest) but I never got her motivations fully.
The Cons: Russia and the United States/Victor and Frank – I get that they were trying to show how both men are after power for the sake of power and are sociopaths in touch with what the people want to hear in their nations but making it personal in regards to Claire and how Claire was handled felt weak. I also didn’t like how Victor was presented as an equal to Frank. This isn’t Littlefinger and Varys…not with how stupid Frank is this season and Victor isn’t much better. They are wrote to be brilliant but come off as really dense and unable to read people and situations. Maybe it’s an analogy for the actual foreign policies of said nations in reality?
The Frank and Claire Relationship – What happened? Season 1 and 2 establish that Frank and Claire are aware of the political ramifications of things and are willing to go the distance for the presidency and the United Nations because they know what they will do. In this one they did not. What happened? This season felt like the writers forgot about these characters and their relationship that was less romantic and driven by their shared desire for power and mutual respect for one another. None of that existed this season with the exception of the Mandala picture Frank gives Claire as a symbol of their eternal love…This is part of a bigger problem that I’ll go into next. In their rush to write Frank’s fall from power they’ve forsaken his relationships and his awareness in those relationships…
Frank Underwood and his Inner Circle – Claire Underwood, Doug Stamper, Seth Grayson, Remy Danton and later his alliance with Jackie Sharp. He gives them all the same speech that they are soldiers that must follow his lead or else they should get out of the way. Frank got hit with the stupid bat and it wasn’t because he was President since he had very little power as President because of Congress (which he didn’t plan for). This felt out of character because Frank values what people give him and they were all giving him a lot and her forsook that for no believable reason. He was just stupid.
Frank Underwood’s Lack of Plan – We see Season 1 his agenda to become the Vice President. He has plans within plans and is a Littlefinger type figure, in Season 2 we see his rise to become President and we see that he does have lines and is willing to stand for something when it serves the greater good in regards to the Underwoods and how they will appear to others in both cases he was shown to be good as the Whip and the Vice President…so what happened? He’s an incompetent President with America Works as his only plan. That isn’t the Frank Underwood from last season it’s just a dumb politician flailing.
This is the weakest of the seasons, though when the series is taken as a whole it still stands. Maybe Season 4, if there is one can change the problems of this season, since the actors are still great as is the cinematography and music. There is still a lot of good even if this season felt like a house of cards. Where was the smart writing in regards to the Underwoods or what Frank planned to do when he was finally in power? This season had a lot of questions so it was hard to call it a great season. It had a lot of great ideas and the idea of a fall is good…but Frank Underwood has not been handled the way Walter White was handled. Heisenberg was King, Frank is President but feels like less than the House Majority Whip he was in Season 1.
Final Score: 8 / 10.