House of Cards returned for its third season sometime around 3 a.m. Friday morning on the streaming service, and I had planned to watch all 13 episodes this weekend and write up my thoughts here on EHC. That’s still the plan, but I’ve decided it might be more readable (and less likely to spoil anything for readers) if I broke up my review into three-episode blocks (yes, I know this leaves the final episode in a spot by itself, I’ll review the finale and the season as a whole in that review).
Everything below assume’s you’ve seen seasons one and two (if you haven’t, hi, Dad, thanks for reading me!). I will likely spoil things in the episode reviews, so don’t read them until after you’ve seen all three (or do read them, I can’t tell you what to do, just don’t yell at me on Twitter for spoiling it, OK?).
I’m watching the show all through the weekend and will write the block reviews after I watch the episodes, before going on to the next block. I don’t know what’s coming up, so any guesses are speculation. I can’t spoil what I don’t know. BONUS: you all get to see how wrong I likely am in the end!
So, with all that in mind, SPOILERS FOR CHAPTERS 27, 28 and 29 BELOW!
Wow, I did not think Stamper survived the brick-in-the-face from Rachel in the season two finale. I spoke with others on Twitter prior to the season’s release, who were just as positive he was alive as I was the opposite, so perhaps I simply wrote him off too quickly.
Either way, Stamper’s recovery took up a large portion of the premier, and though Doug is physically broken, this seems to be a lot closer to the loyal-but-scary-when-necessary Stamper we saw from season one and a lot less of the creepy sexual stalker he became in season two. Well, except for the scene where he called up a prostitute. Stamper’s history of sexual violence had me in genuine dread as he forced the girl (who looked a lot like Rachel, probably on purpose because we know he’s creepy like that) to take the syringe filled with alcohol. I was worried Doug would be attempting some sort of suicide, but the writers have appeared to opt for more of a slow burn with his struggles. I am curious to see who’s behind the job offer…
As for President Underwood, he’s still charming, cunning and remarkably adaptive. There’s no way he’s not going to run for reelection but I like the show’s willingness to keep Frank’s true play close to the vest here. I don’t think the show genuinely expects its viewers to think Underwood is solely interested in good government, but damn, Kevin Spacey is selling it. Spacey doesn’t look at all bored with the character, and it’s pretty impressive how consistent his work on this show is.
But to me, Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood has completely taken over this show. Part of me wonders if this is actually tied into Frank’s endgame: clearing a path for his wife’s power as his own begins to wane. Yes, Frank’s loyalty is always to be questioned, especially when the needs of others conflict with his own desires, but Claire seems to be the one person he won’t completely betray. But Wright has made Claire the most interesting character on this show since midway through season one, and she’s again fantastic in these first three episodes. I know House of Cards loves its sex scenes, but Chapter 28 had one of the series’ more meaningful ones, with the show pretty much screaming “CLAIRE IS TAKING CONTROL HERE” as she climbed on top of a crying Frank. It might end up being a bit too literal, but it wasn’t too overdone, either.
But some of Wright’s best acting as Claire has been the way she handles defeat; though Claire handled the Senate confirmation hearing poorly, Wright did a fantastic job showing us this was a crushing disappointment for a powerful woman, but one that would not defeat her. And Claire has been playing the ambassador game pretty well since Francis’s sneaky recess appointment of her. No, things aren’t going well at the moment for her, but Claire seems to have won Kathy Durant’s support, as well as a new alternative for working with Russia. Plus, diplomacy beer pong!
I can’t pretend to be any expert on foreign politics, so the Pussy Riot subplot was a tad jarring for me. I’m pretty sure most of it was to set up just how creepy the Russian President was, so, uh, mission accomplished, and I’m wondering if he’s going to be the “big bad” of this season akin to Raymond Tusk last season, or if this will be a side plot. Speaking of Tusk, I don’t recall him being mentioned by name once in these episodes, although there was talk of the pardons issued by President Underwood, so perhaps Frank pardoned him and told him to quietly leave. Or maybe we’ll see Tusk later this season. I would hope so, if even for a few minute cameo, just for the closure.
Other thoughts before I get into Chapters 30, 31 and 32 –
– So Frank named Donald his VP? This probably shouldn’t have surprised me: Frank doesn’t necessarily want a strong VP to challenge him, he wants a prop. Still let to some funny moments, as Donald is no shark. Speaking of the VEEP …
– Jackie Sharp started out as one of season two’s more interesting characters before getting mired in a mostly pointless romantic subplot with Remy Danton (who’s apparently Frank’s new right-hand man). Season three has given Sharp an — ahem — edge, and having ditched Danton romantically, is now trying to maneuver herself onto the presidential ticket with Underwood. I admit the romance between Danton and Sharp gives a lot of their scenes together a bit of zing, but I’m still not sure what the ultimate plans are for her character. She’s not quite equal to Underwood, but her and Frank in the Oval Office could be quite formidable, no?
– Seth’s motives remain pretty ambiguous; starting a character off in a lie and then having him not double-but-triple-cross people generally isn’t a long-term recipe for a successful character, but he does seem genuinely loyal to the Underwoods, and part of me thinks there’s some sincere concern for Stamper there, too. Stamper’s “sibling rivalry” with Seth was more annoying than anything else last season, as Doug spiraled out of control, but now we see Stamper doesn’t trust Seth at all, and I honestly think Seth’s suspicions are more because he sees Stamper starting to slip yet again.
– Meechum has been here and there, but you’d think he’d be given more than a couple of lines at this point, no?
– Gavin (who I will almost certainly call “McPoyle” for actor Jimmi Simpson’s recurring “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” character at some point in these reviews), is still out there, but appears to be working with Stamper now? I was pretty sure Gavin (and the seemingly forgotten Lucas) would eventually lead to Frank’s downfall, and I could still be right, but that doesn’t appear to be the case right now.
I don’t want to get over-wordy here for fear of over discussing irrelevant plot points, so I will get back to binging, and take better notes as I watch the remaining episodes so these thoughts aren’t as scattershot. Look for my reflections on the third season of Netflix’s House of Cards throughout the weekend here on Everyone Hates Cleveland.