Netflix released the third season of House of Cards in its entirety on February 27. Ed Carroll is offering his thoughts on the season as he watches in three-episode blocks. Click here for his thoughts on the first three episodes of the season.
SPOILER WARNING! – Everything below assumes you have either watched the show through Chapter 32, or do not care about being spoiled.
One thing I’ve noticed about season three of House of Cards is, in general, the stakes are higher. This series is basically a well-acted soap opera, and we watch it for the drama, so it makes sense to up the ante.
Whereas season two was filled with emotional gut shots to the Underwoods (Clarie having to destroy Adam’s reputation and Frank having to turn his back on Freddy were two of the bigger ones, back-to-back), season three is focusing on the larger picture, which makes sense as Francis is president and Claire is an ambassador. Yes, they’re now basically playing war games, but with less tangible things at stake in the context of the show, such world peace or Frank’s legacy. It’s much easier to feel emotional seeing someone you love call you a liar publicly or someone you considered a friend pretend to not know who you were.
That said, Chapters 30, 31 & 32 kept the pace brisk (for the most part), but it still feels like this series is holding back. Might be wishful thinking with only seven episodes remaining, but Gavin seems to be getting pretty close to finding Rachel, and that seems to be the beginning of the end for Francis.
Related to Gavin’s investigation, I appear to have been completely wrong earlier regarding Stamper’s reasons for wanting Rachel. Doug is working with first Gavin and now Dunbar to take down Underwood? I’m still skeptical Stamper isn’t trying to double-cross them all to prove his worth to Frank, but this version of Doug is so much more fun to watch than the creepy-at-best Doug from season two.
While Gavin got a bunch of screen time as he conned his way closer to Rachel’s ex-girlfriend Lisa, his investigation (which included lying to Lisa regarding a HIV test result) seemed to be spinning its wheels until near the end of Chapter 32. Gavin began scanning traffic cameras in New Mexico, thanks to a tip from Lisa, so hopefully this subplot can start picking up some traction. We haven’t even seen Rachel this season, other than images on screens, which is sort of odd to me.
Heather Dunbar has become an interesting foil for Frank, though I really can’t say I buy her turning down a seat on the Supreme Court just for a chance to run for president. Yeah, she said she wants to “scrub the office” and yada yada, but who turns down the chance to be a Supreme Court Justice out of revenge?
Frank offering her the nomination for the seat was actually a really clever way to get her out of the running for the presidential nomination. It was probably too clever, and I have a hard time buying that aspect of the plot, but all-in-all Dunbar has been a needed addition, and she likely works better for the show as an opponent for the Underwoods. Stamper working with her, either as a spy for Frank or out of Doug’s own interests, has been intriguing so far, and I hope we get to see some more of Stamper doing his dirty work.
As for other potential nominees, I’m not sure how I feel about Jackie Sharp’s sham campaign to run. She wants the VP nomination, ultimately, and I guess what she’s doing makes sense politically, but it will be really annoying if her whole candidacy is destroyed because of something stupid, such as an affair.
The Russian subplot might be over, after Claire blew up at the Russian media, but it was honestly wearing thin anyways. Chapter 32, especially, really got bogged down in the politics, interspersed with a surprisingly boring extended conversations between Frank and the Russian president Victor, and Claire and the activist Michael Corrigan.
The episode did pick up, unfortunately, once Claire woke up to find Corrigan had hung himself. Honestly, I’m not sure this suicide was handled very well by the show’s writers, as it seemed like a really cheap shock death. Yes, his suicide led to Claire losing complete faith in the Russians, but there was just so much about it that was hard to believe — chief among them Claire somehow sleeping through the entire thing. It also seemed insanely insensitive to have a supposed activist like Corrigan, who believed in his ideals so fervently he was willing to remain in a Russian jail rather than read an ignorant statement written by the Russians, kill himself after speaking with Claire and beginning to doubt himself.
Suicide is an insanely complex issue, as there’s a variety of reasons and explanations one could choose to end their own lives, one the House of Cards writers probably din’t want to get too involved. But this suicide was a cheap shock death, and even if the repercussions are felt by the Underwoods in the remaining episodes, it was really disappointing to see this show drop to that level. Yes, much of HOC is simply dressed-up garbage television, but until this season, the show had done a decent job of not insulting our intelligence or resorting to too many shock deaths. TV is not real life, and House of Cards is not The Walking Dead, and it needs to earn its deaths. Corrigan’s suicide was not earned, it was a lazy/convenient plot device, which is incredibly disappointing to see in 2015 television, and a disappointing episode all-around for this show. I really hope the suicide impacts the plot more down the road (and no, I won’t consider emotional grief for the Underwoods enough of an impact), otherwise you can argue that episode is a low point in the series.
Finally, before some quick thoughts, I did really enjoy Frank’s gambit with FEMA, though it could completely blow up in his face. Also, it brought a way to logically bring Freddy back, even if it was just to show him in line for a job. I’m not sure if we’re going to see Freddy again in the series, or if this was just the show’s way of saying “Freddy will fight his way back,” but it was nice to see him again after he was heartbreakingly used as a pawn in the war between the Underwoods and Tusk last season.
– It seems really late in the game for a new character to make a huge impact, but the novelist Frank hired to write about AmWorks and his life could be an interesting add, and he already seems to be able to read Claire pretty decently. Also, I play a lot of video games, so I geek out over game references, and Frank’s little video game speech regarding why he started playing an indie game (because of a review the novelist wrote), was a fun way to tie in his hobby to the show again.
– “You can keep the plastic if you want. As a souvenir. That’s all it’s good for now.” DAMN SETH, HARSH DUDE. Unfortunately for him, dismissing one reporter just lead to a better one being sent out. Kate Baldwin appears to be everything Zoe Barnes wasn’t as a journalist. “You kicked out a pit bull and you let in a dragon?”
– I really hope the Russian subplot either gets more interesting or is pushed to the side in favour of the Francis fighting for the presidential nomination, in part because the latter allows for more interaction with the interesting characters, such as Dunbar, Sharp, Stamper and Danton. Not saying these characters can’t play roles in the Russian negotiations, but they’re firmly in the thick of the other subplot.
All-in-all, the season still has me hooked, I’m still interested, but I oddly don’t feel any sense of urgency from the writers or the characters. Hopefully, the action will pick up pretty soon, but the third season of House of Cards certainly has political intrigue in spades.
Keep checking Everyone Hates Cleveland throughout the weekend for more of Ed Carroll’s thoughts on House of Cards’ final season.