Netflix released the third and final 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 Chapters 27, 28 and 29, and here for thoughts on Chapters 30, 31 and 32.
SPOILER WARNING! – Everything below assumes you have either watched the show through Chapter 35, or do not care about being spoiled.
First, it’s really annoying that House of Cards chose to go the shock route with Corrigan’s suicide and then pretty much forget about him. Yes, there’s still a chance his death plays a larger factor in the remaining four episodes, but at this point, it’s probably a stretch to think it could be meaningful or well done.
But Cards did decide to stop wasting time and gave the novelist — who I had to check the credits to learn his name, Thomas Yates — some actual purpose on the show rather than just, y’know, being in the way and another dangling plot thread. Yate’s truthbomb to Underwood in Chapter 33 (which was a doozy, but in the world of House of Cards existed solely as it related to the Underwoods, like most things) that he didn’t actually write all of his first novel was pretty effective in softening Francis’s attitude toward Claire after her meltdown in Russia, and eventually accepting her as an asset.
Yeah, that blew up in his face with the covert operation to the Jordan Valley in Chapter 35, with a solider dead, and more of President Victor, everyone’s least-favourite Russian character. Hopefully there’s more to the intel Claire received regarding the Russians effectively sabotaging themselves for propaganda purposes. Victor hanging up on Frank in a phone call, and then later his ominous call calling the US out on the covert op, seem to indicate the show isn’t done with him yet, but who knows at this point.
One of the issues I’m running into as I write these reviews in blocks, is that despite everything the show’s producers and writers say about House of Cards really being a 13-hour movie, the episodic nature of the show starts to become obvious when things don’t carry over or are too self-contained. Yes, some of this is just real-world logistics with shooting a television show, but it’s frustrating when the show tries to be something it isn’t. Season two probably came closest to being the ’13-hour movie’ originally envisioned, but the lack of overarching theme and direction in this season seems to be wearing on me.
I could just be cranky because having this hurricane completely and magically alter course at the last second, and thus negating most of the gravity of what Francis had been wrestling with, was incredibly frustrating to watch. I don’t want to say it’s completely unbelievable (meteorology is the only profession where you can be wrong more than 80 percent of the time and still be considered ‘good’), but man, that’s really convenient, huh? Still, the “crisis” did give us some nice moments, such as Claire telling Francis she never really thought he should sign the bill, she just didn’t want others to be afraid to speak up.
Still, it was a nice way to come back to why Yates was around, and having that be Underwood’s catalyst for officially entering the race was a solid way to drop the facade of Underwood not running for re-election. Having Yate’s prologue voiceover dovetail (sort of) with Baldwin’s opinion article of the Underwood presidency was a bit of a stretched storytelling device, and needed far more of Baldwin’s article to be truly effective, and I really couldn’t care less about their romance (maybe House of Cards is onto something when they have every development on the show relate to the Underwoods — people like watching Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey).
Stamper’s decline got revved up as well, particularly in Chapter 35, where we discover WHY we haven’t seen Rachel Posner at all this season. And Doug doesn’t take the news of her death very well, which is pretty understandable, given what we know about Stamper. I can’t say I expected the writers to kill her off, but while it’s still tragic, I’m a lot less harsh on that decision since it happened completely off-screen, with Gavin never even really saying to Doug that she was dead. While I would love to see more of Gavin (particularly since I’m curious to see if the show has just completely forgotten about Lucas Brown, the Washington Post editor in jail), but I really, really, REALLY hope Rachel is in fact dead and we don’t get some sudden surprise twist.
Doug’s sobriety had been broken before he found out Rachel was dead, and then we got a really cute little flashback sequence of Doug and Rachel together, which conveniently ignored all the insane and creepy parts of their relationship (if you can call it that). That probably makes sense, as we were getting Doug’s point of view, but now her hitting him in the face with a brick only to show up dead seems like some sloppy writing. Or maybe I’m just having a hard time grappling with the show having done nothing significant from a pretty significant season two subplot for nine episodes in season three. Yeah, you can say we got to watch Gavin investigate what happened to her, but to find her dead and have the end result be “Stamper goes back to the Underwoods for help” is really underwhelming.
Also, I’m still not entirely certain I believe Frank doesn’t have some sort of plan in place for Doug here. Doug doesn’t appear to totally trust him (“I’m not Peter Russo” was a pretty badass line), and the show hasn’t given us any reason to believe Frank has any other loyalties but to Claire. That said, the anger and concern in his call to Heather Dunbar in Chapter 35, telling her to stay away from Stamper, seemed genuine.
Maybe this is the problem with making a con man the star of your show, the constant doubt. Frank Underwood hasn’t been doing his reputation any favours, either — and Remy Danton called him out on it, telling Frank he and Seth were his only soldiers, which was true. I thought Francis completely overreacted to Remy’s brief on the Sharp and Dunbar campaigns, far too much to just chalk up to stress, and it lead really to only more conflicting scenes.
I am a white male. I have privilege out the wazzoo, and I’m hesitant to claim the scene where Danton is pulled over and handcuffed for speeding was simply for shock value (in part because racial profiling absolutely happens in law enforcement), but damn, it really seems like they just threw in that scene to be somewhat relevant with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and to give the writers another reason to send Remy back to Jackie. The entire arrest scene felt slimy, from its intentions of the writers to what was actually going on in the scene, and maybe that was the actual intention. Perhaps it’s me, but I don’t care about a lot of these romantic subplots, particularly when it becomes pretty much their only major scenes, as it’s been for Remy this season. And does EVERYTHING that happens to Danton need to be an excuse for him to see Sharp?
Quick thoughts before I bust into the home stretch of House of Cards’s final season:
– Heather Dunbar can’t be this sincere, right? Maybe this is my personal cynicism to all politicians, even fictional ones, seeping through.
– Spacey really sold the grief Underwood was going through after the botched covert mission in Chapter 35, to the point where I believed Frank was upset.
– Early in Chapter 34, a TV journalist said the word “currently” on air and I seriously had to go walk outside I was so upset. Using ‘currently’ in any type of a news report is wasted words and something that was repeated to me ad nauseum in college to the point where apparently a journalist on a TV show can exercise poor journalism and send me into a tizzy. I’m pretty cool.
– So, Meechum has been around this season, but he’s really just doing his job and maybe gets a line an episode other than “Yes, sir.” But for whatever reason, he decided to flip out on Yates and tell him not to screw over Underwood? Yeah, we know Meechum is loyal, we don’t need him lashing out at writers. And really, they don’t have ANYTHING else for that character now?
– In Chapter 35, Seth was wearing a Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper jersey early on in the episode.
– I think Chapter 35, directed by Robin Wright herself, was also the first cold open of the season, which I usually prefer to starting with the (awesome) title sequence. House of Cards is fast-food drama – I want ALL of the drama I can indulge in and make it as dripping as possible. Chapter 35 did a good job of that by having the cold open and then seguing into the title sequence.
– And answering my own question, Freddy made a return to the show, and actually got to visit the Oval Office with his son. This was a strong scene for a lot of reasons, and good of him for not being too proud to turn down a job from Frank, but for also not being duped again by him. Freddy’s chat with his grandson after the visit was heartbreaking but probably necessary. Thought I could probably quibble with the uninspired choice to make Freddy a groundskeeper, it was nice to see him speak up and say he didn’t want to work in a kitchen again. Might be a series wrap on his character, but that was a satisfying epilogue to a character I really didn’t expect to see this season.
– Have I mentioned I really dislike Victor the Russian President?
Keep checking Everyone Hates Cleveland throughout the weekend for more of Ed Carroll’s thoughts on House of Cards’ final season. Click for his review on Chapters 27, 28 and 29, and here is the review on Chapters 30, 31 and 32.