House of Cards Season 3 – Finale and Season Review

1Netflix 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 Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright spin political intrigue in three-episode blocks.

Click here for his thoughts on Chapters 27, 28 and 29.
Click here for thoughts on Chapters 30, 31 and 32.
Click here for the review of Chapters 33, 34 and 35.
Click here for Ed’s opinion on Chapters 36, 37 and 38.

SPOILER WARNING! – Everything below assumes you have watched the entire third season of  House of Cards (through Chapter 39) or do not care about being spoiled.

Uhh… what the hell did I just watch?

First, an apology: I was operating under the assumption this was the final season of House of Cards. There have been no indications by Netflix either way, but the series has long exhausted the original British source material and you have to wonder how long big-name stars such as Kevin Spacey or Robin Wright would want to keep doing a TV show, even one as well-funded as House of Cards.

But if you’re reading this, you already know — unless House of Cards went the way of The Sopranos, with an open-ended finale, there’s probably going to be a season four.

Assuming there’s a fourth season, I can be a lot kinder to what I just saw. Because boy, was it hard to reconcile with the information we had.

If Netflix plans on returning back to Washington, D.C. for a fourth season of House of Cards — and given that the screen cut to black when Claire told Francis she was leaving him, I’d guess that’s a safe assumption — season three was a rocky, yet potentially necessary season in the Underwood saga. If season three gave the writers the legs they needed to start running with a new story (because most of the British source material was apparently exhausted by the start of season two), some of this needed to happen: Dunbar had to be set up as a worthy opponent, Doug had to come back from insanity (more on that later) and the show needed to start kicking loose some of the threads it had clung to from the first season.

You can argue, and I likely would, that season three is probably the worst of the three seasons of the American version of House of Cards, but it’s far easier to accept what it didn’t accomplish if you can assume there’s another season to wrap stuff up. But if that’s not the case, and this is the end of the Underwoods, this is the final season of House of Cards, my goodness, what a freaking waste of time.

Claire and Frank’s relationship was probably supposed to be the center of the episode, but after Claire wanted Frank to be rough with her in the bedroom (and his subsequent failure to do so), the show saw them continuously put off a confrontation until one of the final scenes. I get WHY the show did this, it was an emotionally charged scene that needed to wait, but I really wish the finale wasn’t filled with so much filler to get there — how many scenes do we really need of Claire ducking Francis’s calls?

Claire met with Yates to ask what she had said while she passed out giving blood, and it led to this revelation that she needs to leave Frank. She doesn’t trust Yates, hasn’t trusted him the entire season (and remember, he’s a liar), but believes what he says she said. And, somehow, Yates remains the most memorable character introduced in season three. Ugh.

The finale did give us resolution to one thread that’s probably been going on far too long — Doug finally found and caught up with Rachel, who plans to go by the new identity of Cassie Lockheart. And Stamper went back into creeper mode, kidnapped Rachel/Cassie, took her out to bury her, before softening and allowing her to leave once she pleaded with him, explaining that Rachel was basically dead and Cassie had no plans to talk to anyone about what happened to Peter Russo. I was actually really satisfied here, Doug should have let her go after he recovered anyways.

But then, he turned around. And killed her and buried her anyways.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. What the freaking hell?

So, the season three tried to tell us that one of its main characters could make a major change (Claire realizing she needs to leave Francis) but also tries to tell us other characters can’t move on and change (Doug can’t let go of Rachel until she’s gone and she’s a liability to Underwood.

If the series is over, what a dismal message to send in your final episode. The writers of House of Cards have none of the traditional chains of television programming, more freedom than even HBO, a tremendous cast and money for lavish sets, but still built a major subplot of the entire season to “he was gonna kill her, had a change of heart and let her go, then decided to kill her anyways.” If the series is over, what a freaking waste of screen time. Focus more on other characters who provided more.

But, now I have a feeling the series isn’t over. I really hope it isn’t, as I thoroughly enjoyed the first two seasons as a well-acted soap opera, and this season wasn’t without its enjoyments either. But if you’re going to sell us these seasons as extended movies, you have to give us a more cohesive plot, or at the very least stop wasting time with unnecessary subplots. You’re Netflix, you’re bound to no commercial breaks or time restraints. If you can only write 30 minutes of a decent episode, don’t try to stretch it to 50-something minutes just because House of Cards is a drama and you feel you have to do so.

Assuming there’s a season four, season three of House of Cards wasn’t fantastic, but will probably provide enough scandalous entertainment to get you ready for another season next February. But if this is the last we hear of the Underwoods, I can’t help but wonder if the time would have been better spent elsewhere, and allowing my memories of Frank to end when he knocked the presidential desk for the first time.

3 replies »

  1. I absolutely hated this season. I’m not a huge fan of the series, but the first season was so thick with in-your-face-political evil, that I couldn’t help but watch. I wasn’t a fan of season two, and I could barely stand season three. You were right in your assessment of the subjective differences of each season…from his standing as the Whip, to the VP, to the President, and that’s where it jumps the shark to me. It should have stayed rooted in the smaller politics of power in the house…where he could be ruthless and out of the spotlight. I don’t know…seems like I wasted my time…

    • Yes. If it hasn’t jumped the shark yet (debatable point), it’s certainly lining up for the big moment.

  2. Terrible season, and the finale was the “we’re-running-out-of-ideas-so-let’s-borrow-some-gimmicks-from-Breaking Bad” episode. Let’s see, large portion of the scenery was southwestern US, failed rough sex, wife slips under water because she’s trapped, husband drops epic rant on wife, surrogate son relapses with his addiction, and others I’m sure I missed.

    As far as the rant goes, Frank delivered a truth bomb on Claire, long overdue. I enjoyed the final ten minutes, but it hardly made up for the previous season.

    Netflix ran out of steam on Lilyhammer in the third season, and did the same with House of Cards. I’m hoping they don’t do the same with Orange is the New Black.

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