House Of Cards Season 3 Review Or “Yawn”

2 Mar

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Do I still have to post the phrase “SPOILER ALERT” when doing shows that should be “binge watched” (which by the way is one of the most annoying buzzwords to be created within the past two years)?  Okay fine, don’t read anymore of this if you want Season 3 of House of Cards spoiled for you.

(taps ring on tablet)

I had nothing to do this weekend so I excitedly began the latest season of House of Cards.  Now if you follow me on my like, three thousand, alter egos on social media (clearly a sign of mental illness or at least trust issues) you realize that I’m pretty anti-HoC.

I find the show, sans the Underwoods, Stamper and Remy (with Jackie Sharp really doing an amazing job this season) to be a heavily cartoon-y version of our political system.  I see it as a pandering piece of entertainment that is visually stunning (except some AWFUL CGI bits) but fodder for those who make three sentence Facebook statuses on why they don’t vote.

Its a world where liberal Democrats cave in (okay that’s realistic) and Republicans are practically nonexistent because the protagonist, Frank Underwood, is the type of Democrat that Republicans get weak-kneed over.

Still, the storyline is fascinating and I already invested like twenty four hours into the show so I might as well see it through.  Also, Frank and Claire Underwood are two of the absolute best characters on a current show (with respect to Don Draper, Saul Goodman, Taystee and whatever show I’m not currently on but you are) and I’m always curious what happens next.

Well, the new season is divided into a few parts.  It’s a bit of a snoozefest as the whole “House of Cards” foundation is slowly starting to give way as President Francis Underwood is a deeply unpopular President (who wasn’t elected to post) with a party that doesn’t back him and only a brain trust of two (the cool and collected Remy and the deplorable Seth).

The big stars of the season are Clair Underwood and wait for it…..Doug Stamper who wasn’t dead but merely, I don’t know…not dead.

 Here are the major storylines of the season.

  • Stamper gets a HUGE chunk of the first episode and the remainder of the season.  He’s off the wagon, resorting to hiring escorts to inject a syringe of bourbon in his mouth (so he doesn’t do it) and then falls further with painkillers.  He wants to get back into the game but Underwood isn’t prepared for him.  He pressures Gavin (the hacker with the guinea pig who is also Liam McPoyle and is forced into employment at the NSA) into finding Rachel in exchange for his freedom.  The Stamper storyline is mildly captivating, thanks to the excellent performance of Michael Kelly, but just takes up too much time.  He does form a bit of a bond with his brother and his family after rejecting them earlier in the season, but continues to do anything he can to get back into Frank’s good graces.
  • Frank is trying to force AmericaWorks, his pet project to eliminate all social safety nets and replace them with forcing people into labor, but the public nor the party leadership gives a shit.  He is facing a season-long showdown with President Petrov of Russia (a cartoonish, yet likable caricature of Vlad Putin) and after Congress refuses to, he appoints his wife as Ambassador to the UN.  He announces he won’t run for the nomination in 2016 so he can focus on AmWorks.  He hires a one-time world famous author to write a book on him and ends up forming a bond with him.  It’s all so cheesy.
  • Claire is going through a crisis even if it takes awhile to get to it.  She went from believing she was Frank’s right hand while really she’s feeling like that right hand is strangling her to be with him.  She loves Frank (and he loves her back) but their marriage isn’t romantic (they sleep in separate beds) but merely convenient.  She gets played by Russia as Ambassador, wakes up to a suicide of an American captive, and blasts Petrov right in front of her husband and the Russian press corps.
  • Solicitor General Heather Dunbar becomes the political foil to Frank Underwood.  She’s not a politician but a lawyer who advocates for justice.  She’s tough and not willing to bribe or accept them.  Jackie Sharp (who becomes a much more complex character this season) is promised the VP spot in exchange for bloodying Dunbar during the stump so Frank can re-enter the presidential race.  She wavers when the Underwood administration (most notably Remy) forces her into being a pitbull that attacks Dunbar’s family and loyalty to women.  She cracks and endorses Dunbar.

This season is okay but outside of the Frank and Claire storyline; becomes a snoozefest at times.  Stamper, who again is portrayed excellently, gets way too much time when he really doesn’t do anything but empty threats (including the threat to release information to Dunbar regarding Claire’s abortion) and only finally finds Rachel in the last episode (after earlier being told she was dead).  Oh yeah, he travels to New Mexico, chloroforms her, throws her in the backseat and then lets her go….only to have second thoughts and run her the fuck over and buries her in the desert.

Frank is shown more dastardly (keep in mind, he at least has two murders under him) when pissing on his father’s grave in the first minute of the season, spits on Jesus (eye rolls) only to have Jesus collapse and break (double eye roll).  He tries to play hardball with Russia, then does the good cop routine but neither works because Petrov just wants Claire gone.  He flips out on Jackie Sharp, Remy and Claire.  The friendship with Tom the author is nice and all, but really doesn’t get anywhere especially when the book on AmWorks turns into a book on the Underwoods marriage.

Claire is this close to being anything.  She looks close to being a liberal hotrod when she criticizes the barbaric anti-gay laws of Russia (that apparently everyone in Russia agrees with is barbaric).  She looks close to being the best campaigner the Underwoods have (changing her hairstyle whenever they tell her).  She looks close to being in love with Francis.  She looks close to being, hell, a candidate herself at times.

But she has to break free.

Jackie gets married, partially out of love and partially out of a need to.  She loves her stepchildren.  But she loves Remy more, who loves her right back and can barely hid his contempt at her wedding announcement.  However, she can’t do the whole “faking it” thing or at least using someone to be powerful.  She’s tough, but not sociopathic.

Remy quits the Oval Office and is really just floating in the last episode.  He’s one of the best at what he does, but unlike Stamper, he’s got a line that he won’t cross.  He loses his temper on two cops that he feels racially profiled him, but hates his status as being above the law.  He can’t stand that Frank sees him as an underling, not as a valuable member of the staff.  But mostly he just wants to be with Jackie Sharp.

Heather Dunbar loses Iowa but she is starting to play rough.  Giving Frank the ultimatum regarding Claire’s abortion was too nice, but the fact that she was willing to use that card proves she can still take down Frank.

Overall this season was focused too much on Russia and too much on Stamper.  The marital strife between the Underwoods were the strength of this season and it was great to see them on the campaign trail together.  Claire’s scene with the Iowan mother who wouldn’t vote for her husband is one of the best in the show because of how much it conveys.

However, with the next season looking like the last (a deck of cards has what, 52 cards and each season has 13 episodes); I’m not really looking forward to what’s next.  House of Cards seems like a movie that was forced into being a television program.  Instead of a trilogy, we got three seasons and as a political lover myself; I can’t buy into half of this program.  I know, its supposed to be entertaining, but most of the time its just boring and this is from someone that LOVES Mad Men and slower burning television programs.

But Season 3 is one thing and that’s a placeholder.  This is going to set up the kick that is season 4 and its unfair to judge it as anything but that.  Stamper is back with Frank.  Claire has for the time being left him (will she campaign separately or not at all remains to be seen).  Remy is gone.  Freddy is a groundskeeper.




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