Walker is out, all hail President Underwood. Welcome to the Netflix Original House of Cards Season 3. I have already looked at the first 6 episodes. Here, I take a look at what happened in the last 7. I know what you are thinking.
“Why did it take this long to write this, when you finished watching the show on the weekend?”
That’s a really good question. One that I can only answer this way… there was a lot to think about with this years edition of the show and I need to figure out exactly how I felt about it. As anyone who’s watched the show regularly knows, it is a powder-keg of emotions and backstabbing politics. There’s been lies, fraud, frames & murder, and that’s just the obvious stuff. The show continued to build on the story setup in those first 6 episodes of the season.
In the aftermath of the failed Russian visit to free Michael Corrigan, the first lady’s outburst on the public stage and the fact that Doug has continued to fall off the wagon and betray the Underwoods, things are just all topsy turvy. That’s okay though as House of Cards excels best when things get chaotic for Frank (Kevin Spacey) & Claire (Robin Wright). They seem to always find a way out of the issues that are promising to crush them.
I know if you haven’t watched it yet, you are thinking “How does this not all relate as one story element?” They are of course happening independently but they coming together for a crashing conclusion at the end of the season.
The season begins with an attempt to get a unilateral peacekeeping force into the Jordan Valley to help with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This falls apart due to Russia’s reluctance to help with the peacekeeping mission. This leads to the State dinner in which members of the Russian band Pussy Riot protest in front of the Russian President, which eventually leads the fallout of the Michael Corrigan detainment. The back and forth between Frank & Victor throughout the season plays well. It’s gives Spacey someone who he can really take the gloves off for without straining our belief too much.
The dynamic between the two actors for this story is fascinating as it plays out in the back half of the season. There are multiple times where they look to have a pact in place only to let old paranoia return. This is fitting with the current state of geopolitics around the world, especially with Russia/US relations. Lars Mikkelsen plays Victor Petrov with such delicious sense of entitlement and ego it’s hard not to like his performance. Finally, Frank appears to have met his match in politics who isn’t his wife.
Speaking of Claire Underwood, for the first time, she does appear to be in over her head as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. She is trying desperately to hold together everything she has built up this point. After many false starts, she finally gets the peacekeeping force Frank wants to help his legacy and re-election chances…..only to let her emotions boil up to the surface and ruin everything again.
By the time we reach the result of the Michael Corrigan detainment, she is losing grip on her goals. This culminates in her ill-advised outburst in front of the Russian press calling President Petrov out for his country’s homophobic policies. Robin Wright does an amazing job of taking Claire to a new level this year. We see her manipulate Frank into getting her the Ambassador appointment, get used by the Russians, then become a pawn in the power struggle for the Democrat Nomination for 2016. All the while, we see her relationship with Frank deteriorate over the course of the season as she works the angles for herself, especially in the back half after Corrigan.
Wright’s ability to make anyone care for a woman like Claire Underwood continues as a testament to her performance. Sure, in the first two seasons she had moments where you kind of feel for her but she was always stabbing someone in the back, or the front depending on the case. Here though she is inundated on all sides by her lack of control over many variables. She misreads others several times and it shows on her face as the losses mount up. It’s the first time in the series I have had sympathy for her and what she is having to go through. So by the time we get to that last scene we are left gut punched by the moment.
In the first part of this look at House of Cards Season 3, I talked about how much I was loving Michael Kelly‘s character Doug Stamper. Well no surprise, this only grows with each episode. After learning that Rachel is dead, he goes off the wagon and devolves quickly. At the same time, due to the Underwoods’ lack of interest in bringing him back into the fold, he has begun to explore his other options and decides to betray them.
What I find really interesting is the allusions about his falling off the wagon and his falling off the Underwoods’ fascinating. For two years he was the perfect soldier doing what he was told. Now, when he hits a little rough patch, he runs to the enemy, Heather Dunbar, giving her advice pushing her to the lead in the primaries leading up to the nomination. He keeps giving her all this advice from behind the scenes while on an alcoholic binge again and when he sobers up. By the end, he has played everyone brilliantly as we learn it was all part of his greater plan.
It’s one of many reasons why Kelly really stood out this year as the show’s best performance. He works hard in every moment to make us hate and pity him at the same time. From his fall from grace to the small flashes of hope when his brother is helping him recover. But in the end he is the best player at the table, holding all the aces. We don’t even realize through most of the season what his real game is. Kelly plays this out for all the tension and gravitas it deserves.
Obviously I can’t recommend this season enough, although it does have that gut punch ending. We now have to wait a full year to see how this will play out for Frank, Claire and Doug. Man I love this show. House of Cards continues into it’s third season with an incredibly strong showing building off the great foundation of the the first two seasons.
House of Cards Season 3 is now available Netflix. If you haven’t watched it before, do yourself a favour and get on it now. You will not regret the binge watch.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!