TV Review: House of Cards - The Complete Third Season
This recap/review of HOUSE OF CARDS is written with the expectation that everyone who reads this and comments below will have seen all episodes already. Thus, if you've yet to see the episode in question, DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER.
REVIEW: When watching HOUSE OF CARDS over the course of the first two seasons, we became accustomed to Frank Underwood turning to the camera and including us in the machinations of his rise to power. Having been slighted by the President, Underwood vowed to take down everyone in his path to the Oval Office. When the second season ended, Frank had achieved that goal and signalled his supremacy with a rap of his knuckles on the desk. Coming into season three, HOUSE OF CARDS could not be the same show and yet it is exactly what you expect.
As indicated in my reviews for the first and second episodes of the season, HOUSE OF CARDS tried to mix things up by shifting focus in the premiere to the recovery of Doug Stamper and giving us Frank Underwood at his lowest point in the series to date. But, after that, the next eleven episodes fall back to the same tried and true format of the previous seasons. You will quickly notice that Kevin Spacey's asides to the audience are few and far between this season. I interpreted that to mean President Underwood is as in the dark as to what he will do next so there is not much to share with us. This season, we go along with the characters as events unfold rather than getting a chance to see the moves in advance.
President Underwood is faced with the same challenges he has in prior episodes, namely opposition within Congress. The politics of seeking a full term as Commander in Chief is the primary focus this season along with the challengers he must contend with. Underwood must face off against two candidates: Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) and former ally Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), both of whom are playing him from every angle. Underwood also has to deal with a worthy opponent in Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), a thinly veiled version of Vladimir Putin, who offers one of the only men that doesn't bow to Frank's plotting and scheming.
Season three has a fair share of shocking moments (the statue of Jesus scene being the standout for me), but it also suffers from some blatant advertising moments for Apple computers, Windows phones (apparently everyone in our government uses them over iPhones and Android), and a key plot element related to the mobile game Monument Valley. If these were not so in your face (we actually see Kevin Spacey play the mobile game for a solid minute on screen), it wouldn't have felt so invasive. I can forgive them for this because I enjoy this show so much, but it could have been a lot more integrated into the on screen happenings.
There are multiple subplots and secondary characters who are given ample screen time this season, namely Doug Stamper as he resolves his dangling storyline from last season. Most of these characters start out as interesting and then fall by the wayside, almost as if they were introduced simply to further the main plot along rather than be a part of the series itself. Remy Danton, Tom Yates, Jackie Sharp, Kate Baldwin, and several others appear in almost every episode and yet none are given a satisfying resolution to their stories.
In the end, season three shows us that HOUSE OF CARDS is not a reference to the fragile power that Frank Underwood has devised for himself but rather his marriage to Claire. The final scenes of the season echo the fact that for as much control Frank has exerted on those around him, there is one person beyond his control and that will eventually be his downfall. Season three may not have been as groundbreaking or shocking as the first run of the series but it definitely will leave fans satisfied and in anticipation of a fourth volume in this thrilling saga.