“House of Cards” (as many of you know) is among my favorite shows on TV. A driving force in the streaming world and an Emmy level worthy series, the first two seasons of “House of Cards” are both masterfully done and completely binge worthy. I have gone back and re-watched the first two seasons a few times now and I am always finding something new in each episode. Unfortunately this third season doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors. While far from bad (or even mediocre for that matter) this third season is littered with some dragged out and useless plotlines that become increasingly annoying rather than involving. This does however boast some of the best moments and episodes of the entire series. With some episodes hitting tensions so high you’ll think you’re watching a tied NHL hockey overtime playoff game (apologize if you’re not a sports fan for that analogy). Yet in the end a tired and baseless finale does leave you with a sour taste in your mouth and make you question what direction is the series looking to go.
(Spoilers For Previous Seasons)
This third season of “House of Cards” picks up (just like the season before it) right where the finale of season two left us, with Frank Underwood’s accession to the President of the United States without a single vote being casted for him. The story then picks up when one of his most trusted ally’s Doug is recovering in the hospital from an almost certain death. He watches from the hospital bed as Underwood is slipping in the polls. With reelection coming up the Democratic Party has no intention of nominating him as their potential Presidential candidate. Underwood, struggling to raise funds for reelection himself, sees his first big missteps in the political arena. Not to be undeterred Underwood hatches a political scheme where he pushes through his new work force program that has the potential to be the next “new deal”. While also working behind the scenes playing all sides to secure a reelection spot while also dealing with a fledgling marriage. Doug meanwhile struggles to get back on his feet as he attends to some unfinished business.
As with any season of “House of Cards” there is a lot going on here. Even more then what is mentioned above. Underwood has many points of contention for him to deal with as President of the United States. The least of which is growing disagreements with Russia (that draws many parrells from current President Barack Obama’s relationship and issues with Vladimir Putin). And of course appointing his wife Claire as a ambassador (which becomes an increasingly big point of drama throughout the season). Like previous seasons the storylines are well balanced and dense with material. Not all the material this time around though is quite up to snuff.
While most of storylines revolving around Frank and his wife are as thrilling and diabolical as ever (and Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are captivating as always) yet some other plotlines are just not worth your time. That’s most disappointing aspect of this season is the lack of time management skills that are shown by the writers. With a densely packed series like this “House of Cards” you have to choose what storylines to focus on the most that will provide the best story in that period of time. Keeping the audience engaged and not losing their attention with boring plot developments. There really isn’t room for dead weight; which unfortunately this season carries a lot of.
At first the attention given to Doug I thought would prove to be an interesting move from the showruuners. I really like the character that actor Michael Kelly plays. Plus I always found him to be a strong supporting actor (in just about anything he has done) and he once again proves to be a worthy addition to the cast in this. However the story revolving around his character is increasingly dragged out, uninteresting and irritating. Doug Stamper’s story adds little to ongoing, main narrative at play here. I understand he needs to have his own arc but could it be a little more….interesting? The story involving him tracking down Rachel Posner (a character whose presence is already stretched thin in season 2) feels like filler. Many shows have filler stories to make up runtime but this filler takes up way too much screen time. The finale especially suffers from fatigue only for the plotline to end in a “that’s it?” moment.
The middle section of this season is where things excel. That’s where things get real exciting, with many of the episodes leading you to fumbling trying to grab your remote (or Xbox controller depending on how you watch Netflix). Some of the episodes in this season are perhaps some of the best in the entire series. There are even moments where Frank Underwood loses. Most of this series , one way or another he succeeds in his plans but in this is really the first season where he has some serious setback. This leaves the character exposed and wounded underneath which Kevin Spacey plays to a great tune. That of course doesn’t mean he won’t get back on his feet and strike back against his aggressors. But, now things aren’t so easy for him.
The season finale though does let down the great promise the rest of the season had. There is some strange creative decisions made towards Claire’s character that just don’t seem to ring true to the rest of the narrative. It’s very disappointing and actually took me a few days after viewing it for me to decide whether I liked it or not. At first I thought it could open some big possibilities story wise. Yet, the more I thought about the worse I thought the writers had actually built up to the decision Claire makes. I fear this season 3 finale may actually lead the writers into a corner with no way out (but only time will tell).
Despite some of my negativity I did enjoy this season. Parts of it is quite exceptional and masterful while other parts are taxing and drawn out. I imagine season four will pick things back up after the conclusion of Doug’s story arc. I am uncertain on how the story will continue with Claire but even though I am fearful I am also hopeful.