Saturday, 7 March 2015

House of Cards season 3 review


Warning: This review does contain spoilers. You can read my review of the first two seasons here.

Despite Frank Underwood becoming the unelected President of the United States of America, it is his wife, First Lady Claire Underwood, whose decisions we are haunted by the most. Her steeliness fades significantly in this series. She wants power, and wants a job at the United Nations, but for the most part is left playing the President's wife, the one who everyone likes. Frank finds himself relying on her for her charisma in order to win favour with the public, but Claire is not made for kissing babies and gentle waving. She can feel their once equal partnership fall more into his power.

An innocuous but significant scene sees Claire dyeing her hair brown, the colour she was when she first got with Frank, and they renew their vows in a brief moment of happiness. But as Frank's drastic America Works scheme falters and he decides to run for the election, the public opinion becomes the main opinion. Claire sadly but bravely decides to dye her hair back blond. Why is that brave? She is allowing people to dictate how she looks and acts for the benefit of a man she is not sure she loves any more. This is not something she is comfortable with.

Much of what made the first two seasons so enjoyable is the pure Machiavellian evilness of Frank and Claire, the depths they will go for their own ambitions. With Frank becoming President, his conniving ways are somewhat stunted in this series, and we see him looking like a fool in some places. On a larger stage, his mistakes are magnified, and people are far more willing to call him out. Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel), who is also running for presidency, puts it excellently when she asks Frank "Is this how you live with yourself? Rationalising the obscene into the palatable?" There are far fewer talking heads in this series too, a part I always enjoyed, as we could garner what the manipulative Frank was actually thinking. Without them, he is becoming a bit elusive.

Doug Stamper's (Micheal Kelly) story line, which stretches the whole of season three, seems somewhat unnecessary. Recovering from an injury that nearly kills him, we see him searching for the prostitute he has become obsessed with, Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), utilising the help of FBI agent Edward (Nathan Durrow). When he finally tracks her down, we see that she is trying to get herself out of a situation she never wanted to be in, working boring jobs under a false name. Doug's intent is the kill her, and after a hint of sympathy, he cold heartily buries her in the desert. This plot seemed convoluted and dragged out. I get that Doug is as bad as Frank, but I didn't see why it was necessary for him to kill her, apart from revenge. And how was he able to get the leave off work after being made Chief of Staff again?


Season 3 has been a season of highlights. The episode with the gay right activist was harrowing and intense, and showed just how emotionally weak Claire had gotten. But aside from singular moments, it feels like this season didn't really go anywhere, and has been accused of being "up-and-back", where everything returns to normal at the end. Frank is still clinging onto power, and will probably run his election campaign the same way he became the president, with lies and murder. As tempting as it may be for the producers of these programmes to let them roll and and let the money flow, I feel that an ending has to be near. The original British version only had four episodes. Personally I cannot stand meandering shows. I need to know if Claire and Frank will stay separated, I need to know if he will become President. I don't care what he's doing in ten years time.

A major problem I had with this series was the decision for Netflix to release the whole season at once. I know people like mass watching programmes nowadays, and Netflix makes it easy for you, but this show is too dark and complex to binge on. I want to get excited for the next episode, I want to ponder their strategies, and I want to watch it intently. At times it felt like a chore to plough through this show so I could review it. I appreciate high quality drama, but I want to enjoy what I'm watching.

Claire's leaving was cruel, not for Frank, but for me. She is by far the most interesting character, and Robin Wright plays her so well. I am looking forward to the next season to see what Claire does. In a response as to why she isn't watching the candidates debate, she states that that it is all spectacle; a wry remark displaying her tiredness not only with being the First Lady, but the performance these politicians make as well. A less satisfying series than the first two, Netflix need to reign themselves in on House of Cards and tighten the stories up, unless they want to make the coming of season 4 all spectacle and no substance.

6/10

Layla

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