HEY. Yes, you. There’s spoilers below. You’re an adult (presumably). You know the drill.
I think I’ve finally learned to accept House of Cards for what it is. Or maybe season 3 was a little tighter and more compelling, story wise? Perhaps I’m delusional. Regardless, I’m far less annoyed with the third year of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) trampling over anything and everything like a dinosaur through downtown San Diego.
My chief complaint with season 2 was the lack of challenges for Frank. He sidled right into his role as Vice President and spent the entire season inexplicably worming his way into the Oval Office. I still have no idea why the most bland, vanilla President in the history of film and television decided to just step aside, but it doesn’t matter because he wasn’t interesting and no one cares.
Raymond Tusk wasn’t the challenge he was supposed to be. The Washington Herald and Slugline (still laughing about that name) didn’t do jack as those people ended up dead or getting a face full of blood in prison. Frank needs proper obstacles! If Kevin Spacey is going to be chewing scenery, he needs to be doing it angrily, spewing fake southern sayings and rib meat all over the room.
Season 3 thankfully answers the call with Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) and Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Dunbar is an ambitious solicitor general that decides she doesn’t just want a seat on the Supreme Court, she wants to be President. Realistic? Not even remotely. But Marvel is charismatic in the role and has a good steely glare, so let’s roll with it.
Mikkelsen is a delight as Petrov. Hannibal Lecter’s brother plays a sinister, showy knockoff of Vladimir Putin. He is an equal to Underwood that gives zero shits about respect and tradition. Dude is a straight up Russian baller who kisses the first lady after making the entire White House dinner party do multiple shots of gold bottled vodka. Petrov elevates House of Cards to the shameless, trashy political drama it needs to be.
Sadly, he’s only in four episodes. His presence lingers though, as Frank blatantly points out to us when he shows Dunbar the stain Petrov’s cigar left on the wall of Kennedy’s bang stairwell. Petrov firmly wedged himself between Frank and Claire (Robin Wright) in season 3, further dividing the couple in what should be their moment in the sun. First Lady isn’t good enough for Claire. Despite the fact that she technically can’t be First Lady and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Claire pushes forward and does it anyway because….HOUSE OF CARDS. She yearns to be a real equal with Frank, instead of settling for her role as “the President’s wife”. Not being content to be in the extremely influential position of the First Lady sure seems like a stretch for someone who’s been in a strategic marriage for 30 years, but let’s go with it because HOUSE OF CARDS. It helps that Wright is stellar in the role. I’m not sure where the 4th season will take its Frank vs. Claire conflict. Most likely she’ll be running for some sort of office or working with someone against Frank.
Perhaps season 3’s real love story was between Frank Underwood and his once and future right hand man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Stamper was left for dead at the end of season 2, bashed in the noggin by his favorite lady of the night, Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan). Doug spent this season obsessed with Rachel, not being able to achieve true balance in his life until he tracked her down and put her in a perfect, rectangular desert grave. Doug’s given a big spotlight this season, as he runs parallel to Frank at the peak of his power. He’s given some of the more bizarre moments this year, including a teamup with sigh inducing hacker Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson).
The hacking is less hacky this season, but not by much. At least Orsay’s gigantic guinea pig Cashew stays away for the most part. Orsay goes beyond wasting monumental amounts of money on disposable iPads this year in his quest to get out of gainful employment with the FBI and live on a houseboat down in South America. GOB Bluth would be proud. Liam McPoyle goes undercover into the world of Christian recovery groups as he attempts to track down Rachel for lovelorn Doug. He fakes an AIDs diagnosis just to get to know Rachel’s former friend/lover Lisa Williams (Kate Lyn Sheil) a little better. These are things that happened.
It’s inexplicable, but that’s House of Cards for you. Still, I found it slightly less inexplicable than last season’s absurdity. Maybe it’s the 17 lbs of pork ribs that I ate for breakfast this morning, but I actually season 3. It was a little tighter and greatly aided by actual obstacles for its despicable protagonist. While it started slow, the addition of Petrov really amped things up. The conflict between Frank and Claire, while a bit contrived, was meaty enough to make this a satisfying season of this ridiculous show.
Grade: B, maybe a B- if I overthink it and oh god I’m already overthinking it aren’t I?
Blah, Blah, Blah
- I’m not sure it’s wise to binge this season, as you’re going to hear the phrase “America Works” about 5 billion times.
- Frank does not want Jesus for a sunbeam.
- I feel like Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) deserves a good, meaty storyline, but just seems to get the okay side stuff. He came close with his police confrontation.
- Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) got tossed around this season. That debate scene was rough.
- As bizarre as all of Orsay’s storylines were, what was going on with writer Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks)? Frank’s plan to have him write a book about his jobs program makes little sense. Then it turns into a biography. Then he tries to sleep with Frank. Yeah.
- I also felt like new reporter Kate Baldwin (Kim Dickens) was underused. Then again, when you have a buttload of characters, it’s tough to find the proper time for anyone. I came all this way to say that Kim Dickens rules.
- Freddy (Reg E. Cathy) is cool with working in the White House, but he sure as hell doesn’t want to be cooking for Frank anymore. His watch has ended.