House of Cards, Season 3, Episodes 1-6
Premiered on Friday, February 27th on Netflix Instant
After a whirlwind second season ending with Frank Underwood in office as the President of the United States and the fate of both Rachel Posner and Douglas Stamper unclear after the former’s attack of the latter, season three has a high-stakes tone to maintain. Fortunately, the first half of the season is very watchable, remaining appropriately dramatic without being transparent and avoiding the stumbling block many political dramas face of putting too much dependence on ridiculous standards of practice within the halls of power. With that being said, FEMA has tweeted about the new season, stating, “Hey, Frank Underwood: We’re not on board with claiming your own emergencies. #HouseofCards” in regards to the character’s twist on the Stafford Act. However some drama-for-the-sake-of-drama is to be expected and so far in season three, House of Cards has done a good job balancing drama with believability.
The season opens with Douglas Stamper in hospital following Rachel Posner’s act of self defense and his somewhat gruelling, albeit strong-willed, recovery. Although Stamper has routinely been Underwood’s right hand man, taking care of shadier tasks, there is an immediate understanding that he will grow apart from Frank this season and become a massive thorn in the newly-minted President’s side, due to his catalog of dirt on the Underwood administration. Although the first half of the season is uniformly enthralling, matching the tone of the prior two seasons, starting with Stamper may make some viewers wary; his motive is disappointingly predictable, even if the character doesn’t yet know it. To cushion the inevitable straying of Stamper, the narrative offers plenty more that is new and unpredictable.
The season also follows Claire as she shows more emotion than she historically has. In previous seasons, she’s adopted a somewhat robotic persona, better suited to the new Blade Runner sequel than the role of First Lady. Already tiring of her sole position as First Lady, a job that relies too heavily on Frank’s performance for her tastes, Claire seeks work as an Ambassador of the United Nations and although the path to achieving this position is not easy, she manages to accomplish her goal. One of the emotional appeals of House of Cards is undoubtedly the unique bond between Frank and Claire and with her seeking a sturdier position for herself and a new distance growing between the two, there is an interesting dynamic at play that may end in a break of the unstoppable duo. With that being said, it remains unlikely- as the previous seasons have shown, they work better together. There are several calculated moments of symbolism that display how intertwined and dependent the two are on each other, such as a scene during this season where while Frank is in the midst of a breakdown, Claire pushes him gently to the ground and literally lifts him back up by having sex with him. This may not give the audience a sense that they necessarily love each other or that this is an emotional act, but they are definitely a symbiotic team.
Claire is an enormously interesting and well written anti-hero because of her often sociopathic and hard nature, which is rare, if not unprecedented, in television. Too many times female anti-heroes are depicted as psychopathic, drug-addled, and wounded women, but Claire is as driven as she’s always been. She always “plays just as hard as the boys” without subscribing to a purely masculine archetype. It could be argued that the new side of her that emerges after the death of Michael Corrigan, showing compassion not driven by her own personal gain while still rising to the heights she longs for, indicates that she does not need to be like Frank to be powerful.
House of Cards is often a slow burn for the majority of each season, leading to an enormous pay-off, such as the murder of Peter Russo in season one, so with Michael Corrigan’s unexpected suicide happening directly at the midway point, viewers may grow concerned about whether the show will be able to maintain tension in its second half. However there is a fair amount of story hinted at but not yet explored and likely to come in the next handful of episodes, such as the inevitable explosion between Stamper and Underwood and a possibly irreparable tear between Claire and Frank. It seems likely House of Cards will continue to surprise and captivate, as it is wont to do, and leave viewers banging closed fists on tables waiting for more.