House of Cards Season 3 opens with Frank welcoming back the audience while sharing an “intimate moment” at his father’s grave. After reminiscing with scathing contempt, it doesn’t take long for the show to get right into the thick of things. This season was a little different from the past two season in that the focus was really only on a few characters and their paths, with very little in terms of side-plots, supporting characters, and various other nuances that fans have come to love from the political drama. Season 3 seemed wrought with very defining moments in each character’s storyline that was ultimately a turning point in their plotline that sets them up for the inevitable fourth season.
In episode one you already know this season is going to be less about Frank and more like the Claire Underwood show. Frank’s realizing his goals to some degree and it’s evident that Claire has little patience to sit back and wait any longer to start rolling on her master plan, starting with becoming the US ambassador to the United Nations. As Claire seeks out the UN seat we see the first time she loses composure under the scrutiny of the public eye and faces defeat. Ultimately, this is her turning point. Claire’s stubbornness and drive is nothing new, but this time around she seems almost unreasonably determined, ignoring the risks she’s asking Frank to take and all other warning signs as she pulled just about every trick in the book to get the seat. Ultimately she comes out on top but that just leads us to her very long and drawn out realization that things have changed.
While Claire clamors for a seat at the table, she finds herself no longer equal with her husband, despite the obvious limitations of trying to be equal to someone in a singular position of power. There isn’t a committee of Presidents or a duo of Presidents, as with Highlanders, there can only be one President of the United States. Finding herself working underneath her husband and detesting the subservient feeling, Claire spends the season soul-searching, lightly at first but with ever increasing fervor as doubts and fear cloud her mind. She cuts Frank off from any kind of emotional conversation but consistently teases him and us with wanting to talk to him but not having anything to say. It’s clear that something is on her mind, but rather than try to work it out she frustratingly pulls away from Frank slowly until she sets him up for her blow out. Not that Frank didn’t deserve it to a degree, but she definitely didn’t help the situation by any means.
Francis Underwood is now the President of the United States, which seems like his end-game but really he’s vying to run for a real term, on his terms. Along the way he starts to lose sight of himself under the pressures of being President and making impossible decisions. He cracks and the audience is treated to the worst sex scene in the history of non-cable television (honestly, nobody is that ready to go on a moment’s notice). Temporarily relieved, Frank gathers himself only to let himself slip further and further into a difficult situation with catastrophic consequences with foreign affairs. Frank also has a home-front affair lined up with his pretty little author boy which just got bad. The Meechum three-some is one thing but if Frank is just going to bang anything he gets close to when he throws a few back and pours his heart out, his whole street cred up to this point is totally ruined.
Frank is fiercely protective of Claire, even to the bitter end but even their cold intimacy is sparse and eventually non-existent as his mind is elsewhere. Claire bullies him into her yes-man and he goes out on every limb to do as she wishes, all the while unknowingly bringing her into a hostile environment with Viktor Petrov. Frank is clearly out of his league with such a seasoned veteran in political dances and it is not long before Petrov goes for Frank’s Achilles heel – Claire. Frank’s turning point is when he realizes that Claire is his weakness and she was set up to get to him. Upset with himself for letting her get caught in the middle of a battle that isn’t hers, Frank shields her as the protective husband he is. Strong and independent Claire has no such notions to let Frank control her.
At this point, Frank gets a little unrecognizable. He’s in over his head and the thing he holds most dear is in the crossfire of a political charade. He’s no longer calculated and precise with his brutality, everything gets the heat of his wrath and it’s ugly. He’s so out of touch with the people he cares about most, he couldn’t even help Stamper until the man came bumbling into his office, totally drunk.
I could not be more elated to find that Stamper survived the vicious attack by Rachel. His path to recovery was tough and I am more than glad they didn’t dwell on his relapsing ad nauseum. Scary in and of itself, his downward spiral as good in a way that helped reconnect him to his family and giving him much more depth and growth. It was great to get away from creepy Stamper that wanted his young captive to recite books to him and instead watch him play uncle and smile.
Stamper’s turning point was admittedly very dramatic. Obviously the trip to rid himself of Rachel seemed almost doomed to fail and for a long time I was hoping Rachel would get away. But, as Stamper experienced his own turning point, I too had a change of heart as I watched Rachel walk down the highway, knowing that she would always be drug back into the storyline and that “what if” would plague Doug as well as the audience. A symbol of his weakness to addiction both to her and to various other substances, letting Rachel go would only turn out to be problematic in the end. Doug and I realized this seemingly at the same time as he turned the van around and finally put his addiction to rest. Both literally and figuratively. Not normally one to cheer for needless murder, even in House of Cards, this also seemed to put Doug on par with the cold brutality the Underwood’s have displayed from the beginning. It’s as if he officially joined their ranks rather than being the underling that only did most of the dirty work.
Claire & Frank
The mysterious relationship between these two atomic forces developed slowly over Seasons 1 and 2 with intimate moments being less usual than most couples. Rather than touching or talking, they are caught smuggling a cigarette at the end of the night. The two perform their spousal duties but it always seems Frank is the one in love where Claire is the one that settled for a man in exchange for a legacy. This only becomes more evident as the two reveal themselves to varying degrees to author Thomas Yates. Yates, the manipulative, lying, writer, looking for his next story fix draws Frank out like a puppet. Claire, being the bull-headed woman she naturally is, proves much more difficult to figure out and is only ever truthful when she’s passing out while giving blood. Both Underwoods are characteristically private with their emotions and personal lives but even this scenario – Claire never gushes about Frank or makes the same bold statements about her husband the way Frank brags about his wife.
Thomas’ book, intended originally to be about Frank, turns into a story about the relationship Claire and Frank have, and this is what seems to be the tipping point for Claire, realizing that she doesn’t feel equal and that the plans she and Frank and laid out were no longer theirs but his. Considering her little stint with artist Adam Galloway in Season 1, this could very well be Claire’s preferred way of coping. However, the book was the turning point for their relationship, a thing they let get ugly and is very much up in the air as to how it will be resolved. Hopefully, this gives both their characters and their relationship more depth and they’ll find themselves together again. Or things will be really ugly in Season 4, but I’m a ‘shipper so we’re going with option 1.
The supporting cast was very short with so much emphasis put on the three big players and so little of it was the inner workings and dealings behind-the-scenes. This season was filled with characters like Petrov and Michael Corrigan that had sporadic and sparse story arcs that revolved around Frank and Claire without much interaction of anyone else.
Remy had a run-in with the law that made it very clear things aren’t as socially progressed in Washington DC as he would have liked. After spending most of his time unsuccessfully trying to steer Frank away from a bunch of terrible decisions, he gets disrespected by some disgusting lobbyist, the police scene was the last straw and Remy might actually go do something that isn’t high-pressure politics-related.
Jackie tried to play the goods port until Frank threw under the bus on national TV, in the midst her trying to reconcile her unresolved feelings for Remy, her sudden and seemingly arranged marriage to Doctor Nathan Green, as well as where she fit into Frank’s agenda with her own political aspirations. After being betrayed by her mentor, she took her ball and went to support his opponent, in true political revenge fashion.
Heather had little focus on her, other than her interacting with the major players already mentioned. She might grow into a more deep character, there is a lot of promise and room to grow for her, not to mention Elizabeth Marvel does a kickass job in the already established cast.
Gavin had a bit more part than expected which was a nice break from the bull fight of the higher ups. He helped mix in a bit of comedy and we got to see just how manipulative he is and how easily he can be beaten with a cane. He realized Stamper had the upper hand and played him, but learned too late Stamper is not a force to be trifled with.
Seth, Meechum, Yates, and reporter Kate Baldwin are all complimentary roles. Seth is growing more and more, but he still has not quite broken out into his own story arc yet, he’s just a supporting character there to get his balls broken by just about everyone. Baldwin might come to be on Zoe’s level since she’s the new reporter that is going to mess with Frank as much as possible, and maybe she’ll stir up the pot enough to get Lucas back into the picture and we can visit Christina and see how she’s doing. Yates is likely short for the Underwood world in Season 4 and Meechum will probably end up killing him anyway to take power couple as his lovers once again.
Season 4 is already set at a fever pitch with so much in turmoil and so many unanswered questions. It is going to be a gruelingly long time before 2016 crawls its way around and we get to find out what happens with our favorite TV politicians.
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