By Adam Sturrock
House of cards: Series 3 (2015)
Creator: Beau Willimon
Executive Producers: David Fincher, Kevin Spacey, Eric Roth, Joshua Donen, Dana Brunetti, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs, John Melfi, Beau Willimon, David Manson
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Mahershala Ali, Rachel Brosnahan, Nathan Darrow, Molly Parker, Jimmi Simpson, Michael Kelly, Derek Cecil, Elizabeth Marvel, Lars Mikkelson
“And now the butchery begins”. The immortal line uttered by politician Frank Underwood (Spacey) which had epitomised his ruthless nature over the past two seasons has since been forgotten, in lieu of a tamed, and at times, boring, Frank in this recent batch of 13.
The previous seasons of HOS were like a modern-day Macbeth tribute – it had good old deceit and backstabbing; manipulation and treachery. But comparing this series to the previous ones is quite stark. Old Frank would find the weak minded and eat them whole if it meant getting ahead, but now, the only consuming he seems to do at times are the bowls of boiled peanuts that he devours as a snack in scenes. He is a fat cat drunk on power but without the legs to move out of tight corners, the season seems sluggish.
This third season largely discards or trims down what I loved about Frank – his manipulation and intimidation of others – and instead, ramps up the stakes and shovels in new characters for the Underwoods to deal with.
To be fair, the previous two seasons were building towards this point and on paper, it should work well, but the characters that made the show well known – Frank and Claire – are barely recognisable. The new characters, however, are a welcome addition; while it was fun to watch Frank bully a slack-jawed underling in the previous seasons, it kind of felt that he didn’t have much to face up against, there wasn’t a challenge to become powerful if his roadblocks to power were idiots. For once, his Russian opposite, Victor Petrov (Mikkelsen), is more than a match.
In each episode, it feels like each scene is building towards something great but to get there we have to slog through plodding dialogue that can sometimes not make sense. Set after the honeymoon of Frank’s ascendancy to the White house, we see Frank and Claire commit to actions that seem out of character or just plain, dumb in their attempts to stop the rot; dismantling FEMA to fund AMWorks? Hiring your wife to be the UN Ambassador and thinking nothing will backfire against you? It is ironic that as a party whip he seemed to be far more in control of those around him and powerful than he is as the top dog in Washington.
One of the characters that I was pleasantly surprised to see was the return of Doug Stamper (Kelly), abeit, not the same one that got nailed in the head by a brick last season. This season he is a lot darker, his brain is frazzled and his body if broken. We get to truly see his blind loyalty to Frank, at times he is like a drone, a shell of what he once was and throughout the season he plays a part in some truly spine-tingling scenes.
It feels like while there are many new characters added to the cast, it still feels manageably small but in some instances, we don’t get a chance to look at the outer layer of characters in detail. A lot of the plot developments seem to develop off camera and then suddenly appear with little warning; characters are bafflingly knocked out of the equation nonchalantly and their replacements might as well have not been mentioned due to his little involvement later on.
Perhaps the eventual return of Frank and co has sweetened the disappointment of this season, but in the end, I finish in the somewhat hopeful knowledge that this is just the appetiser to some big set pieces next season.