In the first two seasons, we relished the sight of Frank Underwood clawing his way to the top. But now that he’s made it … is House of Cards in danger of toppling?
(Note: Many spoilers ahead)
By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
In House of Cards, Season 1, House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) schemed, suborned and murdered his way into the office of VP. In Season 2, Frank schemed, suborned and murdered his way into the office of the President. And now, in House of Cards Season 3, given that Frank is King of the Hill … um, what gives? Has Netflix unwittingly demonstrated the old axiom that “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination?” Moving on: In Season 2’s opening episode, Frank threw Mara under the train. In Season 3’s opening, Frank urinated on his father’s headstone. Now there’s a piss-poor encore. And yet, a perfect harbinger of the dilution to come.
Sure, the theme of absolute power corrupts absolutely is still intact. It’s readily apparent when we first lay eyes on President Frank and First Lady Claire. Suddenly they’ve aged. They’re not as pretty as they were. In some camera angles, they’re positively ugly. (Begging the question as to whether there’s a reverse Dorian Gray-type concept going on in which hidden portraits of the happy couple are undeniably breathtaking.) Unfortunately, this early telling look at the über power couple may be as good as it gets.
Like many cable TV show anti-heroes who’ve set a precedent for the president (e.g., Tony Soprano, Walter White, Nucky Thompson, Dexter), the lead character doesn’t have to be likable. But he does have to be interesting. Certainly not monotonous. Or dull. Or predictable. Yet somehow the writers have overwritten Underwood to the point that he’s losing us. And if he doesn’t have us then, POTUS or no, he ain’t got nuthin.’
It seems as if the show’s previous writing staff has been replaced. Earlier subplots have been recycled, the dialogue is stilted and the scenes are this side of flaccid — as full of hot air as a C-SPAN session on community broadband service. We don’t need to hear about how bogged down the real non-bipartisan negotiations are on Capitol Hill; we’ve got House of Cards, Season 3.
But for all the belabored scenes of talking heads blathering at each other, bloviating about this and that, the greatest disappointment lies with Frank. Here in Season 3, he’s suddenly clueless as to how to manipulate all the political chess pieces. (Excuse me? Our Frank, turned stupid?) Even more surprising, it appears that two-time Oscar winner Spacey has mislaid his talent, inexplicably forgetting how to act. His hands continually flap like an aircraft marshaller’s on the tarmac, all but crying out for a proper set of wands to wave in the jumbo jets. In a scene between Frank and Russian President Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), with the two of them semaphoring each other to beat the band, Frank mentions the work they’ve done in negotiations. (As he says “work,” he gestures to documents on a table.) Moments later, he speaks about how Victor wants to be “respected abroad.” (On the word “abroad,” he points to an exterior wall, as if all foreign lands lie that-a-way.) Thank heavens we don’t have to watch him pantomime “Pussy Riot.”
Spacey’s earlier deliciously sly deliveries have been replaced with a repetitive declaratory style. The light South Carolina accent is all but gone. Most egregious, Frank uses the same tone of speech on any lowly intern as he does his wife, eschewing all notes of familiarity or intimacy. Mr. Spacey, Artistic Director of the Old Vic, just back from a worldwide tour of Richard III, renowned star of the stage and screen … WTF?
On the sunny side of this dark tragicomedy, much of the supporting ensemble is terrific. Standouts include Jimmi Simpson as the brilliant, despondent con man/hacker, Paul Sparks (the giggling Mickey from Boardwalk Empire) as a powerfully observant, low-key writer, Mahershala Ali as the outwardly tough Chief-of-Staff Remy Danton, and the always affecting Michael Kelly as the resurrected Doug, saddled with even more troubles than before.
At times, House of Cards’ logic has woefully gone missing. Such as when Claire visits an imprisoned gay activist in Russia. She begs the Russian authority to allow her a minute to speak with the prisoner privately. The authority eventually, begrudgingly allows it. Next thing we know, she’s violating the time limitation by hours, taking a nice long nap in the cell. Meanwhile, the prisoner takes the First Lady’s shawl and ever-so-quietly (shhhh!) manages to hang himself. Wow. The fact that Claire can sleep through all the racket — the choking, kicking, aspirated screams, death rattling and so forth — is almost unbelievable. Correction: it is unbelievable.
Later, in her role as the newly-minted U.N. Ambassador, Claire decides to censure the Russian President in front of a worldwide audience. With those kind of peacekeeping skills, the planet isn’t going to be around much longer. But on the upside, given the slog of Season 3 … we’ll never have to suffer through a Season 4.
Rating on a scale of 5 power grabs by Lord & Lady Macbeth: 2
House of Cards Season 3 (and earlier seasons) available on Netflix
Created by: Beau Willamon
Based on the novels by Michael Dobbs & the mini-series by Andrew Davies
Season 3 Principal Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Molly Parker, Jimmi Simpson, Mahershala Ali, Elizabeth Marvel, Paul Sparks, Kim Dickens
Here’s the House of Cards season 3 trailer: