Last year I lamented the problems associated with the dumping of entire seasons on streaming media, chief amongst them the lack of a common grace period for spoilers. This year, I lamented that House of Cards couldn't repeat the Valentine's premiere of this season, but no matter — we sat down on Friday night with a full bottle of Bullit, wide eyes and all 13 episodes.
Season 2 was all full of itself, leaping towards grandstanding by way of shark. The highs, the lows, the trains. So. Much. Salacious. Sex.
Season 2 was so salacious that I found I had less anticipation about Season 3. And I'll tell you this — I was one of the rare few who got a sneak peak a few weeks back during the leak. Although only able to access the s03e01, I told the friends who asked that it was a bit of a letdown. None of the same excitement or intrigue as Season 1 and none of the spectacle of Season 2. Episode 1 is, for lack of a better word: boring. But then, Doug is boring and Episode 1 is his story.
But as I sat Friday night going through the episodes, I began to feel the draw and subtle genius of Season 3. In fact, dare I say, HoC was back to its Season 1 brilliance, the show we all got excited for.
Season 3 has some spectacular moments, but it's the season as a whole, collectively, that is poetry. This entire season brilliantly demonstrates struggle. We finally see Frank and Claire at their most humanistic — exposed and fighting to survive emotionally and politically, desperate for legacy. Minor players are thankfully once again pushed to the side.
The Underwoods have taken residence in the White House, albeit in separate rooms. Frank Underwood, the Washington player of all players, is struggling in his role as President in a way no one expected. Legislation won't go through, he has few allies, and his ratings are in the toilet. His Magna Carta, a jobs bill called America Works (AmWorks) that will gut social programs for funding, can't get support from either side of the aisle. Doug has survived, but is shoved aside, a punishment for perceived weakness. Jackie has lost her role as Whip. Remy, though Frank's right hand, is rarely seen. In a shocking move, Claire announes her intention to be appointed as Ambassador and more shocking: Frank supports this endeavor. Failing confirmation, Frank appoints her absent Congress.
But what they say about nepotism is true, and Claire's lack of experience and closeness to the President (and inability to be fired) shows its colors almost immediately. She enjoys her new office, not as "support" but as someone with their own influence, and we are asked to consider the notion of a presidential couple rather than a single — and whether, as women, we can be loyal to the idea of each woman deserving her own power, or whether we can remove gender from the conversation and concede that within one relationship, someone must always play the supporting role.
There is no threesome moment in Season 3. Nobody falling in front of trains. No moment when you'll sit up and scream, "What the Fuckity Fuck Just Happened?" But instead, you will take a deep breath when you see Freddy lining up with the masses for the promise of a job. No mention, just a nod to where people go when they fall off Frank's radar. Later, you learn that he, too, has soured on the President and the idea of dreams. You will, for the first time, feel a shred less than awed by Frank Underwood when you see him crumbled on the floor crying at the fleetingness of his legacy.
Episode 7 might be one of the best hours of television that I remember. The play of the Corrigan marriage: parties willing to sacrifice their marriage for everything their believe in versus Claire and Frank, who don't really understand sacrifice at all, is stirring. But you will understand their marriage, finally, at the end of Episode 7. The symbolism that HoC plays with throughout the series is wretched — a mandala painstakingly made by monks in the White House over a month only to be swept away at the end. These things, they are only about a moment in time and cannot be preserved.
Seasons 1 and 2 of HoC were all about the race to the top, at the expense of all else. Perhaps, like me, you wondered what Season 3 would be about now that they'd achieved it all. Perhaps, like me, you felt Season 3 could be summed up as "The Fight Has Just Begun."
Before their ascension to the Oval Office, the Underwoods seemed untouchable. But once they'd risen, they were finally vulnerable. To reporters, to the very political underlings they'd bred along the way. And so the cycle continues because these things are too like that mandala.
There is this moment, at the end of Episode 12, in which Frank has to show whether he's learned from his mistakes or not by taking Doug back. Whether he's accepted that people are fallible, that people make mistakes, and it does not signify an absence of loyalty. That demanding his way or the highway has caused more damage. That he demands of others what he cannot deliver himself: loyalty, perfection.
The season ends with the Underwoods fighting to retain power, having lost the loyalty of all those they'd once considered important: Remy, Jackie, Doug, even Freddy, and with Claire questioning her own. In our final hour with the Underwoods, we see Frank win the Iowa caucus, and likely, the nomination. But he's alone. Claire, puting the exclamation point on an entire season showing her struggle to understand her role, in her marriage, in the White House, in the world, drops the mic by telling Frank she's leaving him, even if it damns them both. She exits into the darkness of the credits, allowing HoC to pull a Sopanos Exit.
So perhaps I'm wrong. This season wasn't about struggle, it was about her struggle.
Coming soon: House of Cards Season 4: Claire's Bat Mitzvah.
So good, dear, fellow xojane addicts.. I offer these questions.
- But for realz, what is UP with weirdo hacker Gavin? Like, why does he exist? I assume his reason for being will become clear in Season 4. But meanwhile, I'm kinda over his inexplicable continued use of oxygen in the series.
- In all the things that have happened in this series, Peter Russo and what happened now seem so minute, don't they? In which case Rachel's sucking of oxygen ALSO becomes annoying. As unfair as it is to Cassie/Rachel to not be left alone, I actually prayed for Doug to turn that damned van around and kill her already so it would finally be over. If he flashbacks or mentions her in Season 4, I think we should be allowed to touch a button on our remotes and send him an electric shock.
- Do you wonder, like I do, if Jeanine will suddenly reappear at some point and write something with Kate? For that matter, how f'n pissed are you if you're Lucas, reading Kate's pieces from jail?
- Tom — waste of character, no? But he's right, too. It is all about Claire and Frank's relationship.
- #blondeclaire or #brunetteclaire?
- Who are the real heros of HoC? Is there one legitimate hero? One? Is that the point? Is that who we're supposed to root for? When Heather falls by offering Doug money, do you feel a small bit of satisfaction?
- Less than committed Iowa mom breastfeeding wondering, "but is it so wrong to give another guy a blowie as thanks for putting together my kids crib" as best scene of Season 3?
- The Putin-esque Russian President was supposed to play the Big Bad this season, and he was enjoyable, but his relationship with Claire is the most compelling part of his role. His supposition that there will be a lot of artists and perhaps Claire will find someone compelling is the best burn of the season, a designation we should expect from Frank, instead.
- Where does Claire go from here? Is she training to row to Russia? Cause I'd watch that spin-off.
- Did you, like I, spend more time than anticipated feeling genuinely bad for Lisa and wonder how she deals with all the people inexplicably lying and leaving?
- Were you furious with Claire at her speaking out at the Russian Summit? Or more furious when she walked out on Frank? Is she spectacularly spoiled or was this a display of feminism?
- Fincher did not direct any of these episodes, but the final 10 minutes of Episode 13 felt so much like Damages, so much like a classic Fincher framing, that I found myself googling just to see who HAD directed it.