house of cards 3

HOUSE OF CARDS 3: REVIEW – Frank Underwood is back and now he’s in the White House, but does the Netflix original series get our vote?

You campaign in poetry and you rule in prose, the hoary old cliché goes. The delight of seasons one and two of House of Cards was seeing the backroom boy, the wheeler dealer, Frank Underwood moving in the shadows. Bringing the post-modern Machiavelli into the klieg light of the presidency was always going to be a risk. There is a bold ambition to it, certainly, giving a harsh corrective to the soppy wish-fulfillment of The West Wing, but could the drama and can the character survive it? Rising to the challenge of the office?

Well, the answer is yes and no. But mainly no.

Okay what’s good about the season? Kevin Spacey has settled into the role like a comfortable pair of house slippers, but given that he doesn’t do much in the whole season, his conniving seems fairly low grade given the scandals of real presidents – wire tapping, adultery, illegal wars – he ends up performing a series of gestures to prove his badness – micturating on his father’s tomb, spitting in Jesus’ face etc. Robin Wright continues to be the best thing in the show and, as in season two, Claire gets most of the best scenes and drama. Her character changes while Francis remains much the same but in different places. And she provides an unexpected and genuinely interesting ending to the season.

So what’s bad about the season? Doug Stamper. I don’t care. You don’t care. We don’t care. I’m not even sure Doug Stamper cares. A cold unemotional hollow man is hard to root for at the best of times and Michael Kelly does his best, but he is so removed from the action and his behavior follows such clichéd lines, that the only benefit his subplot gave was the opportunity for a toilet break without having to press pause. Worse still was Paul Sparks as Thomas Yates. Again not the fault of the actor, but this is a TV exec’s idea of what a novelist looks like. And writes like. Good god, I’ve not heard purple prose like that since a saw the gallies of Prince’s autobiography. His very existence made no real sense, like almost all of Francis Underwood’s decisions.

But what about the politics? Surely being in the White House gave us more scope to get into the substantive side of the political debate? But somehow the adept politician of Seasons one and two was replaced by an incompetent who seemed constantly dumbstruck by the duplicity of … erm … politicians. Lars Mikkelsen as Putin Petrov provided Underwood with a great foil, but this rivalry was undermined by the fact that Underwood was consistently outwitted by the most junior of characters and more fatally by the audience. The joy of the first seasons was feeling you were never sure what Underwood was up to. Here, it looked more like he didn’t know what he was up to.

House of Cards is still a fascinating and beautiful show to watch. And a fourth season has potential given where we were left, but it really has to stop telling us how smart everyone is and start showing us.

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