‘House Of Cards’ Collapses In Season 3 [Review]

For those who actually binged-watch House of Cards, the award-winning Netflix original series, the result was probably an upset stomach or a bad headache for the overindulgence.


House of Cards stars Kevin Spacey as Francis “Frank” Underwood, a corrupt, conniving, and vengeful Democrat U.S. Congressman from South Carolina who — with his equally power-hungry wife Claire (Robin Wright) — over the course of the prior two seasons intrigued his way into the presidency.

In its basic premise and certain plot elements, House of Cards is a remake of the BBC miniseries of the same name (and its two follow-ups, To Play the King and The Final Cut). The U.K. original starred the late Ian Richardson as devious British politician Francis Urquhart who similarly manipulates his way to becoming the country’s prime minister.

Season 3 of the American version was built on a shaky foundation, which probably explains the lack of buzz once the episodes became available all at once on February 27.

Unlike the sometimes lethal schemin’ and scammin’ in the first two seasons which made, for the most part, the political drama compelling entertainment, Season 3’s 13 episodes seemed like very tedious filler, a soap opera which did not inspire any marathon viewing. “It actually seems that the writers in this third season didn’t even see the first two seasons,” USA TODAY commented.

Even Kevin Spacey’s avuncular, fake southern accent as President Underwood is getting tiresome. And unlike the previous two seasons, Underwood only addressed the audience directly with his inner thoughts a few times (“breaking the fourth wall” in theatrical terminology), which was another missed opportunity. The signature banging on the desk twice also seemed to have been omitted. The scene where Underwood spits on a crucifix, perhaps an attempt by the showrunners to be edgy, comes across as gratuitious, if not disgusting.

Moreover, as suggested below, even given that it’s a TV show with lots of poetic license, many plot threads just didn’t add up, and some of the sequences were downright amateurish (Claire Underwood’s awkward home visit with a “typical” Iowa mom, for one example), which apparently speaks to a fundamental failure in the House of Cards writer’s room.

House of Cards again proves that the movie/television industry in general would be completely lost without making the Russian mafia — or in this case the Russian government — the villain. In that regard, perhaps the best acting job overall was turned in by Lars Mikkelsen, who portrayed Russian President Petrov.

After taking in the entire 13 episodes, hopefully we never have to hear the following two phrases again: America Works and Jordan Valley. Does anyone remember or understand the strategic purpose of putting peacekeeping troops in the latter location in the first place? Incidentally, The Washington Post explained that Underwood’s appointment of his wife Claire as U.N. ambassador, irrespective of her qualifications or lack thereof, is illegal. It’s a violation of the 1967 law called the Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act.

Parenthetically, since Claire’s recess appointment would have automatically expired at the end of the Congressional term anyway, why didn’t Underwood attempt to negotiate along the lines of “Viktor, to save face for all concerned, let’s just let her ambassadorship quietly expire when Congress goes out of session”?

And what was up with all the endless airtime given to Doug Stamper’s rehab and the utter lack of chemistry (no pun intended) in the boring sequences with his brother?

More troubling, Claire’s confrontation with the female Israeli ambassador over the absurd Jordan Valley subplot seemed to give off an anti-Semitic vibe.

By the way, would even a bunch of drunk Secret Service agents allow a First Lady to spend the night in a Moscow jail cell, assuming she wanted to in the first place?

It was interesting to see Mickey from Boardwalk Empire (Paul Sparks) play an entirely different character (author Tom Yates). The three-way presidential debate was also well done.

Yates’ girlfriend in the show, the Katie Couric lookalike portrayed by Kate Dickens, also added an additional dimension.

That being said, although an interviewer might disclose personal information to gain a subject’s trust, Yate’ revelations to the president went well beyond “too much information” and set himself up for blackmail.

Separately on the subject of blackmail, only an fundamentally incompetent blackmailer (in this instance, presidential candidate Heather Dunbar) threatens blackmail before gaining physical possession of the evidence, in this case the all-important diary. Inepitude aside, given the reach of digital media that creates overnight celebrities, it’s possible — but rather unlikely — that an obscure (to most voters) government bureaucrat like Dunbar could suddenly become a viable presidential candidate.

On a footnote to the debate, any real debate prep would have “schooled” the candidate with a memorized response if/when playing the family/private school card boomeranged. Jackie Sharp wasn’t too sharp on that one.

Also, why would the computer hacker flee to Venezuela of all places, a socialist dictatorship that — among other things — has a toilet paper shortage?

Perhaps the most perplexing loose end: Does Agent (“Yes sir”) Meechum ever go off duty and does he own more than one suit?

As far as America Works is concerned, government doesn’t create jobs (as the failed real-world stimulus package proved), only the private sector does. The only “shovel-ready job” America Works created was in connection with Doug and Rachel out in the desert in the season finale, the sole episode that seemed to regain the prior seasons’ edge. Robbing the FEMA piggy bank thus doesn’t make practical sense, setting aside, of course, the violation of Separation of Powers under the U.S. Constitution (something with which the Obama administration is unconcerned, too).

Season 4 of House of Cards has yet to be officially confirmed, although a couple of cliffhangers that need to be resolved (i.e., the election, the marriage).

“Some have speculated that Season 4 might be the last installment of ‘HoC’ due to there only being 52 cards in a deck and each season having 13 episodes,” the International Business Times suggested. With the lack of quality in Season 3, Season 4 could wind up being an afterthought for viewers, however.

Given the liberal atmospherics of Hollywood (even thought the show is filmed in Maryland with the assistance of tax credits), is there any possibility that the Republican Senator Hector Garza (Benito Martinez, aka Capt. Aceveda from The Shield) could win the presidency from Underwood?

Were you excited or bored with House of Cards Season 3?

[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment]