Netflix dropped the entirety of “House of Cards” Season 3 Friday (Feb. 27), and in a bit of a surprise, the third season of the Kevin Spacey-Robin Wright political drama is the best season of the show so far. Warning: Spoilers ahead if you have not watched all 13 episodes of Season 3.
Season 3 of “House of Cards” was all about the Underwoods. As such, it was entrenched in the dynamic of Frank and Claire’s marriage, which has always been a strength of the show, even in its lesser moments.
In previous seasons, Frank has been focusing on his political agenda, while Claire has been off doing other things — her clean water non-profit, Adam Galloway, the military sexual assault issue. Claire’s storylines have always crossed paths with Frank’s, but they have never been so closely entwined with them.
This power dynamic, coupled with the fact that the presidency is actually hard, even for the indomitable force that is Frank Underwood, makes for an engrossing season.
In Season 1, Frank’s political machinations were hugely entertaining, especially after the big reveal at season’s end. But upon repeated viewings, there were plot holes through which one could drive a motorcade. Season 2 pulled back a little on the flash, but then became incredibly boring — mostly because it always felt like Frank was maneuvering opposite two men who couldn’t strategize their way out of a paper bag.
Perhaps the writers realized that it’s no fun to watch a game of cat and mouse if the deck is stacked so heavily in favor of the cat, so Season 3 sees Frank facing the uphill climb of an election, and the people opposing him — Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) and Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) — are no dummies. Neither is Frank’s main foreign political adversary in Russian President Victor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen).
It’s not only nice to see to Frank face some actual challenges, but the fact that he more or less fails at every turn is actually better drama than anything in either previous season. It makes Frank more human and it makes him easier to root for, which is a remarkable feat indeed for the man who killed the infinitely likable Peter Russo two seasons ago.
Season 3 ends on a wonderful cliffhanger, as Claire tells Frank she’s leaving him the day after he wins the Iowa caucus. There’s speculation that she’ll actually throw her hat in the presidential race, but that would be farfetched even for “House of Cards.”
Either way, Season 4 is a must-have at this point, because for as Machiavellian as they are, one can’t help but root for Frank to realize his pathology and try to change it — at least in regards to Claire (let’s not get crazy). But the Underwood marriage is the foundation of “House of Cards” and without it, everything crumbles. So watching Frank run for re-election while simultaneously trying to win Claire back should make for a strong fourth season.
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