By: Sean Ray | Asst. A&E Editor
One of the biggest appeals of House of Cards is seeing Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood win. Sure, the man is a ruthless, evil pragmatist, but he’s also not the politician you think him to be. In a world of corruption all around him, Frank Underwood finds himself above money and outside influence; a self-made man that does what he wants because he wants to do it, not because of some outside influence. He is both admirable and horrifying at the same time.
However, with all of this in mind, Season Three of House of Cards catches viewers off guard by doing one thing: showing Frank Underwood at his lowest. Season One of House of Cards was very much about Frank manipulating his lessers to do his bidding. Season Two was about him fighting his equal in Raymond Tusk, a business man as ruthlessly practical as Frank himself, and narrowly winning.
Season Three is about Frank taking on the burden of the presidency and doing battle with people more powerful and more cunning than him, as well as numerous disasters … and losing.
Admittedly, Season Three of House of Cards has so few moments where Frank wins that the few times he did, I found myself cheering. The days of Frank crushing the teacher’s union in one masterful stroke and going toe-to-toe with Tusk in a contest of wits are gone. Season Three sees Frank a broken man, struggling to hold on in a world that has allied against him, it seems.
But through this, it is possible to connect with Frank. You can see past the genius tactician to see the man underneath, a man who was doing legitimate good for the first time since the show began and having it torn down. If Seasons One and Two of HoC showed me how evil Frank was, Season Three showed me how much more evil the world around him was. Frank has a vision to fix America, only to see greedy re-election seeking congressmen fight him at every step.
Frank tries to bring peace to the Middle East, only to run up against Viktor Petrov, a Vladimir Putin stand-in who makes Frank look like Santa Clause. At times there’s a sense of pity for Frank. You could feel his pain and want him to win. He may be evil, but he is a man who built himself up and is fighting not to be torn down.
Frank is not the only star of Season Three, however. Special mention goes to Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood and Michael Kelly’s Doug Stamper. Claire, having finally helped Frank achieve his goal of the White House, now seeks to make a name for herself by becoming involved in the United Nations. Claire is easily one of the strongest female characters on television right now. She’s smart, ambitious and just as manipulative and exploitative as Francis but with her own unique flair. However, Claire quickly begins finding that the U.N. and the White House is not turning out how she expected. Just with Francis, Claire finds her dreams challenged and torn down at every turn.
Doug Stamper, meanwhile, provides quite the opposite. Having survived his near-death at the end of Season Two, Doug seeks to rebuild himself despite handicaps brought about by brain injury. Doug’s story is one of hope, one of a man who was at the top and now must climb back to his former position.
Adding to this are appearances by several fan favorites, including an appearance by a certain rib chef. If there had to be any complaints to give House of Cards Season Three, it’s that a lot of the plots ended in Deus Ex Machina fashion, whether good or bad. Frank’s plans seem to succeed or fail on complete circumstance in certain spots, though this does add to the narrative of the difficult responsibility Francis has received as president.
Season Three is not only my favorite season of HoC, it is my favorite season of any television show I have ever watched. The way the show does an almost complete 180 of the dynamic established in the past while keeping the characters and story just as compelling is a work of art. The show has reached a perfect balance of political intrigue and personal drama, made one of television’s biggest anti-heroes into a sympathetic and broken man, and has cemented its status as one of the best shows ever created.
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