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The Goggle Box – House Of Cards Splits The Deck

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House Of Cards Season 3 has been and gone and opinions are divided at best. Was the third season of a binge watch TV series ever going to go down a treat? Probably not. Are we all fools to have plowed through all 13 episodes in no time at all? Probably, yes. But the burning question, was it any good? Yes; and here’s why.

Lads, seriously, full spoilers for House Of Cards follow.

Season 3 opens with Frank Underwood as President after the disgraced resignation of President Walker. Many would have expected this would be Frank the Great and Powerful now that he is in the big house but the show quickly reminds us that Frank is only acting President and so the instant gratification of Frank and absolute power never really comes into play in the season. This is probably the biggest dividing factor amongst viewers. Personally I am happy the season brought us in a different direction, namely by focusing on the marriage of Frank and Claire and how it inevitably crumbles under all the stresses their plotting entails.

Also, Doug is alive then? Honestly, as much as I am a huge fan of Michael Kelly, I’d have much preferred if he had died and the season had begun with the fallout and ensuing media furore. Doug Stamper is a great character but I felt that by the end of season 2 his sub-plot with Rachel had run its course and being left dead and bloodied by her in the woods was a fitting end to a situation he should have been able to handle better. But he lives and for the duration of season 3 is nearly fifty fifty with the Underwoods for screen time. Again, Kelly is a fantastic actor and I’m always happy to see the guy on screen but for me the business with Rachel just isn’t engaging enough. Anyway, a minor gripe but the extended screen time makes it a little more grating.

As for the season itself well, much like the viewers it seems, Frank somewhat realises that being President isn’t exactly what he had hoped. See in congress Frank is the biggest shark in a small pond. Even as VP he is taking on his equals. But as President, and worse still a default President? His biggest adversary comes in the form of Vladimi…sorry, Viktor Petrov; the President of Russia who is just in no way susceptible to Frank’s ways. Played to perfection by Lars Mikkelsen there can be no doubt that the season is at its strongest every time he is on screen. Plot wise the primary battle between the two leaders is the exchange of American troops into Jordan in return for the removal of missile defence systems in close proximity to the Soviet State. Even if you only half pay attention to the dialogue exchanged it is obvious that House Of Cards is treading a line this season that is closer to real life than ever before.

But real life also presents the only true complaint I have to make with regards these latest 13 episodes – Pussy Riot. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, both famously charged with hooliganism which saw them serve out nearly two years in prison, make an appearance in episode 3 and it serves as a step too far that is jarring and completely unnecessary. House Of Cards takes place in its own universe where instead of Barrack Obama the US is presided over by Garrett Walker and then Frank Underwood. In our real world, Pussy Riot were imprisoned and Vladimir Putin was called out on their arrest. Barrack Obama even entered the situation and the imprisonment became a global issue. This did not happen in the House Of Cards universe, or at least not like this. Yet the writers/showrunners clearly took the view that here they had an opportunity to lend a voice to the debate and whilst I am in favour of some good old solidarity, it has a negative effect on the creative integrity of the show. Even if they had gone with a stand in group of a similar stance and name it wouldn’t have been perfect but still better than two actual members of the group showing up. It all smelled a little too much like grandstanding and it didn’t sit well with me.

Back to the good of the show however and probably the best part of the whole season – the fantasy left. A semi-complaint about the first two seasons of the show is that its all a little too well oiled. It’s never exactly easy but viewers just know that Frank will always get his way. Things moved along at such a breakneck pace for those first 26 episodes that there wasn’t even time to feel like Frank was under too much threat, aside from the great foil of Raymond Tusk that is. Here in its third year however we see Frank quite regularly struggle with the presidency. His dealings with Petrov see him get smaller and smaller until finally his need for a deal sees him drive home the last nail in the coffin of his marriage. It is good to see him not be entirely on top of things permanently and the finale with Claire walking out on him will lead to a fascinating shift in dynamic next season.

Essentially, I get why people are a little miffed at this season. Taking out the overall arcs of Doug and Frank VS Russia, the chipping away at his relationship with Claire could have been covered across three episodes. But they deserve more given that they are the true focal point of the series. Schmucks like me who watched the entire season in just over a week, and those who did it in even less time, have shot themselves in the foot by giving ourselves a year long wait after what was a season focused quite heavily on set up but looking back in two or three years time the strength of this season will become more obviously apparent, that I guarantee.

House Of Cards seasons 1 – 3 are available on Netflix.

Image courtesy of projectcasting.com

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