Season three of House of Cards: how it stacks up against seasons one and two

Graphic: Marie Louise James

Frank Underwood is back, and he’s taking Washington, D.C. by storm. Our favorite corrupt politician, portrayed by a delightfully nefarious Kevin Spacey, has reached the height of his political power after committing numerous acts of blackmail, bribery, debauchery, and violence. He has clawed his way to the top, making and breaking alliances and disposing of any clueless politician or reporter who has dared to stand in his way. Now Underwood, along with his wife, Claire, played by the enchanting Robin Wright, must struggle to keep his power from slipping through his fingers.

Over the past two seasons, the Underwoods fought their way up the ladder to presidency, and now, in the third season, they must fight to hold onto that position. We cheered them on as they committed one reprehensible deed after another, stomping on the idealists and do-gooders as a means to rise to power. It was hard not to cheer for Frank as he carefully manipulated those around him, each action so calculated that even the audience couldn’t tell how it would help the Underwoods in the long run. Yes, Frank’s actions are vile and depraved, but we can’t help but shiver with excitement each time he breaks the fourth wall to make some snide comment on the ineptitude of a congressman.

But now Frank is on top, and instead of rooting for the devious anti-hero as he takes on Washington, we must watch him flail about trying to hold onto what he’s accomplished. Now that Frank’s in charge and Claire is dealing with the United Nations, the two must take action to keep themselves in power. In an attempt to appear magnanimous and to hide their true motivation, they attempt to pass laws, set up national programs, and resolve international crises in the hopes that their potency will be more than temporary. This transition from political wolves to scheming autocrats is difficult both for them and for us.

Governing is far less exciting than the sophisticated subterfuge we grew to love over the first two seasons. Instead of conniving for their own benefit, the Underwoods must make choices that help the nation, for they must work for the good of the many to ensure the good of the few. Because Frank must transition to policymaking, the show also must transition from the fast-paced race to the top to the sluggish responsibility of governing.

The slow start, however, does not mean this new season lacks the thrilling malfeasance or the salacious exploits that were so abundant in the first two seasons. Doug Stamper, Frank’s disgustingly loyal right-hand man is back and is just as complicated and creepy as ever. Politicians and journalists alike rotate in and out of the Underwoods’ lives as friends, allies, lovers, and enemies, all seeking to find a place in the turbulent and vicious environment that is our nation’s capital.

Indeed, Washington lacks neither stormy political complications nor cutthroat under-the-table negotiations. After the slow start, the show introduces riveting conflicts that are all too familiar, introducing an obstinate Russian leader and even including an appearance by the Russian protest group and band Pussy Riot. Frank may have used the first few episodes to settle into office, but the buffer doesn’t last long. He is soon swept up in the struggle to hold onto his office as he unscrupulously handles obstacles reflective of our own political state.

The Underwoods have captivated us for two seasons, and now we are enthralled by the third. We applaud this twisted man’s misdemeanors, devotedly rooting for the hero who’s so bad, he’s practically the villain. As this new season finally unfolds, we watch, biting our nails, as Frank struggles to hunt rather than be hunted.

 

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