DVD Review: House of Cards, Season 3

For two seasons, Francis Underwood charmed, lied, connived and killed his way up the ladder of success and into the Oval Office. He and Claire, modern-day Macbeths, tag-teamed their way from the House to the White House in a ruthless campaign that ruined — and ended — lives.

But early in Season 3, Frank is wondering: Is this all there is? Is this it?

His ratings are in the cellar, his own party won’t help him, Claire wants a higher profile and the Putinesque president of Russia has humiliated him as a leader and as a husband. The Russian is even a bigger and better S.O.B.

Season 3 is different but every bit as brilliant, addictive and audacious as the previous two. A few of the scenes of intense emotion or utterly unexpected violence (think of Zoe’s death in the Metro station in Season 2) caused us to either hit “pause” or flee the room. Now that’s entertainment.

There are no cardboard characters. No lazy stereotypes. The personalities, motivations and complexities of each individual in the supporting cast are fresh, original and credible. There’s a new, hard-digging reporter this season, plus a biographer, a presidential candidate, another presidential candidate (or is she?) and the aforementioned Russian.

Two major players from the earlier seasons return, one of whom we had given up for dead. Both evolve steadily in Season 3 — one with unnamable menace, one with unforgiving self-knowledge. You can count the number of happy campers on one finger.

The most important characters returning to the stage are, of course, Frank and Claire. She’s as coldly ambitious as ever, trusting no one but her husband. Watch what happens to that trust.

Frank still has a black belt in lying to your face, but the poor guy is actually trying to accomplish something worthwhile: a jobs program. But to get there he needs the cooperation of Congress. We sit back and watch The Rude Awakening. Frank discovers he is not alone: the place is crawling with bastards just as wily and wicked as he.

But in another sense, Frank is, indeed, alone. He’s betrayed his wife, staff, constituents, co-conspirator and vice president. But everybody needs love and, as we recall from Season 2, Frank swings both ways. More emotional intensity, coming right up!

As we stated, Season 3 is different. It’s a little more about the bedroom than the backroom. And Frank is no longer pursuing the top job — he’s trying to figure what to do with it now that he’s got it. He’s traded unbridled ambition for bridled power. The episodes are not as deliciously evil as those of seasons 1 and 2, but the performances are still first rate and the gloomy realities of American politics will reignite in you a strong desire to emigrate to Costa Rica.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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