*Some minor spoilers lie ahead. If you don’t want to know anything about the new season, I recommend you go watch it and come back to read this later. That said, I will try to not give away major plot points or twists.
What happens when you’ve reached the apex of your fathomable dreams and you are the leader of the free world? We’ve all heard of the sophomore slump, but I guess in the case of House of Cards it’s the junior slump we should have been worried about. The show’s first two seasons were unmissable. Each and every twist and plotting decision affected the plot in exciting and lasting ways. Part of the issue is due to the loss of some of the characters that made the show so interesting to watch. Peter Russo and Zoe Barns left the show early, and while they were missed during the course of the second season there was enough drama leading up to Frank’s presidency that perhaps it wasn’t as noticeable as it is this season.
The show wouldn’t exist without the Underwoods struggling against someone towards a cause, and this season is no different, only the stakes don’t feel as high. Frank was never hesitant to get his hands dirty (or bloody) to achieve his goals, but it appears that the oval office functions as handcuffs of sorts, preventing any real schemes and machinations to take place.
Reelection is somewhere on the horizon and without the party behind him Frank must face against other candidates for a bid towards the presidency in 2016 (some old and new faces). Left unresolved this storyline takes up a large portion of the season’s attention, but without the resolution to even the party nomination momentum is left stalled. In an effort to be topical, this season hits dangerously too close to home both on the domestic and foreign relations spheres and instead of offering respite from those issues that worry and keep us awake at night it forces us to face them head first. Israeli/Palestinian conflicts in the middle east, unemployment, social security, and a homophobic and aggressive Russian president who refuses to play nice with the American president make up Frank’s struggles during the first few months of his presidency. What seems to be the major issue that Frank must deal with this season, though, is the chink in the armor of his marriage. Weaknesses in the Underwood marriage are not new, but Frank and Claire were always able to focus their sights on their goals and unite towards what was necessary in order to be successful. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer, and that is a major issue. It is delightful when Claire and Frank see eye to eye and both work together in subversive ways while sharing the sexiest cigarette on television. Unfortunately the sparks, including those made by lighters, are missing in the latest batch of episodes.
New additions to the cast bring nothing special to the table, and ultimately prove to be quite insignificant. Even old favorites get relegated to the back seat and are left with very little to do (poor Meechum). Visually the show is a bit different in the white house: gone are the on-screen text messages and surprisingly I missed them, in spite of their gimmicky nature. The acting by both Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright is still very good, but with not as much range to portray they aren’t really provided with the opportunities to stretch as much these days. Netflix’s flagship show is definitely going to be coming back for another season next year, so here’s to hoping that they find ways to return to the conniving and shady show that we know and love. The source materials (a novel and British series, without even mentioning Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth) still have enough to offer inspiration-wise for the show to turn things around and for the Underwoods to get a little more nasty than they’ve been this year.