“House of Cards” first couple Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) Underwood find that making it to the top of the mountain can be lonely and that the fall can be deadly on the third season of the “Netflix” drama.
A presidential motorcade opens the new season as Frank visits his father’s grave. It’s a moment that encapsulates Frank’s journey from ambitious college student who had to pay for his father’s tombstone to the leader of the free world.
Season 3 picks up after Frank’s litany of manipulations led to him replacing the previous president, who stepped down amid a money laundering scandal created by Underwood.
It doesn’t take long before it becomes very clear that Frank yields much less actual power to control situations as president than he did as the Democratic majority whip and as vice president in past seasons.
There are more eyes on him. He actually has to run the country, make tough decisions on foreign policy, deal with the multiple sources for leaks, sign bills and he has no control over his waning approval ratings among Americans.
All of which must be handled if he has any hope of actually being elected president after his term is up. “I will not be a placeholder president,” Frank yells at Claire in a moment of frustration.
At the same time, Claire has no desire to just be the First Lady. She has her eyes set on a loftier post, one that her husband is willing to open the door for, but unable to actually hand over to her.
That’s the struggle of Season 3. While previous seasons thrilled us with Frank’s hands-on approach to climbing the political ranks, the third season finds him much more dependent on henchman.
His goal to remain president relies on him winning over the American people and let’s face it: Frank doesn’t exactly inspire warm, fuzzy feelings in others. And no number of thuggish associates can change that.
There’s a feeling of dread that comes along with the first run of episodes (Netflix provided six episodes to critics) that makes all the characters just a little less sure of themselves and prone to fear-induced frozen moments of self-doubt.
“House of Cards” has traded in the fun of watching Frank shuck and jive in exchange for accomplishing his long game, which isn’t as fun as watching all the manipulative plays go down on each episode. In certain ways, Frank and Claire are being forced to grow up and have grownup jobs to prove it.
There’s certainly a big reveal on Episode 1, but it doesn’t quite have the impact of, say, Frank pushing his mistress and reporter, Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), in front of a subway train when she was becoming a problem.
But as I would never underestimate Frank’s ability to change the course of events with a quick sleight of hand, I wouldn’t count out the show’s writers quite yet. I will definitely be streaming the entire season this weekend.
“House of Cards” Season 3 premieres on Friday in its entirety on Netflix.