House of Cards, Season 3 (USA, 2015)

House_of_Cards,_season_3,_promo_imageCreated by: Beau Willimon. I seem to recall that the previous season left me a little cold, especially weighed against the very impressive first season. And in this third season, some of the things that I didn’t like about the second season are still there, but overall, this is a definite step forward, and it’s definitely left me wanting to see more (which is the name of the game). On the one hand, it was great seeing Claire really emerge as the co-lead that she always was, and for the implicit conflict and competition between their values finally become explicit as a plot point. The central enigma of the series was always Frank and Claire and our access to their internal thoughts and feelings—does Frank really love Claire or is even their relationship, even behind those closed doors, a cover, a convenient political move for him to achieve his own ends? But even more tantalizing was the fact that you could say the same for Claire. If anything, she’s even more mysterious and enigmatic because she’s not talking to the camera. We don’t even have that kind of access to her. And, on that topic, I absolutely loved the way they handled that particular postmodern device in this season, using it sparingly and effectively—that great scene where Claire and Frank have a big fight in the plane coming home from Russia, and when it’s over, Frank looks in the camera and addresses the audience, not like a co-conspirator, not like an audience receiving his inside story, but like a bunch of annoying rubberneckers sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong: “What are you looking at?” Fuck that’s great. This show just might be a super smart show, engaging directly with the way that it’s engaging with the viewer. I’m a sucker for obvious postmodern shit like that. But then on the other hand, like the main antagonism last season with the rich guy and the Chinese traders, I found this season’s continuing conflict with the fictional Russian President Petrov (played admirably by Lars Mikkelsen), to be a pretty on-the-nose take on Vladimir Putin, whose character was about as subtle a take on current affairs as a low-brow political cartoon. And that whole dinner scene with Pussy Riot at the table? It’s cool that they actually got Pussy Riot on a TV drama, but the idea that the President of the US would invite them to sit at dinner with Vladimir Putin is so beyond the reaches of realism, it kind of shits all over this show’s effectiveness a bit. (I actually almost forgot that whole thing, so glaringly bad was it that I had to block it out of my memory.) So maybe I’m being fickle, because I get the feeling that in the long run, I’ll see those parts of the show that I didn’t like as very subtle little strands of a grander design that this show has, a larger statement that this show is making about the portrayal of politics on television, about the mythologizing of American life in American cinema. So that would be pretty cool. All of that aside, the acting is amazing as always. Robin Wright really kicks ass (in emotional depth and restraint) in this season, and Spacey does more of his great Spacey stuff, pushing this character to the outer edges of monstrosity, and making it a little bit harder to watch than it was last season, slowly turning Frank from a man you love to hate into just a man you hate, which is where this show is going I think. The supporting actors are all amazing as well, from Elizabeth Marvel (Heather Dunbar), Kim Dickens (as the reporter Kate Baldwin), and recurring cast like Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper), Canadian darling Molly Parker (Jackie Sharp), and Mahershala Ali (smooth, smooth Remy Danton). And this season was a great chance to watch the incredible range of a few character actors I’d seen before expand upon their abilities. The subdued and cynical southern novelist Thomas Yates was played by Paul Sparks, the annoying, chirpy-voiced Mickey from Boardwalk Empire; it wasn’t until I started on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that I noticed that one of the gross, milk drinking, incestuous brothers that show up as foils in that show is played by Jimmi Simpson, who puts in another great performance here as the hacker-turned-FBI employee Gavin. I love seeing those kinds of chameleonic transformations because it reminds you that, when an actor can escape the restrictions of being an A-list “star”, they can actually just…act. What a concept.

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One response to “House of Cards, Season 3 (USA, 2015)

  1. Pingback: Narcos, Season One (USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

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