Saturday, 28 February 2015

House of Cards - Season 3

Politics is about to become a serious talking point again. Well yes, there's a general election cresting the horizon in US this year; but here I'm referring to the return of House of Cards for a third season. With Frank Underwood now the most powerful man in the developed world, the stakes are higher than ever. Unrelenting pressure, power games, murder and that's just what you can deduced from the 45 seconds trailer of this third season. 

This third season of House of Cards opens promisingly enough. 
Truth be told told there's only one thing to spoil for the first episodes of the third season which comes a few minutes in: Doug Stamper is alive. He spent long enough in the coma for his motor skills and emotions to be a struggle and unpredictable. Much of Chapter 27 is devoted to Doug's attempts to get his life up and running again. House of Cards being a show devoted to depicting human beings as infinitely fallible, it doesn't take long. Kelly's performance is great and super effective, it feels good to begin this season with a very strong performance. House of Cards is clearly back in the game. 

As for Frank, it turns out manipulating your way into the White House is not the best way to win the hearts of potential voters, or your former colleagues on the Hill. His approval ratings have sunk even lower and he's lost the support of even his own party. During an interview taking place on The Colbert Show Frank tries to play down the dissensions in the ranks and pitches his ambitious vision as always. Most of Chapter 27 feels like table setting: we learn a lot on Frank's agenda as President, on Claire's ambassadorship proposal for the UN and we may see characters turn up again at some point. The most notable new addition comes later  in the season, in the form of Thomas Yates, a writer who Frank recruit for the sole purpose of writing a book about him. Frank wants the book to be about public policy whereas Tom wants it to be about the man. It could be also seen as a commentary of the show itself. There's nothing like the big premiere that ended the first episode of season 2 though, no Zoe Barnes being pushed in front of a speeding train. Moreover, now that Frank Underwood must govern a nation, the intrigue is necessarily of a different, more delicate sort. The question is not how high he can climb anymore but whether if it's possible he could fall. In fact early episodes of this third season of House of Cards indicate a change of direction, though plenty of worry remains as the Underwoods will continue to rule their world as the season goes forward. Being President and first Lady isn't as satisfying and easy as Claire and Frank expected. Both want more. Frank focuses on being reelected while Claire - in a storyline that harkens back to the Clinton years - wants to lead and do something. She wants to be political because that's what is in her blood. Power and Politics, these two understand it. Where House of Cards really succeeds this time around, is in the deployment of Robin Wright character as Claire Underwood. Its greatest strengths and vulnerability as well. While she evolved on the fringes of the main plot line in the first two seasons, here she's finally at the centre of the narrative. This third season is a great time to ask yourself: Do I still care at all about these people? It depends entirely on the characters evolution but I believe that there are still a lot of Frank left to dig into.

After all the brilliant strategies that the Underwoods have fooled all too easily in the first two seasons, a little pay back and a little failure plays well for House of Cards. However, now they have the ultimate seats in politics, Claire and Frank won't go down without a fight and in true House of Cards fashion will destroy everything and everyone in their path. In this dramatic stakes, this third season find itself in a scandal about how good it really is. Still Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey remain splendid as the central couple. Finally, as a  good soap House of Cards keeps the twists coming and that is what the audience wants. Writers remain shrewd observers of modern politics in many respects and this show shares a lot of key DNA with Aaron Sorkin's seminal series The West Wing in a more pessimistic way. It remains considerably fun to watch though. This handsome political drama effectively established Netflix as a home for premium quality programs. 

Overall House of Cards returns in terms of classy actors in high stakes setting and it's solidly entertaining. This premiere is gloomier, slower and far less fun but David Fincher's trademark prettiness is still here. You best clear your diary for the beginning of March.   

PS: Kevin Spacey won his first Golden Globe last January giving us this well deserved tweet of joy and happiness. 

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