By: Kyle Grubb
I’ve been looking for a show to review for a while now. Reviewing the whole first season of True Detective worked fine, and I’ve been considering other seasons of TV to do that with, but what I really wanted was to just tackle a series of episodes. The problem was, of course, that every show on TV that I watch was mid-season when I started up this site, and it just felt weird to start reviewing episodes randomly. Lo and behold, though, that Season 3 of House of Cards has finally come to answer all of my prayers. Or something like that. With the Netflix Season Dump, I now have 13 episodes to tackle at my own pace. Which basically means as quickly as possible, because I love the crap out of this show.
So yeah, I’m just jumping in here with the understanding that you’ve seen the first two seasons of this show. As such, these reviews will contain spoilers for those seasons. They’ll also contain spoilers for the episodes themselves, because I have no clue how to review an episode of a show any other way. So yeah, SPOILERS AHEAD!
Kevin Spacey is awesome. I’ve known that for the entirety of my young adult life, and even a good chunk of my childhood. When I heard tell that Spacey was partnering with Netflix to make a show where he played a shifty and brilliant politician using any tool necessary to climb the political ladder, I knew it wouldn’t be something I could pass up. When I heard that David Fincher had a hand in producing it, I was ready and waiting, counting the days until it’s release. I’d never been more excited for a February in my life. I believe that my friend Andy and I got through the first season in a matter of days.
The second season’s release is officially the only Valentine’s Day in history that I’ve been excited for. I was hooked on this show, and Andy and I managed to convince our friend Matt to watch it too. It was something for us to talk about. It opened up conversations about politics and morality. Also it was just really cool, and amazingly acted across the board. Those first two seasons told such a strong and interesting story, and I couldn’t help but root for Frank Underwood despite all of the horrible things he would do.
Okay, enough. I just want to start talking about the episode.
Cars roll up in a cemetery, and our glorious leader President Underwood emerges with flowers in his hand. He walks alone, heading towards a grave. As he approaches, we can’t quite see who it belongs to, but we’re pretty sure. We remember the second season finale. But then Frank starts to speak. The grave is his father’s. Which gets peed on unceremoniously before the scene is over.
Oh yeah, and Doug is still alive.
I purposely didn’t follow any news about this new season, if there even was much, and so I had no idea that Doug Stamper had survived that night in the woods. After months of being comatose, though, Doug wakes up. He’s ready to work again. He wants to be useful. Nothing will get in his way of that, to make up for his mistake. He needs to prove to Underwood that he’s still valuable. That’s just not fate’s hand, though.
The decision to focus almost exclusively on Doug for the first half of the episode was interesting, though inspired. Doug is one of those characters that I’ve found to be divisive; some people, like me, find him to be a fascinating and interesting character, but others just find him creepy. Focusing an entire 25 minutes of the season premier on him seemed to be a risk. Doug, while possessing side stories of his own, was typically a supporting character. Even during his own selfish relations with Rachel, he was forced to act because of pressures related to Frank. Who is Doug when he isn’t acting as Underwood’s right hand?
Michael Kelly has always been great as Doug, giving layers to the man behind every “Yes sir” and head nod. Doug was a character that, in the beginning of the show, was always ancillary to the action. Slowly, particularly through the second season, we were able to see the man underneath. We learned the demons that haunted him. Doug’s final moment in this episode, where he succumbs to the temptation and drinks again, has been built to ever since his alcoholism was brought to focus in the first season while dealing with Russo. Doug is an addict, always has been, but had turned his addiction toward his service toward Frank. He was addicted to being useful, and would suffer no matter what. His fear so pushed him that a broken arm wasn’t enough to deter him away from a meeting with the new President. Without his fix from the Underwoods, he turned toward his old poison. We find ourselves with yet another victim of Frank’s ruthless drive upward.
When finally we’re given focus to Frank, we find that the Presidency wasn’t everything he had dreamed it to be. Approval is plummeting, opposition is mounting in both parties, and his big fix, a jobs plan called America Works, is stalling. We’ve seen Frank desperate, but there seems to be such frustration in his every glance. He has attained the power he always wanted, but the world seems determined to keep his from truly partaking in it. He and Claire are even sleeping in separate rooms. He desperately is trying to make the American people understand, but even as the President of the United States he finds himself the butt of ridicule on TV. He needs a visionary move, something that would give him both approval and a legacy. If he could only wipe out unemployment, he would prove himself as more than a simple Placeholder President.
Even Claire, his constant confidant and co-conspirator, has ambitions of her own to follow. Claire seeks to become Ambassador to the UN, desperately wishes to build up a resume and a wealth of experience for her own future endeavors, and won’t take “no” for an answer. Many of the members of the Underwood administration disagree with her ambitions, and Frank finds his own doubts growing as well.
Isn’t it only appropriate that a drone strike, aimed at a terrorist, is what brings them back together? Even if kids might have been killed in the process? As they walk back to their rooms, hand in hand, it really is clear just how perfect for each other they are. Both Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey were incredible this episode, and it feels as if we never left. Claire’s speech as she entered Frank’s bedroom was powerful. She has always been strong, but she is now willing to stand before her husband and challenge him. Meanwhile, Frank’s speech to the America Works committee showed us just where Frank finds himself mentally. He needs to do something grand if he has any hopes of reelection in 2016, and he’s running out of time.
While this episode didn’t have the enticing appeal of the first season’s premiere or a shocking murder like the second, it was unafraid to change up the formula. By only giving us glances of the Underwoods and their positions by focusing on Doug for the entirety of the this premiere, it showed that this season may be more interesting in changing the way things work moving forward. Doug is as the lowest we’ve ever seen him, and both of the Underwoods find themselves fighting an uphill battle moving forward. Despite our characters being as high as they can climb, we’ve never seen this form of desperation before. Frank no longer has an easy enemy, instead now battling against the fickle approval of the American populace. He has to prove himself a strong leader, and man that can make the hard decisions, while still keeping their trust.
This could get pretty good.
Final Score: 8/10
And just for good measure, he’s a fun Frank-ism.