On February 27, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright made a triumphant return in the third season of House of Cards as Francis and Claire Underwood. The season is 13 episodes long, running an average of 45 minutes per episode, meaning it takes almost 10 hours to complete the season. Not that I or anyone has watched the entire third season in one sitting, but it is possible. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Season three kicks off with Underwood visiting his father’s grave. According to him, the stop makes him seems more human, as President of the United States. However, during an aside, Underwood reveals to the viewer that he doesn’t care much for his deceased paternal figure and urinates on his gravestone. This act reaffirms a popular theme throughout the series: façades. Characters in the show frequently deliberate allegiances, favors, and ambitions, but their words often contradict their actions. A critical example appeals to Claire and foreshadows the Underwoods’ inevitable downfall.
The example occurs during the American visit to Moscow in an attempt to negotiate for peace in the Jordan Valley. Michael Corrigan, a gay activist who was arrested for protesting Russian President Viktor Petrov’s gay rights policies, is incarcerated in a Russian jail at the start of episode six. Claire takes it upon herself to convince Corrigan to make a plea speech, apologizing to the Petrov administration, even saying, “You don’t have to mean it, you just have to say it.” However, when she tries to guilt him for hurting his husband by staying imprisoned, Claire finds herself in his shoes and realizes that they are not so different. Corrigan and his husband were married for 21 years, while Claire and Frank were nearing their 28th. Each couple used their significant others to grow and “rub off on each other well.” However, in the case of the Underwoods, Claire gives Frank emotional and political power, and though Frank reciprocates in his appointing power as president, it seems this is not enough for Claire. Claire sees Frank feeding off of her, becoming stronger, as Claire grows feeble with each consumption.
In addition, over dinner, Corrigan shoots through her façade and even states that she is not as happy in her current marital state, after inadvertently striking a chord by stating that he hasn’t slept with his husband in over two years. This comes from the fact that Claire and Frank have not slept in the same bedroom during Frank’s tenure as interim president. Corrigan follows by saying, “It takes one to know one.” Corrigan’s hard-hitting statements, coupled with his martyrly suicide, plant the seeds of Claire’s discontent, with his death metaphorically representing her emancipated emotions from the clutches of Frank’s incarceration.
Corrigan’s suicide, along with a certain mother on the Iowan campaign trail in episode 12, instilled concrete doubts in Claire’s mind about her marriage. “Two minutes … that’s all it would take and I could go.” But enough about that, I’d like to move on to special guests on the show. Stephen Colbert had a fitting cameo in episode 1, in which he was one-on-one roasting Frank on his America Works bill. Additionally, Lars Mikkelsen played the role of Russian President Viktor Petrov, based off of actual Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mikkelsen portrays Petrov admirably, coming right off the bat as a corrupt, unrelenting, First-lady smooching, Slavic thug. For anyone paying attention, he also played Charles Augustus Magnussen on BBC’s Sherlock, which also stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. I also would like to point out that the producers actually brought the two members of Pussy Riot that are currently in the States, in episode three.
Honestly, season three wasn’t as good as the previous seasons. This latest installment only sets up for what’s to come. Frank is already at the height of power; he can’t possibly reach higher. So he must somehow maintain what fragile relations he has, since he’s alienated so many to climb to the top. He’s no longer planning out his strategies methodically; he’s racked thin from the responsibilities of the presidency. The foreshadowing even exists in the cinematography. Many scenes are close ups of characters’ faces, including long, brooding periods with just their face present on screen. It’s claustrophobic, and it’s really the only way to describe the feeling, almost as if there’s something big coming. Season three is only the beginning of the end. Seasons one and two are the Underwoods’ meteoric rise. And it would only be fitting for the house of cards to come toppling down on them, in the final 13 episodes, completing the 52 card-episode set.