Heavy-Handed is the Head That Wears the Crown

Maybe some shows are just destined to have one good season. In my disappointed review of Season 2 of House of Cards, I mentioned Heroes as being another show that came out strong, then immediately tanked. There's an important difference, though. Everyone could tell that Heroes could have continued being terrific, but was mucked up by baffling creative decisions. House of Cards, on the other hand, may never be able to achieve the heights of Season 1 ever again; not because someone fucked up, but because they just can't keep up the relentless pace the debut season had.

I should begin with the good stuff about Season 3 of House of Cards, though, and there's a lot of it. This season had a sharp increase in quality from Season 2. There's several reasons for this, chief of which was the lack of pointless, tangential subplots. There was still some bloat and some padding, but significantly less, and I appreciated that. This season's stories mostly stuck to the protagonists. Turns out that Doug Stamper did not die at the end of last season, and a lot of this one revolves around his recovery, his moral code, and his questioning of his place within the Underwood hierarchy, which was interesting to see. Heather Dunbar (played by the...well, marvelous Elizabeth Marvel), who was the Solicitor General last season, steps up to become a far bigger and far more believable threat to Frank's power than the Washington media and Raymond Tusk combined. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright do some nice acting work when the inevitable struggle between the Underwoods pits these two pit bulls against one another. All in all, Season 3 had much stronger secondary characters, and was far better at telling cohesive stories.

Only trouble is, some of those cohesive stories just aren't very interesting. Who was watching House of Cards in Season 1 and thinking to themselves, "Well, I'm loving all this blackmail and illicit sex and murder, but what I really want to see is Frank wrestle with economic and foreign policy initiatives"? Who are the viewers who enjoyed watching Claire attempt to destroy a pregnant coworker and are now delighted by her diplomatic handling of the Secretary of State's feelings about her role as ambassador? Also, I find it amusing and puzzling that Frank Underwood apparently believed that once he schemed his way into the presidency, he would have all the power he's been lusting for, and that nobody would ever challenge him again. Is he aware of what a president is? It's nothing but constant power struggles! It would be good television if the show explored that in a way that suggested Frank only feels alive when he's scheming and manipulating, but he's befuddled and peeved by the notion that he can't rule America with an iron fist now that he's the chief. Weird choice.

And then there's Rachel, whose storyline is only rivaled by The Hunt for Mr. Green's Killer in terms of interminable dullness. How many scenes have been devoted to Doug trying to track down this girl who doesn't pose even a minor threat to Frank's secrets? My conservative estimate is 1500. This what I meant by some shows perhaps only having one great season in them. While there were some genuinely good scenes scattered throughout this season, and while I'm curious to see where the show goes from here, I doubt House of Cards will ever be appointment television again.

House of Cards - Season 3: B-


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime