Six episodes of the third season of “House of Cards” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
After two seasons of plotting and scheming to get what’s owed to him, Frank Underwood spends the first few episodes of House of Cards’ third season trying to pass an agenda that only he could give America: a proactive foreign policy and a vicious new jobs program that aims to roll back entitlements. Disagree with President Underwood? So long, you’re off the team! Please don’t make a scene as you leave the White House, we’ll bring your things to you in the lobby. Hardball is fun when you’re leader of the Free World, but even the President of the United States has his limitations, as Frank learns to his growing frustration.
House of Cards‘ third season truly owns the dark side of politics, and with Frank now in the White House as President, it can take its rightful place as the evil twin of The West Wing that it’s always wanted to be. It’s fascinating that, in the same week we get the end of Parks and Recreation, a show about public servants trying to make a big difference in their relatively small pond, we get a House of Cards season that goes to the next level of selfish political desire. This is the ocean, where every fish is a shark with a gun for a mouth.
Frank hits roadblocks early and often, which is both difficult and unexpected for a man self-assured enough to pee on his father’s grave. Anxious to pass his America Works program which, contrary to every democratic president of the last seven decades, will roll back entitlements like Medicare and Unemployment Insurance, Frank swings his executive authority like a kid with a stick trying to find a piñata. It’s just too bad that all his adversaries have learned well from Frank’s previous machinations, and they know that he always has two or three motivations on the go. The greater good? There’s no such thing in this Washington.
It’s nice that the show practically tries to beat humility into Frank, because as good as Kevin Spacey is at playing the oily and slick master manipulator, he’s even better in those moments where Frank runs right into a wall of frustration. There’s some tremendous self-doubt in these first six episodes, and nothing is easy for him. True, Frank has suffered setbacks before. In fact, the jumping-off point for the whole series is Frank’s response to a setback, but he doesn’t seem to spring back this season in quite the same way he used to, and potential solutions often end up just leading to more problems.
Compounding Frank’s troubles is the fact that his problems aren’t just political, and they aren’t just American. In episode 3, we meet Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), who initially comes across as your typically cool and distant Russian politician but soon proves himself more than a match for Frank in political game theory. Mikkelsen plays Petrov in a perfect, near-Putinesque mould. If he looks doubly familiar, it’s because his brother is Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen, meaning that if season 3 of House of Cards doesn’t end with a U.S./Russian war, then TV has failed this rare instance of villain synergy; how can you not root for Frank when he’s leading the charge against Hannibal Putin?