By the end of season two, it almost seemed as though “House of Cards” was nearing the end of its course. Season one had started with a bang, delivering a massive amount of intrigue as Frank Underwood played an intricate game of power in the White House, eventually ending with him obtaining the Vice Presidency. When it came time for the next season, audiences waited with baited breath to see where his lust for power could possibly take him, and while this is covered in part, what we got was a much milder season that mainly focused on a battle of wits between Frank and a rich friend of the President’s, a friend that Frank felt was becoming too involved with decisions affecting the country.
It ended up being a decent season overall, especially when it finally got around to focusing on a major scandal that erupts in the last few episodes, but much of the intrigue that had defined the first season had been toned way down, and while we do get an ending that’s just as impactful, it did leave viewers with hopes that the next batch of stories would return the show to the heights it had begun with. Luckily the showrunner, Beau Willimon, seems to have realized this as well, which brings us to season three of the acclaimed drama.
Several months after becoming President, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has been labeled as just as ineffective as his predecessor, leading him to attempt to get a massive jobs package (“America Works”) passed to show that he has initiative. Meanwhile, his wife Claire (Robin Wright) has decided that she would like to become an Ambassador to the UN, a desire that only becomes more difficult after a slight slip of the tongue during a Senate hearing. As if all of this weren’t enough to deal with, Frank is also trying to reach a deal with Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) to send protective troops to Israel, a proposition that is rejected immediately upon Petrov’s arrival at the White House. But wait, there’s more. Frank must also worry about winning reelection in what will surely be an extremely difficult race, which is only made worse by the fact that the leadership of his own party doesn’t want him to run. It’s a delicate balancing act, but Frank is not about to let his presidency come crashing down after having done so much to attain it.
It can easily be said that season three is a step up from the previous season, and it ends up being for a very basic reason: the intrigue has returned in force and is simply more engaging than what season two had to offer. In fact, with so much going on, you could also say that this season acts as a perfect metaphor for Frank’s presidency. It may seem rather hectic, and there are certainly plenty of twists, but somehow things are almost always under control. For Frank, this means having an awful lot on his plate, with some things not going exactly the way he planned, whereas for the show itself, it means plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills, but also dragging through a subplot that felt superfluous in the previous season, and only continues to feel so now.
This, of course, is the part of the story that involves Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) trying to locate a former call girl, Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), who injured him during her escape at the end of season two. They do involve Stamper in a more significant manner later in the season, but this only makes you wish that they had just kept that part of his story and excised the unnecessary parts.
As for the rest, we are treated to an exciting, enthralling, and entertaining plotline that reminds us of why we fell in love with “House of Cards” in the first place. The regular elements of greatness that have been present all along are still there: great direction, cinematography, and, of course, the outstanding performances from Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, but when the writing is at its best (i.e. when the intrigue is in full play), then the show is truly firing on all cylinders. Just like before, we are left with one hell of a cliffhanger, but now that the show has rediscovered itself, we can simply sit back and wait for the next engrossing season without having to worry whether or not Willimon will take advantage of the show’s full potential. Next season simply cannot come soon enough.
“House of Cards: Season Three” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.00:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of satisfactory quality. Throughout the 13 episodes, there is a noticeable drabness to the picture that makes it look a little darker than normal. It doesn’t affect it too much, but it is a little unusual. On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is flawless, presenting the dialogue and score at perfect levels. Overall, the show has been given decent treatment that leads to a satisfying experience.
Backstage Politics: On the Set of House of Cards: A fascinating 25-minute look behind the scenes that delves into areas like directing, cinematography, and writing. Also includes tons of on-set footage. Definitely worth watching.
A Death in New Mexico: A 17-minute featurette that takes a look at the climax to Stamper’s storyline in the final episode. There’s not really anything to be learned here, so it’s not particularly worth watching.
“House of Cards: Season Three” returns the show to the high levels of intrigue that made it such a delight in the first place. Along with the usual fantastic performances from Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, this latest season boasts some thoroughly-engaging storylines, and while it may seem like a rather busy set of episodes, it is skillfully balanced so that all of the important subplots are given their due. The “house of cards” may have been a little shaky at the end of season two, but now there’s no doubt that it’s standing stronger than ever.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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