Of the many returning characters, House of Cards' third season's secondary story arc is about Doug Stamper, Frank's former strategy director. Most viewers (including myself) presumed Doug dead at the end of the second season, killed by Rachel Posner, someone who could reveal destructive secrets from Frank's past. Outside of the opening few minutes of the third season, the entire first half of the premiere episode solely focuses on Doug's recovery and difficulty coping.
Sidelined by Frank when all he wants to do is work, Doug obsesses over finding Rachel, and he enlists season two's hacker, Gavin Orsay, to assist him. Even though Doug is barely allowed to speak to Frank, he struggles to prove himself worthy to the president throughout the season as he wrestles with his own personal demons.
House of Cards follows its previous seasons as beautifully produced television. The show is visually stunning even in mundane settings and drab offices with a score that never dominates a scene but always succeeds to drive the emotions of the viewers. Thanks to perfect pacing, every episode feels dense yet quick, and the intelligence of the audience is respected in every scene. It's impressive that with storytelling this intricate, the show remains easy to follow without any hand-holding.
The series' cameos continue, with media figures playing versions of themselves interviewing Frank or talking about Washington politics. Two members of Russian activist band Pussy Riot actually play surprisingly significant, if brief, roles in the show. Both recently served time in prison for their activism in Russia, so their inclusion is a clear indication of the show's views on Russia's policies.
House of Cards isn't scared to use its platform to make statements. For instance, a number of scenes are outright attacks on Walmart's wages and encouragement of employees to take advantage of government benefits. Where most series would use a fictitious organization, House of Cards seeks to ground itself in reality wherever possible.
House of Cards continues to question the fundamentals of an American political system populated by those primarily concerned with using their power to keep it. Simultaneously, the show examines the humanity of even the most unscrupulous of characters and the dynamics of power in romantic relationships.
Surprising absolutely no one, the acting in House of Cards' third season is phenomenal across the entire cast. Kevin Spacey is Frank Underwood, Robin Wright is walking perfection as Claire Underwood, and both major newcomers, Paul Sparks and Lars Mikkelson bring nuance to characters that could easily fall into one-dimensional, walking tropes.
How frustrating it must be for Frank Underwood. Driven by a hunger for power, he reaches the highest position in American politics only to learn he is now powerless. Perhaps he has yet to learn how to effectively wield the presidency, but if he does, the man we see in season four will be terrifying.
Bottom line: A more intimate story than past seasons, House of Cards' third season thankfully shifts the storytelling of the series rather than becoming a stale retread of the same stories.
Recommendation: Anyone who loves political dramas needs to marathon this one, but even those with a distaste of D.C. politics can appreciate the examinations of humanity and marriage.
Join us in the comments to discuss the third season.