* Spoilers below
Frank Underwood is a bad president. And I don’t mean he’s a bad president because he manipulated and murdered his way into the Oval Office. I mean he’s bad at governing. Season 2 of House of Cards left us with Frank achieving his ultimate goal. Having ruthlessly climbed the political ladder all the way up to the Vice-Presidency, Frank succeeded in manipulating the president into resigning and became the unelected Leader of the Free World. Season 2 ended with Kevin Spacey looking directly into the camera in sinister triumph and rapping sharply on the desk (a signature of his) before the screen went black. It was a breathtaking moment but as the credits rolled you couldn’t help but wonder “What’s next?” Frank has, after all, realized his greatest ambition. Where would he go from here?
As it turns out, his sociopathic rise to the top might have been the easy part of President Underwood. No longer able to pull strings from behind the scenes, Underwood finds himself unable to enact any of his desired policies including a ludicrous jobs program that would gut social security. Presumably as president he can no longer coerce his opponents into submission leaving him hapless in a way that we’ve never seen him before.
But fear not House of Cards fans, Season 3 is still filled with power struggles and drama. It’s just that this time around it’s not Frank and Claire against the world, it’s Frank and Claire against themselves. And it looks like they’ve finally each met their match. Until this season, Frank and Claire were presented as a the ultimate power couple. A union of two equally ambitious forces whose marriage was more mutually beneficial political arrangement than fairy-tale romance. Previous seasons emphasized the interdependence of Frank and Claire so the turmoil between the two in Season 3 represented not just an intimate portrait of an unusual marriage but also a crumbling alliance that could significantly alter American and global politics.
The inward focus of Season 3, combined with the tedium of watching Frank try to govern, made the season a slower, less gripping build than its predecessors. It was a great season for Claire fans, however, as the consistently fantastic Robin Wright was granted much screen time. Claire spends much of the season struggling to get her political career off the ground and realizing that her relationship with Frank is not nearly as equal as she had thought. There were several moments when she breaks away from their alliance and in my apartment these moments had us high-fiving in support of “Team Claire.” Sure she isn’t weighed down by quite the same constraints as the President but so often in Season 3 Claire shined while Frank fumbled.
In fact, it was a great season for interesting women. Jackie Sharp returns with both ambition and vulnerability. Heather Dunbar is introduced as a powerhouse that poses a legitimate threat to Frank partly because she may prove to be equally ruthless. The thing a like best about House of Cards is the idea that as much fun as it’s been watching Frank climb to the top, it will be equally delightful to watch his downfall. And if Claire, Jackie, and Heather are the forces that topple his carefully stacked house of cards, well that’s even better.