Yeah, I know the title mixes a metaphor in a most awful way. Deal with it.
I spent my Saturday evening like most of the people who have a Netflix subscription and a roaring social life, burning through House of Cards 3rd season until 4am.
I've gotta say...I think I'm kinda done with this show. FYI - I will be discussing events in season 3 so if you haven't seen it yet, turn back now. I'll be here when you get back. We'll be heading into serious spoiler territory.
I absolutely loved the first season. It delivered the complex drama I had hoped for and left me wanting more with some great cliffhangers. That's as good a place as any to start with my problems with the series.
Now that we're 3 seasons in, there are some definite narrative tricks at play that get harder to ignore. The biggest one being the recurring pattern of the show setting up a huge game changing cliffhanger ending of one season, only to render that cliffhanger completely irrelevant in the first episode of the next.
Season one ends with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) essentially reaching his moral event horizon when he murders recovering alcoholic congressman Peter Russo. The season ends with Kate Mara's ambitious reporter character Zoey Barnes (whom Frank had been engaging in quid pro quo information/bodily fluid exchanges) getting wise to Russo's murder and setting up that she's going to try to take Frank...aaaand Frank just pushes her in front of a train in the first episode of season 2. Her death is ruled a suicide and anybody suspecting otherwise is neatly gotten rid of.
So much for that.
Season 2 ends with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) Frank's "fixer" and closest advisor (aside from his wife Claire) getting clubbed over the head with a rock by the prostitute Peter Russo had been seeing. It was a shocking moment that would really bring the scrutiny down on Frank...aaaand he survives, recovers, starts to grow as a person and inevitably ends up right back to where he was before as Frank's lap dog Chief of Staff. The show takes us on an interesting emotional journey with Doug only to wave it all away and wind up right back at square one.
At this point, the big cliffhanger of season 3, that Claire tells Frank she's leaving him (possibly to run against him in the election)...I have no expectation that it will actually lead to anything meaningful.
At the rate they're going, they'll kill her off before the opening credits of season 4.
While I'm on the subject of Claire Underwood, she's a shining example of my problem with the writing on this show. The writers want to have it both ways in regards to the audience's perception of the Underwoods.
When Frank killed Peter Russo, that was a point of no return. He became the villain, and ultimately the show now becomes a story about his downfall. That's a story that should have been wrapped up by the end of season 3. For comparison sake, Walter White (this will be the first of many Breaking Bad comparisons, I'm sure) becoming Meth King of Albuquerque heralded the start of his fall. He was dead within one season.
Once the scheming, morally bankrupt anti-hero get what they want, the end is nigh. Otherwise, we just end up watching a rotten son of a bitch get away with everything and that gets old pretty quick.
House of Cards basically blew it's wad by having Frank Underwood scheme his way into the oval office by the end of season 2. Unless season 3 involved him overturning the constitution and declaring himself King of America, there wasn't another hill for him to climb.
By the way, the show presented Frank Underwood as the ultimate insider, who knew all of the ins and outs of power. The President really doesn't have that much power in the grand scheme of things. Just look at Obama trying to do anything more than requisition office supplies and see how much power that position carries. Why would Frank want the job? He's achieved everything based on operating behind the scenes so assuming the most public position on the planet would seem counter intuitive. Again, the writers want to play it both ways. Is he a sly manipulating schemer? Or is he an attention craving egomaniac? Those are two personality traits at odds with each other yet they tend to flip flop on them depending on what any particular moment calls for. I'm reminded of Lex Luthor (a villain also once played by Kevin Spacey) in the Justice League cartoon being asked by The Question if his end game was to become President. Luthor's response was "Do you realize how much power I would have to give up to be President". Maybe Frank should have spent less time playing Call of Duty (actually, a pretty fitting obsession for overcompensating hate mongers) and spent more time reading comic books.
Part of the fun in watching Breaking Bad was seeing the inventive ways Walter White would solve his problems. Even as terrible as Walter became, there was still a McGyver like streak of ingenuity to his plans. Sad to say, the creative minds behind House of Cards don't stretch much beyond resorting to some form of dumb luck, happenstance, or character stupidity. Or in the case of season 3, deus ex Doug Stamper.
Speaking of deus ex machina how about Claire Underwood's sudden moral opposition to Frank? I honestly believe that she and Frank were originally going to be brought down together, Bonnie and Clyde style (maybe without the bullets...maybe) but the show runners decided mid way through season 3 that she was going to be the next challenger and so they had to redeem her, frankly (ahem) irredeemable ways. The first two seasons, she was built up as Frank's Lady Macbeth. Complimenting Frank's swagger and bravado with cold, calculating, ruthlessness, Claire Underwood was built up as every bit as horrible as Frank, just in a nicer package.
Now we're expected to believe that she suddenly cares about the life of a man persecuted under Russia's draconian anti-gay laws? This was the same person who basically gave a "go get 'em champ" to Frank before he turned Zoey Barnes into subway bolognese, and now suddenly she cares about people. It's a left field character shift that's emblematic of the writers wanting to have it both ways. Claire will do something completely reprehensible ie - "I will allow your child to wither and die inside of you" but then they make a clumsy attempt to make us sympathize with her.
Overall, I just find that after 3 seasons, the series has just exhausted me beyond caring how anything turns out. Ultimately, this show feels like the writers started liking Frank so much, they forgot that they were supposed to be building toward his fall. At this rate, I wouldn't put it past them to have the show end with Frank walking up to the pearly gates, making a snide comment to camera and then becoming god.
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.