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‘House of Cards’ third season finally arrives

February 27, 2015

Editor’s Note: This article contains major spoilers of the first two seasons of House of Cards.

Two raps on an Oval Office desk and the unapologetic, unflinching stare of Frank Underwood ended season two of Netflix’s award-winning series “House of Cards” last February, leaving viewers with a deceptive denouement moment of “what now?”

Season three became available for live-streaming Friday morning and will answer the question of exactly that, but more importantly, if “Cards” will lose its thunder, now that Frank must lead rather than stealthily ascend the ladder of power.

My verdict? Unlikely, and there’s more than one reason why.

First, a recap: Frank (Kevin Spacey) had just successfully schemed his way from his position as House Majority Whip to President of the United States. He’d committed murders, strong-armed politicians, sent journalists to prison and won grudge matches – all without getting caught.

If you’re like me, you saw it coming: in season one, Frank said he loved his wife Claire (Robin Wright) like “sharks love blood,” and a shark is just what Frank is, honing in on weaknesses like blood in the water that is U.S. politics. To complement Frank’s head-on manner, he routinely stares into the camera to deliver a line or two of inner monologue, often with Claire or his right-hand man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) seemingly patiently waiting for him to finish.

Second reason is that, with “Cards,” it’s roughly 75 percent about the journey and only 25 percent about the destination. Frank is a suit-and-tie villain with a genteel Southern drawl and a matter-of-fact ruthlessness. At his side is the soft-spoken Claire, a she-wolf in sheep’s clothing who always lands on her feet like a cat.

Together, they make for the power couple that you simultaneously hope to never meet but want to be. Frank and Claire are a breath of fresh air on the movie couple scene, never afraid to remind each other they are equals and always prepared to claw someone’s eyes out in defense of the other.

Most endearingly, they jog and stop smoking cigarettes together. That’s the heart of “Cards”: amid all of the extravagant politicking are characters we could meet on the street. From Frank to the prostitute-turned-redeemer Rachel, each character is multi-faceted, sympathetic or at least realistic.

Besides mirroring real-life politics with varying exactness, the show has portrayed heavier issues like abortion and surviving sexual assault. It stops short of falling into a trap of sensationalism or clichés with its abrupt twists, sometimes in the form of revenge served cold.

Throw in balancing ambition with morals, artful mise-en-scene, symbolism, and sex, and “Cards” earns its accolades.

Which leads to season three: what will “One nation, Underwood” be like? Early reviews say it’s not a pretty picture, which gives credence that “Cards” won’t lose its edge. Its mimicry of reality keeps viewers hooked, and slivers of plot like horrible approval ratings, a grid-locked Congress and an ice-cold Russian president (sound familiar?) imply it’s going to stay that way. In addition, previews say a major plot twist occurs in the first episode; viewers may remember that season two’s first episode ended with someone being pushed in front of a train.

There will be no rest for those wicked Underwoods, and that’s ultimately why the show will survive. Frank and Claire are not good people. We watch them walk their tightrope knowing that they deserve to fall for what they’ve done, and yet, we’re rooting for them.

It’s like a sadistic little devil on your shoulder: The bad people have all of the cards now. Let them deal, and let’s see how the poor saps playing them fair.

Cassie Burton
Courier Editor in Chief

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