President Francis Underwood. Season 3 picks up where Season 2 left off, with Kevin Spacey’s ruthlessly pragmatic anti-hero sitting in the Oval Office as the most powerful man in the world.
Episode 1 (or Chapter 27) exists as a slow-paced, beautifully shot reminder of the current standings: who’s still in the picture and what their role is in the Underwood Administration. It’s not the shock-and-awe tying of loose ends that the last season opener offered; this is much darker, as if attempting to provoke a response.
The most troubling thing about Season 3 is Frank’s lack of edge. As the President, he is far more restricted by the rules and legality of his actions. For a man who earned his prestigious title back-channelling, backstabbing and flat-out lying, being leader of the free world is proving a very honest business. With his approval ratings suffering and his opposition ensuring they stay that way, Frank is finally kicked back into action with a real challenge. Spacey performs precisely, balancing Frank’s soothing likeability with anger. There’s nowhere to go from the top.
Robin Wright continues to steal the show as Claire Underwood, who is trying to find a place for herself in the new order. Episode 2 (Chapter 28) expands on this, mirroring Claire’s struggle to find a job with Frank’s struggle to keep his; the possibilty of applying to become the UN Ambassador makes it clear that being the First Lady is not Claire’s endgame.
With the first two episodes revolving around the couple, it becomes apparent that their relationship is suffering. Claire isn’t being taken seriously and Frank is ill-suited to a job so out of his control, leading both of them to have very little time to support the other. And when it does happen, it’s very clear how they both feel about it.
Many of the old faces return – some in the corridors of power, others watching from the sidelines on the TV, most slightly more deceptive and determined than ever. Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) returns to overload the Abuse of Handsomeness quota, while some of Frank’s former political allies turn on him now he cannot bite back.
Writer Beau Willimon, as always, has a meticulous gift for shifting power dynamics through conversations, but the Underwoods emit an air of awkwardness here that we’ve rarely witnessed. The idea that they aren’t on the same page is as unnerving as any of their previous threats or crimes.
Once more, House of Cards begins with a few, very calculated moves. Within a couple of episodes, the air is humid with manipulation but, as familiar as we are with those involved, predictions are futile at this point. We know what these people want, but how they get it and who they have to go through is yet to be seen.
All 13 episodes of House of Cards Season 3 will premiere on Netflix UK at 08.01am on Friday 27th February.
Photos: David Giesbrecht for Netflix