With the first two episodes setting the scene, Frank begins to get down to actual business of politics. Negotiating with the Russian President, he is faced with swallowing a whole lot of pride in order to avoid a world war. Meanwhile, Claire’s biggest battle is with the perception of her not as Ambassador to the UN, but as the First Lady.
Episodes 3 and 4 centre around a high-stakes discussion with President Petrov of Russia, regarding missile capabilities, seduction in automobiles, and gold-bottled vodka worth three quarters of a million dollars. Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) is a brash, crude and brutish opponent for Frank, seeming to continue his stressful road to re-election. The anti-hero President is still fighting on several fronts, giving Spacey a chance to show a less certain side to Underwood – akin to his debate loss in Season 1. It may seem alien, but we need little reminder that Frank is all the more bloodthirsty with his back against the wall.
Nepotism is the only word Claire hears through this portion of the season – entirely of her own making, of course – but to the Underwoods, not having your power respected is a fate worse than death. Beau Willimon and co. write her to perfection, allowing Robin Wright’s mastery of the character to ensure that while Claire may falter, there really seems to be no stopping her; while her husband strains to survive with no power left to seize, Claire still has several goals she’s hungry to attain.
Aside from Episode 3 ending in a colourful and flamboyant feminist cry for the audience – a welcome and interesting flair – these episodes very much imply business as usual for both the characters and those holding their strings. The main focus is on the politics, the writing illuminating the fact that Francis and Claire still very much have their bite. Underwood continues to roll out his “New Deal” policies, assuring the nation of a tougher stance of foreign affairs as well as a guaranteed 10 million jobs, but Frank shows that he can still fight when his opponent is worthy, and dislikable, enough. Episode 4 follows suit, dealing the conniving politician an opponent who knows his tactics and reputation all too well; if Francis Underwood does have one true enemy, ethics is it.
Now, to the character’s return we did not want to spoil: Doug Stamper.
Upon auditioning for the role, Michael Kelly was informed by showrunner Beau Willimon “I don’t want to ever see you emote” and Kelly has brilliantly obeyed this idea. He has Stamper on his knees this season, desperate to work for Frank; he can survive the trauma of being attacked with a brick in Chapter 26, but not being absent from the office. With old habits creeping back and a distance forming between himself and his mentor, the real worry lies in what Stamper is capable of when let off the leash.
A notable absence from the show so far is Rachel Brosnahan’s soulful runaway, Rachel Posner. Portrayed effortlessly through two seasons and currently hunted by Doug and his hacker-for-hire Gavin Orsey (Jimmi Simpson, sans Cashew so far), audiences will be desperate to have someone on their screens who hasn’t lied and murdered their way to the top. So far, though, the Underwoods’ battles are sharp, deadly and prestigious enough to keep anyone busy – and their endgames are still anyone’s guess.
All 13 episodes of House of Cards Season 3 are available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Photos: David Giesbrecht for Netflix