House of Cards: Series 3, Episode 1
Well, House of Cards certainly knows how to open with a statement, with newly presidential protagonist Frank Underwood “paying respects” to his father’s grave in a unique way. The familiar, foreboding title sequence brings an odd sort of comfort, for an audience that has spent many months in the inter-seasonal wilderness.
Kicking in six months after we last saw Frank Underwood, the first revelation of this episode is that loyal bulldog Doug Stamper survived the events of the season two finale. We see artfully shot snippets of his recovery in hospital, in the grand, almost painterly, cinematographic style synonymous with the show.
Just as we’re expecting a quick return to the status quo, it’s revealed that Stamper’s recovery isn’t going to be quite as quick as it appeared.
As Stamper watches the news from his hospital bed, yearning to figure out what he missed, so are the audience. It’s a neat reversal of circumstances for the character, and has the added advantage of showing us the dark, cynical world Frank Underwood inhabits from the outside, where the previous seasons have placed us in the midst of it, as Frank’s trusted fourth-wall-breaking confidants.
His sense of abandonment is palpable, cast adrift from his boss; hearing from him only via messengers.
Actor Michael Kelly basically carries the season opener, taking the opportunity to broaden Stamper’s emotional range considerably. House of Cards proves that it can still shock, through Stamper’s improvised self-treatment of a broken arm, and puts Stamper on the receiving end of Franks’ manipulation tactics for once.
Stamper and Underwood aren’t ones to rest on their laurels; though there are opportunities for a vindicating “we made it” moment, Underwood rapping on the Oval office desk at the conclusion of the last season remains the closest we get to one.
We see that America is hardly prospering with Underwood at the helm, and that his staff are suspicious of his hard-line plans for the country. Frank is determined to leave a legacy. For the last two seasons, he’s had a game plan, but it’s clear that’s no longer true.
This far into the narrative, House of Cards is unlikely to win many new converts, but the new season will surely treat existing fans.
This first episode sets up some threads that will surely be developed over the coming hours, but at this early stage, with Frank having achieved the highest office in the land, there’s no obvious destination. It’s hard to say where season three will go from here, but the most devoted fans are surely completing their season-long binges as I write.