Like most everything else, television is all about relationships. From “The Sopranos” to “Community,” all great shows use personal relationships as a fulcrum to lift up the rest of the plot around them. However, when shows (especially dramas) forgot about the world outside of a marriage or a friendship, when things turn inward just a little bit too much, your show starts to suck.
In a vacuum, there isn’t that much writers can do with relationships that hasn’t already been done or isn’t an inherent part of the human experience. You can write a marriage well, and you can make it seem real, but nobody can transform it well enough that it’s all anybody wants to see. That, in a nutshell, is what ruins “House of Cards.”
Now, just to warn you, I haven’t really liked anything “House of Cards” has thrown at me this side of the season two premiere. I thought the second season was too easy, President Walker couldn’t even manage a Jamba Juice and certainly wasn’t a convincing president. The third season suffered from an opposite problem; it just seemed too hard, and much of that had to do with the changing dynamics in Frank and Claire Underwood’s marriage.
Instead of moving the two strong characters we knew from previous seasons into the Oval Office, we get two weak, distilled versions of them. All of the sudden, Frank is indecisive and ineffectual; he can’t even keep control of his own party, much less the stereotypical Russian president he’s set up against. Yet, Claire is now a puppet to this weak husband’s will, a completely hollowed out woman that can’t even be pitied.
This is the innate tragedy of the new season. Claire Underwood was once a platform for the exploration of volatile social issues; there was the abortion arc in season one, and the frank discussion of sexual assault both at the university and military levels was easily one of the show’s most brilliant moments.
Now, with her as the First Lady, the writers had the chance to use Claire as an even more powerful advocate for change. She would never have as much individual power as she does as First Lady, and the anticipation for season three was such that the show had never been so popular. Instead, she fails in spectacular fashion as a UN ambassador, and we get Jackie Sharp using women’s rights as a weapon against the bland Heather Dunbar. It’s confusing that a show normally so vocal about current American issues would use something as important as women’s rights in such a crass manner.
Yet, at its heart, this is a show about Frank Underwood, and most of the problems stem from him. Frank was a shark; maybe not the biggest fish in the pond, but definitely the most dangerous. Well, this shark lost all of his teeth. Frank grows a heart and loses the ability to instill fear, and the two things that made him fun were his complete lack of morals and his ability to instill fear.
So…. not great. This is also the season where we see Frank Underwood cry, which is about as awkward as last year’s Meachum threesome. By the end of the season, he makes the aforementioned President Walker look like Emperor Palpatine. I thought “House of Cards”was boring last year because it was too easy on the Underwoods. Well, it’s even worse when it’s too hard.
Still like “House of Cards” this season? Let Jake know at firstname.lastname@example.org.