I turned 36 this week, with thoughts that Netflix and Kevin Spacey conspired to give me a present: House of Cards, Season 3, went live on Friday.
I just happened to give myself that day off from work. I assure you, it was just pure coincidence. It also had nothing to do with the fact that my fiancé never got into the show, so it was best to binge as much as possible before torturing her.
Unfortunately, it seems that with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his equally manipulative wife Claire (Robin Wright) at the pinnacle of success, they don’t know what to do. Indeed, that feeling permeates the entire third season, as if its directors and producers were lost even as their show has become a major success.
Again, the season started with promise when we finally got to see Underwood. How can you go wrong when the Machiavellian main character starts off urinating on his father’s grave?
After communing with his dearly departed dad, the show lets us know that Underwood has terrible approval ratings and is fighting both houses in Congress after proposing the elimination of entitlements to pay for America Works (AmWorks), a massive jobs program. Amusingly, no one points out that it’s just a new entitlement program.
Indeed, that reality exposes a great cognitive dissonance on the part of President Underwood when he famously tells the American people that they “are entitled to nothing!” It was rousing rhetoric. It’s the sort of thing we would love to hear from Republican leaders. Hearing it from a fictional Democrat was even more interesting.
But this domestic policy debate offered a great backdrop to see how the ruthless president would fight some of his old adversaries. Mix that in with the addition of a global adversary, Putin clone Victor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), and you have the makings for some great conflicts.
However, the execution was weak. Indeed, one can say that weakness is the theme of this season and it makes absolutely no sense.
Here you have Francis Underwood, a man who schemed his way into the White House by manipulating the sitting president to appoint him as Vice-President and then forcing that Chief Executive to step down by engineering a battle between the President, an American billionaire and a Chinese princeling. However, in Season 3, he is the constant beggar, coming hat in hand to men he handily manipulated in Congress and getting dismissed.
Perhaps, in dealing with Russian President Petrov, a different power dynamic could be understood. After all, it’s not like Underwood can murder a Russian strong man like a drunken congressman or meddlesome reporter. But again, here is the opportunity for the sort of Great Powers gamesmanship this role was designed for.
Instead, Petrov insults Underwood in the White House – including a sloppy kiss on First Lady Claire Underwood – and dismisses the Israeli peace plan Underwood proposes. Then Underwood flies around the world, following the Russian like a lovestruck teenager in hopes that he can surrender enough American interests around the world to get Russian support.
At one point, Spacey’s portrayal brings to mind our current president when he proclaims that he can end an international crisis if he could but just talk to Petrov one more time. He flies into a war zone to do just that. Again, however, the talk revolves around how Underwood can best dismantle America’s missile defense systems in order to earn some Russian crumbs.
Yet maybe, now that Frank Underwood had brought his wife to the most exclusive piece of real estate in all the land, he would have peace at home with Claire, right?
Nope. The little lady decided she wanted to be ambassador to the UN. Obligingly, Underwood nominates her and she bombs her Senate confirmation hearings. Claire then browbeats her husband — the leader of the free world — into using a recess appointment to get her the job.
So on every front, a character whose wiles and strength made him so interesting that the second season of House of Cards slowed down the internet, is now whipped.
Underwood tries to regain some of his own mojo, in a storyline that appeared prescient in predicting President Barack Obama’s decision to rewrite immigration laws, by declaring joblessness in Washington, D.C., an emergency and raiding FEMA’s disaster coffers to fund his AmWorks program. Yet even then, he blinks when a hurricane threatens the East Coast and Congress refuses to appropriate more funds unless he scraps the program.
The season’s main subplot, the survival and recovery of political fixer Doug Stamper storyline, who had been left for dead at the end of the second season, devolves into a meandering waste. After Stamper has regained his strength, he is tossed aside by the president. This is a curious mistake, as up until now, Underwood has been canny in his use of human resources.
However, it at least allows for the tantalizing possibility that Stamper will, in his rejection, go to work for his former boss’ enemies. Or maybe he will drink himself into oblivion. Or maybe he will just obsess over the call girl who nearly killed him.
Even this “drama” petered away when Stamper parlays betrayal into becoming the president’s chief of staff, in the final phase of the season. Yet in a show that has often strained credulity with such skill you don’t even notice it, the strain becomes a break when Stamper, the White House chief of staff, vanishes for days just before the Iowa caucus without anyone mentioning it.
The season finale fizzled as it focused more on the angst-ridden whining about the relationship between Frank and Claire instead of the primary fight upon which the entire season had focused. It leaves the door open for a season four. The only question is whether we will want to walk through it.
Join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the fifth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism.
- Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek
- Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
- Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
- David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:
2014 – Starting the Discussion
- Sarah Hoyt, March 22 2014: Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island
- David S. Bernstein, June 20 2014: What Is Liberty Island?
- Adam Bellow at National Review, June 30 2014 kicking off the discussion: Let Your Right Brain Run Free
- Dave Swindle on September 7, 2014: Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution
- Dave Swindle on September 9, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I
- Dave Swindle on September 19, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part II
- David S. Bernstein on November 19, 2014: 5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Dave Swindle on November 25, 2014: 7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook
- Kathy Shaidle on November 25, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part One)
- Dave Swindle on December 2, 2014: My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors
- Kathy Shaidle on December 3, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part Two)
- Mark Elllis on December 9, 2014: Ozzy Osbourne and the Conservative Tent: Is He In?
- Aaron C. Smith on December 22, 2014: The Villains You Choose
January 2015 – Volume I
- Paula Bolyard on January 1, 2015: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on January 1, 2015: The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015
- Kathy Shaidle on January 4, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part One)
- Andrew Klavan on January 5, 2015: In 2015 The New Counter-Culture Needs to Be Offensive!
- Clay Waters on January 5, 2015: The Decline and Fall of Russell Brand
- Mark Ellis on January 5, 2015: How Conservatives Can Counter the Likable Liberal
- Audie Cockings on January 5, 2015: Entertainers Have Shorter Lifespans
- Aaron C. Smith on January 6, 2015: How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism
- Stephen McDonald on January 10, 2015: Why the New Counter-Culture Should Make Strength Central to Its Identity
- Stephen McDonald on January 16, 2015: The Metaphorical War
- Kathy Shaidle on January 19, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part Two)
- Frank J. Fleming on January 20, 2015: What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?
- Mark Ellis on January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?
- Aaron C. Smith on January 29, 2015: Objection! Why TV’s The Good Wife Isn’t Good Law
- David Solway on February 2, 2015: For a Song To Be Good, Must It Tell The Truth?
- Mark Ellis on February 6, 2015: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism
- David Solway on February 6, 2015: ‘Imagine’ a World Without the Brotherhood
- Kathy Shaidle on February 9, 2015: Was Rod McKuen the Secret Godfather of Punk Rock?
- Aaron C. Smith on February 10, 2015: Kick NBC While It’s Down: Use The Williams Scandal to Set the Terms of the 2016 Debates
- Spencer Klavan on February 12, 2015: How to Apologize for Your Thought Crimes
- Kathy Shaidle on February 16, 2015: David Byrne: Creepy Liberal Hypocrite
- David P. Goldman on February 18, 2015: Understanding This Bloody Truth About the Bible Will Save Your Life
- Lisa De Pasquale on February 20, 2015: Why American Sniper Is a Much Better Love Story Than Fifty Shades of Grey
- Spencer Klavan on February 24, 2015: How Bad Ideology Destroys Good TV: Why Glee Crashed and Burned