April 24th, 2015
Spoiler alert! Today I'm writing about possibly the best TV show I have ever seen: House of Cards. The first two seasons blew me away. The tangled plots, layered characters, multiple surprises, and overall magnitude of writing left me awed. It also ended with just the perfect amount of finality and an overwhelming sense of "where could they possibly go from here?!"
Sadly, season 3 answered that, and it wasn't pretty. All things considered, it wasn't a bad effort, but in the end it just didn't hold a candle to seasons 1 and 2. I will refrain from complaining and instead identify the specific weaknesses, in my mind:
1: Defense. In the first 2 seasons Frank used treachery and subterfuge to dismantle a number of high ranking opponents, including the president. That was one of the best parts. In season 3 he lost every round he fought. Watching the protagonist struggle a bit is one thing, but this was just painful, especially seeing him fall to the Russian PM.
2: Minor characters. Before, we had Zoe Barns, Peter Russo, Raymond Tusk, and a bunch of other excellent characters with brilliant sub-plots. There were none in season 3. Even the returning characters felt flat. The would-be memoir writer had potential but didn't quite deliver.
3: Doug. He served no purpose in the bigger picture and watching him mope around obsessing over Rachel was again, painful.
So overall it was disappointing. The 'twist' at the end was good, but there was not one event that really struck me. I firmly believe they wrote 2 seasons and then upon seeing its success the empty suits hired some second stringers, slapped a script together, and made season 3 on the fly. Typical.
Now here's the tricky part: how would I fix it? Everything lacked punch and that is usually one of those 'je ne sais quoi' effects that separates the hacks from the masters. I definitely would have Frank Defeat Petrov in some brilliantly treacherous way, possibly involving Claire getting some sweet revenge, too. I would increase the influence the minor characters had on Frank. As the President he was able to ignore them and their arcs almost entirely where previously he warped and abused them for his own devices. Things did fall apart at the end and that was interesting but a bit too little too late. Finally I certainly would have left Doug dead.