House of Cards: Season 3 Episode 1 Recap/Review
Note: major spoilers ahead.
In the opening scene of the Netflix Original Series’ third season premiere, we see a motorcade running through the rural town of Gaffney en route to a cemetery. Frank Underwood, now President of the United States, is visiting the grave of his deceased father. But this is only for show, to make Frank appear “more human.” Kevin Spacey breaks the fourth wall to explain this annoying necessity to uphold a public image of humanity, and the realization sets in that a year of waiting for more House of Cards is finally over.
Following the opening titles, we see the back of the head of Michael Kelly’s ever-loyal Doug Stamper, who was left for dead in the woods at the end of season two. The writers, probably realizing that they can’t kill off every great actor from the show, thankfully grant us more Kelly. We see Stamper undergoing surgery and laying in a hospital bed incapacitated while his brother reads him the news (which includes a synopsis of what sounds like the most intense World Series game in history). Stamper is bent out of shape, to say the least. Suffering from brain damage sustained from the rock to his temple, Stamper is informed that his motor skills and emotional stability are in jeopardy.
We follow Stamper for some time. Apparently, Underwood’s approval rating is abysmal, and Stamper is determined to get back to the White House before Underwood’s 2016 Presidential Campaign gets into full swing.
Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) pays Stamper a visit, and they concoct a believable cover story that he can relay to the police. The problem of Rachel’s (Rachel Brosnahan) whereabouts still floats around Stamper’s plotline, as does his emotional attachment to her.
It becomes abundantly clear throughout the episode that Underwood is distancing himself from Stamper. The contacts list on his phone has been wiped. The phone number he is given from Claire as a line to the White House is for “emergencies only.” As it stands midway through the episode, when Stamper breaks down crying in his home, he is physically, emotionally, and politically powerless.
Michael Kelly is at the top of his game in this season opener. The emotional depth of his character is on full display with quiet and contemplative body language. The inclusion of Stamper’s brother adds another layer to the character’s intense admiration for his position and loyalty to Underwood. The scene where Stamper first comes home after being discharged from the hospital is beautifully icy.
When focus is briefly returned to Frank, we see that he is struggling both as a public figure and with the political figures around him in getting his job plan–America Works–off the ground. It is a plan that would make Frank look good in 2016, if all goes as planned.
When focus is then shifted back to Stamper, awesome events transpire, as he falls in the shower and severely fractures his forearm. However, instead of calling 911, he duct tapes a wooden spoon to his arm so that he doesn’t miss his chance to speak to the President. It is another marvelous scene by Kelly.
When Frank and Stamper finally do meet, it becomes all the more clearer that Doug may be being phased out of the Administration. It’s a great interaction between the two.
We later find out that Claire is making political moves of her own, vying to become the Ambassador to the U.N., hoping that it could springboard her into larger political positions in the future. There is a scene between Claire and Frank that takes on their respective political futures, and is brilliantly executed by both Wright and Spacey.
The first episode of season three is heavily centered on the character of Doug Stamper. It makes sense: there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered about him and his place in the world of the show is rightfully in question. However, we do get some insights into Underwood’s new role, as well as an interesting glimpse into his wife’s aspirations. It doesn’t deliver with quite the same explosiveness that the season two opener did, but season three-episode one does its job in setting the stage for another promising season of this political drama.