Caution: major spoilers for season three: episode two (and possibly prior episodes) ahead.
You can find my recap/review of season three: episode one here.
The second episode of House of Cards season three opens on a hearing over Claire Underwood’s (Robin Wright) proposed nomination to the title of Ambassador to the U.N. She is heavily interrogated by Republican Senator Mendosa–who pledged in the previous episode to not fight her nomination openly–which causes a media frenzy. While this is going on, Frank (Kevin Spacey) walks into a meeting where he is informed by other party leaders that the Democratic Party does not want him to run for President in 2016. Things aren’t going well for the Underwoods.
The ramifications of these two events carry on for a few scenes. Probably for a few too many. A cross-cutting and split-screening montage ofcampaign phone calls from Claire and Frank seems a bit much.
The more interesting plot line comes from a more cursory character: Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), the House Majority Whip. Jackie is attempting to gain leverage and get on the ticket in 2016 as the Vice Presidential candidate. She makes some chess moves, talking with Frank’s Chief of Staff Remy Denton (Mahershala Ali) and leaking minor information to journalist Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan Marno). These scenes are far more intriguing than the sex scene between Frank and Claire that occurs afterward. Like their sex in previous seasons, it is a weird scene to watch.
While she is selecting the colors for some sort of presidential commemorative egg set, Claire loses the Senate vote for her nomination. It is a somewhat humorous scene that undermines Claire’s political importance on two fronts. As this is going on, Frank is continuing to fight to keep his name in the pool of Presidential candidates. He later meets with the party leaders and tells them that he does not plan to run. In return, he asks for full support for his America Works plan. Clearly, Frank is concocting something.
After this, we arrive at the climax of the episode, in which President Underwood addresses the nation with a speech on his job plan. He stares down the camera and tells America that they are entitled to nothing. Then, he unveils his plan, making the bold claim that he can eradicate unemployment altogether. He plans to re-evaluate the welfare state in order to make room for the budget of America Works. He makes it clear that no President in their right mind would unveil a plan of this magnitude if they were intending to run for office in the following election season. But he can do it–and effectively become a martyr–by choosing not to run for President in 2016.
This speech scene is profoundly awesome, and almost makes up for the tedium of the 40 minutes previous to it. The episode as a whole is fairly bland, but the last few scenes bring some much needed electricity. After the speech scene, Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil) visits Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) at Frank’s request. The scene furthers the seeds planted in the opener about Stamper’s lack of connection to the White House following his mishap. When Seth leaves, Doug succumbs to his unusual new vice of squirting whisky into his mouth via syringe. The scene is ominous and tense. The final third of this episode succeeds in building the suspense over the futures of the characters of Frank and Doug.
The personal fear that I have with this season, and one that I’ve had since seeing the end result of season two, is that the Underwoods can only truly go down from their current position. Frank is no longer fighting up, so all he can do is struggle laterally. This episode proves that the latter isn’t quite as fun to watch. Claire is trying to move up the political ladder, but that might just be a plot tool used as an obstacle in Frank’s continued battle to remain where he always wanted to be. This scenario would likely result in an interesting dynamic shift with the Underwoods internally, in which Frank and Claire become contentious, but I fear that this season may fail to live up to its predecessors. The season opener didn’t hit with the same intensity as the other two premieres, and this follow up isn’t building the intensity enough. I still have hope in this season, but season three: episode two missed the mark for me.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you watched House of Cards season three? If so, what do you think? Does it live up to the other two seasons? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)