Tuesday, March 3, 2015

House of Cards Season 3: The Return of The West Wing?

Yeah, if only. The number of people he has killed so far in Season 3 is ZERO.

Spoilers below.

Well, I have watched 9 of the 13 episodes of Season 3 of Netflix's House of Cards. I don't want to say very much about it because the show doesn't warrant terribly much commentary. If you were a fan of the BBC original, which I heartily commend to you, then you are probably seriously disappointed at this point.

Here's the problem. Now that Francis Underwood has climbed to the top and into the Oval Office, suddenly he seems to have lost his cynicism and menace. The plot of the season centers on a ridiculous New Deal-type of jobs program that Frank seems to earnestly believe in: "It's about jobs," he implores. He makes a saccharine visit to the FDR memorial, to show just how much he believes in this nonsense. In contrast, Season 3 of the "real" House of Cards had Prime Minister Francis Urquhart pursuing universal conscription, but only so he could use the "surplus population" to redress the balance of trade. Frank Underwood gets called "a tyrant" for his efforts, but calling him a tyrant seems rather hysterical. Frank's attempt to launch "America Works" is no more tyrannical than President Obama's health care reform machinations. So, in sum: Ho-hum.

Now this fellow...this fellow could get things sorted out in the remaining four episodes.

Frank has a couple of moments where his old self shines through, but there isn't any followup (so far). He pisses on his father's headstone. He spits on a crucifix (which promptly shatters into a thousand pieces). He contemplates pushing the President of Russia (who is the greatest thing about this season) down a stairwell and lighting his body on fire. But overall, he seems to have grown a conscience this season, which is hell on a dramatic series. Imagine if Macbeth had grown a conscience, or Iago. People would walk out before the end of the play. Frank's horrible wife, Claire, tells him that "we're murderers, Francis," and the rest of season contains a bunch of hokey crap about mourning the loss of soldiers he sends into harm's way. Very West Wing.

President Bartlett, by the way, also cursed God in a church.

Frank is generally taking shit from way too many people. His wife is the prime offender, getting him to give her a recess appointment as UN ambassador, which she promptly makes a hash of. Having a dissident hang himself with her scarf as she dozes within arm's reach, when her mission is to bring him safely home, is nothing but a complete disaster. She is so insufferable, though, that she compounds the damage by spouting off during a press conference, condemning Russia's president, to his face, for not being as enlightened as she is about gay rights. Claire is no longer a partner to Francis, but a problem. The old Frank knew how to take care of problems.

"Yes, I'm aware that this short haircut makes me look like a man."

So, just four more episodes to watch and Francis has a lot of work to do. First, he has to drop his earnest belief in government programs to change anyone's life for the better. His villainy, you see, at least to the elites who seem to like this show, is plain in that President Underwood would dare to "gut" Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in order to fund a federal jobs program -- they see that as evil, when it is only swapping one flavor of welfare state for another. The other reason they have to hate Frank is that he grew up poor, and went to a military college on scholarship. [It's funny that he seems never to have served in the military, though, as most graduates of the Citadel (called the Sentinel in the show) would have during the time.] The English viewing public was expected to hate Francis Urquhart because he grew up rich. The American elites prefer their villains to have less distinguished pedigrees than their own.

Frank has to either get Claire back on board, or neutralize her. He has to punish Chief of Staff Remy for talking back to him. He has to stabilize the unstable Doug Stamper. He has to punish the demented Supreme Court Justice and the woman who is running against him for President in 2016. He needs to show his VP running mate who's boss. He needs to destroy the head of FEMA, who is an insufferable bureaucrat who thinks that he's irreplaceable. Pretty much the only people who are in the clear are his press secretary, his biographer (well, so far), and Secret Service agent Meachem (but he seems a bit mentally unstable as well).

That's a lot of work for just four episodes. I'm not hopeful. The only person being Frank Underwood this season is the Russian President. Killing eight of your own soldiers with an IED because "Russia has nothing to gain from peace in the Middle East" is exactly what Francis Urquhart would have done.


I watched Episode 10. It's not looking good. Frank met with the Russian President Victor Something in a desert outpost and was utterly emasculated. At the Russian's insistence, Frank had to fire Claire (vengeance for embarrassing Victor at the press conference). Then he ended up holding hands with his biographer (a former homosexual hustler) in the middle of the night in the White House residence. WTF?

The problem is that nothing that Frank has done this season answers the question, "What's in it for me?" How does reforming entitlements and bringing peace to the Middle East get him elected in his own right in 2016? And how can he tolerate all those morons at the Iowa town hall meetings? Why not a vicious aside during those moments? (You can imagine what Francis Urquhart would have thought of rubbing shoulders with those plebeians.)

The episode ended with a totally out of nowhere, supposedly menacing stare into the camera. What are you so mad about Frank? That you turned out to be such a wuss?

There is a clue as to how he might get out of this. His aides noted that Claire was very popular with women. What's more popular than a popular first lady? 

How about a grieving Presidental candidate who just became a widower because his wife was apparently shot down in her helicopter by the Russians? Talk about a rally round the flag effect.

Go for it, Frank. I know you have it in you.

Update, 3/4/15

Well, that's 13 hours of my life I'll never get back. What a waste of a season. Everyone on the show talks about Frank Underwood as if he's some demonic force, but he didn't do anything but talk a big game for this entire season. The lady reporter said, "He's the President of the United States. He destroys people." Whom exactly did he destroy this season? He fired one fellow from the AmWorks committee but that guy went straight to the press and ended up hurting Frank. Doug Stamper (finally!) getting around to killing Rachel was just some leftover mischief from before Frank was President. His biographer isn't afraid of him and his threats (hard to fear a guy who wears purple sweaters). The humorless Heather Dunbar tears him a new one every time she opens her mouth. Even useless little Jackie Sharp of the quivering lip gets away with stabbing him in the back. Chief of Staff Remy abandons him without repercussions. Even Freddy, the BBQ man who would be unemployed without Frank, talks smack behind Frank's back this season. And then this whole twisted nonsense about barren, reptilian Claire leaving him? What is the freaking point of all this? Worse yet, who cares what happens in the marriage of these two people?

The season ended with Frank winning the Iowa caucus. That probably means that season 4 is going to cover the general election of 2016. My first hope is that the producers understand that if they want Frank to be a villain, they are going to have to make his Republican opponent a good guy proposing sound policies. I doubt that they will be able to manage that. More likely, the Republican villain will out-villain Frank, as the Russian villain did this season.

Next, Claire has to die. We have suffered enough. There is precedent, as Francis Urquhart's wife had him killed in the final episode of Season 3 of the original, excellent BBC House of Cards. I'm sure there's a long list of people who would be glad to help Frank out with that one.

I haven't any idea how Frank's going to handle Heather Dunbar. So, she might have to die, too. A plane crash, let's say. 

I'm hoping that Frank's got video surveillance of Remy's apartment, so he's got Jackie Sharp's adultery on tape. That would take care of her.

And Frank needs to think seriously about what he wants from the power he wields. Sitting in "the Oval" (omigod do people actually say that -- it's soooo lame) obviously isn't enough on its own. Since he supposedly hates God so much, why not go on an anti-Christian crusade, under the guise of separating Church and State? Pressure state governments to remove property tax exemptions from churches. Forbid government funding that involves any religious charity. Don't allow Catholic-affiliated hospitals to get Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements. Burn the National Christmas tree and end the Easter Egg roll. 

Be the villain they think you are, Frank.




No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.