House Of Cards: Season Three - Online Review

'though this season lacks the shock-effect moments of the first two seasons, House Of Cards is better when it is being adult and well plotted'

Where House Of Cards: Season Two was characterised by a lack of structure to its story, House Of Cards: Season Three tightens ship. Showrunner Beau Willimon talked extensively in the build up to this season about how his show has always been not about politics, but about marriage. He's wrong of course, but he would be right if he were just talking about the show's third outing. This is a House Of Cards that puts the political into the background frequently to analyse the personal. Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) have made it to The White House, but at what cost to their relationship?

At times, the chosen approach works superbly. Episode Ten, directed by Agnieszka Holland (a veteran of Treme and The Wire), is a huge standout, as good as this show has been since the first season. As a season-long political discussion with Russian leader Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) reaches a head, Claire and Frank's relationship is dragged into a uncomfortable limelight. Can an overtly political personal relationship survive a political hammering? It's an interesting standpoint for the show, well played throughout and though this season lacks the shock-effect moments of the first two seasons, House Of Cards is better when it is being adult and well plotted, rather than having its lead push people of platforms.

There are still, as in Season Two, some bizarre departures to bemoan that threaten to throw the ship off course. Mendoza (Benito Martinez) seems set to form a 'voice of reason' opponent for Frank but then, completely needlessly, he exits off screen to be replaced by a character similar enough to wonder why that needed to happen. It's good to see Kim Dickens back in a meaty role, post-Treme, but her character is here to effectively change places with Ayla Sayyad (Mozhan MarnĂ²), a character who has been built up slowly and apparently purposefully for a little while now. For those hoping for some level of explanation to previously unresolved plot threads; there's no return for Lucas and hardly a reference to Zoe or Russo. This is a very different show from that of the previous two seasons and you do wonder if those plot threads will ever feature again. Freddy (Reg E. Cathey) does at least get a good moment of honesty, late in the season.

Of the new additions, the clear standout is Paul Sparks as potential Underwood biographer Thomas Yates. There's not as much pay-off as you might like and the series still lacks a foil as good as Zoe for Frank, but he does go some way to adding an extra dimension and his changing personal and professional dynamic is the most interesting thing outside of the Underwood's relationship. The ever-reliable Michael Kelly as Doug spends too long in purgatory, giving a lot of his sub plot's action away to Gavin (Jimmi Simpson), who I personally remain unimpressed by. Doug does at least get a wonderfully paced conclusion, as, at various points, do Jackie (Molly Parker) and Elizabeth Marvel's Heather Dunbar, whose roll is vastly increased here, to great effect.

The final episode is revelatory and tense, and the question of whether it quite deserves its open-ended cliffhanger will be one to ponder for some time. For me, there is this: House Of Cards has always felt as though it should document the rise and fall of Frank Underwood. After an uncertain second outing, it does now appear to be comfortable in those shoes and determined to get us there by way of enough periphery interest to keep us watching. Roll on Season Four.

House Of Cards: Season Three was playing on Netflix.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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