What happened to House of Cards?
It is said that the third season of a TV show is often the point in which two paths emerge: the path to greatness and the path to weakness. Shows like Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation took the former and it looks like House of Cards may take the latter.
When the first season was released on Netflix in 2013, it immediately became something of a mainstream trailblazer for the web television industry. It employed real stars like Kevin Spacey and David Fincher, and having all the episodes out at once gave viewers unprecedented 24/7 access, allowing them to view the show at their own leisurely (or frantic) pace.
Really, it took the term “binge-watching” to a whole new level, and that was the main indication House of Cards was pretty good. People (myself included) were having a field day watching all the episodes in the span of one weekend, or even one day.
Then the second season came around in 2014, and viewers were treated to more shadowy political affairs carried out by Francis Underwood (Spacey) and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright). It wasn’t as good as the first season, thanks to the absence of a worthy adversary to pit against Underwood and Spacey hamming it up a bit too much, but it was still entertaining. In short, the show’s future looked fine.
Now? House of Cards looks like a real house of cards: wobbly. The third season is an absolute disappointment and it makes sense. What does a man do when he has achieved his ultimate goal? Underwood is now POTUS and Claire is the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
When someone peaks so early, the only thing left is his downfall. In political terms, Underwood does okay this season. Instead, it’s his relationship with his wife that takes a number of hits throughout the episodes. But there’s a different problem with this season – a much bigger problem: why is this season so exhausting to watch?
The season premiere begins with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) going through grueling physical therapy as he slowly recovers from getting his skull dented by Rachel (and a brick) in the second season’s finale. He looks tired, but so does everybody else, including Frank Underwood himself. He might be a cunning politician, but nobody gets away from the physical and mental toll of running the most powerful country in the world.
To make matters much, much worse, there’s only one color in this fictional universe: beige. Everything is beige, from the White House to even the scenes that take place outside in daylight. Everything looks sapped of life and is aesthetically depressing and a downright disaster. There were moments like that in the first two seasons, but it was never this unrelenting and hard on the eyes.
If there’s one positive to this season, it has to be the absence of any inexplicably creepy sex scenes, like the threesome last season. For better or for worse, that threesome never gets mentioned here, which doesn’t seem to make too much sense since Meechum is still Underwood’s personal bodyguard.
Frankly, I’m not sure if House of Cards can get back on track in the fourth season. It was always a tad overrated to begin with, mostly leaning on Spacey’s entertaining acting, but providing little in actual substance.
Andy Greenwald, from Grantland, once compared the show to Doritos: you never feel full. That was in full display this season.