Reflections on House of Cards after watching all of it in two sittings

“Claire” The final word of the third season of House of Cards comes as a relief. I rub my eyes. Embracing my exhaustion at last I make a halfway sincere promise never to watch this show ever again.

I’ve just finished watching the series in two marathon runs, sitting through the disintegration of the First Couple’s marriage while the glue that holds the Underwood Empire in place loosens, with ramparts and buttresses like Remy Danton or Jackie Sharp falling by the wayside.

By the end of last season Frank had manipulated his way to the top. The raison d’etre of the show was forced, as a result, to change. That’s not to say that Frank’s aggressive nature changes, it’s just much harder for him to operate the way he wants. Even as President he needs to assert his superiority, although it ruins every relationship he has.

There are changes in the show’s structure. By the second half of the season Frank has lost the confidence it takes to address the audience. His famous sidelong discussions with the camera are gone, as he tries to put out fire after fire.

Probably the most interesting addition to the show is Tom Yates, the writer of a book about Underwood’s anti-Obamacare project; America Works. Yates is a salt-of-the-earth-writer, like Tom Wolfe or Richard Yates, who in the course of the season reveals that he was once a junkie, a hooker and also stole an unfinished manuscript from his dying friend.

He’s just one of the frenemies added to an ever growing list, along with the Russian Premier Petrov, whose political aggression mirrors Vladimir Putin, and Heather Dunbar, a lawyer turned presidential candidate whose tenacity throws a legitimate roadblock in Underwood’s quest to be the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt.

These people are interesting but their stories pale alongside the overturned admiration for Underwood, a downward trajectory that begins somewhere around the seventh episode. His demons are revealed and his Achilles heel turns out to be larger than anyone would ever expect.

I feel sorry for him, but his wilful ignorance of the damage he has wrought on his own life is also disturbing and uncomfortable. While House of Cards was once seen as a show glamorising the pursuit of power, we’re now shown the pitfalls of this quest with harrowing honesty.

The Osama bin Laden of the west is looking down the barrel of destruction, his own wife seeming like a potential opponent and what can you do but await the fourth season; a difficult task to face.

Bryan Grogan

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