Review: House of Cards (Season 3, Episode 1)

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If Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) is nothing else, he is endlessly allegiant and loyal to someone like Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) who is as despicable and disloyal as politicians get. SPOILER ALERT! We’ve seen Frank commit murder, manipulate underlings with ailing spouses and exchange sexual favors for inside-Washington tidbits but he has always been fiercely dedicated to his Chief of Staff…until now. At the end of last season, Doug was savagely beaten and presumed dead from his injuries, the opener for season 3 is primarily a Doug-centric episode.

We watch Doug go through the physical rehabilitation process without wincing in the face of others. Doug doesn’t weep openly. Kelly is superb at internalizing the character’s agony. A phenomenal scene occurs when Doug awakens to find Claire who, at first glance, is compassionate about his well-being. Then she implicitly coaches Doug on his fictitious alibi to the police and suddenly Doug is the pawn in a chess game where he used to be a bishop. In the meantime, Frank is juggling the responsibilities of D.C.’s Alpha and Omega with an iron fist and a low approval rating. With no one to cajole further up the totem pole, Frank can’t satisfy the people below him a.k.a. the American people.

Overall, the season 3 opener is a bit too scattershot to fully whet the viewers’ appetites for what skulduggery Frank might get into. The subplot with Claire’s (Robin Wright) overachieving campaign is given short shrift. The mystery behind Rachel’s whereabouts has potential to be very enthralling. As a Stamper episode, the show is a humdinger. It will be spellbinding to see how dense and heavy the crown of power weighs down Frank and every ambitious, orbiting planet around him.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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