I thought for a long time that the third season of House of Cards wasn’t very good. I looked back over my old reviews and saw the early warning signs and was feeling smug that I’d basically spotted the problems early on. I praised the first season for the writing, acting, originality and the subtlety. The second season I emphasised that while all the good was still there, niggles were appearing – rushed storylines and characters losing their depth. With the third season I thought those niggles had grown into full blown problems.
The first victim of bad writing is always the intelligence of characters. Rather than make sensible, well thought out calm choices , characters are forced to do what the plot requires of them, what will make good television rather than a believable character. A well written character, by the time you get to season 3, should be unsurprising. If you’ve spent 20-40 episodes with someone, you should be able to predict what they will do.
The Underwoods in Season 3 are surprising this season, but after a bit of consideration (and at least half a dozen false starts on this review) I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not actually because of bad writing, but is in fact good writing of people that you don’t want to be real. The Underwoods are fully revealed to be not just power-hungry and selfish like we already knew, but also stupid and short-sighted. For 2 seasons they’ve been fighting for power, and I naively assumed that when they got it, they’d want to do something with it. Not necessarily something I’d approve of, but SOMETHING. But they don’t seem to have any actual agenda beyond obtaining and keeping that power.
And just to add insult to injury, they’re not very good at it.
The early years, the Underwoods manipulated and manoeuvred and they won every war, maybe not every battle, but they always retreated before being forced to surrender and eventually turned it into a victory. Now however they’re scrabbling and they’re screwing it up and screwing each other in the process. Most of the supporting characters are just as bad and other than some really interesting character development for Doug (finally) all pretty unrewarding to watch.
The whole series turned into something that, while still technically superb, is just unpleasant to watch. I found it a real slog to force myself to watch it, and only really got through because I wanted to drop my Netflix subscription. I don’t think I’ll be back for season 4 and think the series would have been better served to play out the story arc in a classic three act structure.