By Jack Ryan, For The Miami Student
If you haven't gotten around to binge-watching through the first two seasons of the Netflix drama "House of Cards," stop reading now and go stream them. This review contains spoilers from past seasons and this is your fair warning.
"House of Cards" season premieres tend to have shocking thematic statements that pave the way for the season to come; season one's opener started with a neck snap and season two's had the infamous subway shove. Season three's start doesn't involve a big, violent moment; rather it begins with a slow trickle. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is literally pissing on the grave of his own father. This defacement of family not only reinforces the malicious attitude of the new President, it sets the tone for the Underwoods' current situation. Where the past two seasons have focused on Frank's corrupt path to the top, it becomes apparent that season three will be about fighting those beneath him, in the name of holding power and creating legacy.
Following the symbolic, what-the-hell moment and the always gorgeous title credits, we are taken away from the First Family in order to check in with the recovering Doug Stamper, who was nearly beaten to death at the end of season two. He has major physical issues as a result and is clearly becoming a ticking mental time bomb as the Underwood administration moves forward without him. Following Stamper's recovery is interesting at first, but dedicating almost half the episode to him uninterrupted feels excessive. The most we see of Frank in this half hour is on a special episode of "The Colbert Report," where Stephen Colbert roasts Frank's presidency and impending bill, like the good old days. However, Stephen's bit runs a little too long, adding to the anxiety of getting back to the Underwoods' current events.
By the time we get back to the White House, we learn that things aren't exactly going well for the Underwoods. Frank's approval ratings are worse than his predecessor, there's obvious unrest amongst his associates, and an ambitious Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is failing to find support for her campaign to become a UN ambassador. The rest of the episode, save the ending, is equal parts important exposition and monotonous reminders. Remember Remy and Seth? They're big players in the Underwood regime now, thanks to their loyalty. What about the education-focused Donald Blythe? He's the new Vice President, as a result of a few under-the-table agreements with Frank.
We spend more time with other people than we do with Frank and Claire, slowly setting the stage for the season to come, with a dash of breaking-the-fourth-wall here and a bit of ominous tension there. Thankfully, the style of "House of Cards" hasn't changed at all, making it very clear that executive producer David Fincher ("Gone Girl," "Fight Club") is lurking in the background. Every shot feels crisp and clean, arguments and relationships are clearly illustrated through shot angles and patterns, and the use of shallow focus makes this show so enjoyable to watch.
The season three opener of "House of Cards" certainly isn't the series' finest episode, but it gets the job done, effectively bringing us back up to speed with the Underwoods and their associates. It's becoming clear that, due to the innate marathon-watching nature of its viewers, the show is being handled less like a traditional series and more like a thirteen hour movie, sacrificing some time early to set up for bigger and more important scenes down the line. And at the end of the day, no matter how many reintroductions or clear plot setups we have to sit through, it still feels fantastic to be back with the Underwoods.