I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
When you create a character as evil, powerful and unstoppable as Frank Urquhart, what do you then do when you actually want to stop him? How do bring down a legacy you have so carefully and perfectly crafted over two short but well-written seasons. The answer seems to be poorly.
Not terrible, the BBC version of House of Cards has never been that, but certainly nowhere near the excellent way in which the first season captured the double-crossing, backstabbing and manipulation in the corridors of British power. Having taken on his own Prime Minister, and then The King of England, it seems there is no-one left to stand in Urquhart’s way.
That is the issue with the third season of this previously excellent drama. There is nothing for Urquhart to do and because of that, the season seems to stall and go nowhere for three whole episodes. There is plenty of people around Urquhart doing things but nothing seems particularly relevant or especially interesting for that matter.
What kept the series interesting in the first two seasons were the rivals for Urquhart’s power. After you have watched the villain take down The King of England, it is difficult to then watch him struggle with a member of his own party, a person who wouldn’t have troubled him in either of the first two seasons. You could assume that this was supposed to be the point of the season, aptly named The Final Cut, trying to make a statement about Urquhart’s lack of drive, power and loss of influence but if so, it needed to be done much better.
Instead, this season strangely focuses on a couple of new characters. Isla Blair plays the new secretary to the Prime Minister and her intentions are not entirely clear. She seems to be on Urquhart’s side but is also sleeping with his literal enemy, a pre-Indiana Jones Paul Freeman. Both get a good share of the screen time but hardly offer a story worth watching.
It means we get the best part of the whole show left floundering. Ian Richardson is still great as Francis Urquhart but you can’t help feeling that this was one season too far. His character has lost his bite and it is difficult to watch him tread water until all the story threads that have barely been hinted at come together in the fourth episode.
Luckily the final episode of the series and the whole House of Cards saga manages to make up for some of the errors in the rest of the season. It has some pace, a decent frantic story to tell and a great, if somewhat predictable finale. It is House of Cards back on form and goes some way to demonstrating how much a decent story can be told in one concise, well-written and directed hour.
Overall, House of Cards’ third and final season sees the drama run out of steam. Once you have built a character up so successfully, it seems it can be almost impossible to destroy him well and that is the problem facing the show. Urquhart is left to flounder while less interesting characters dance around him. Only in the final episode of the season do we get the firm and fitting conclusion you’d hope for.
Best Episode – Episode 4: A chance for the season to aptly wrap up the loose threads and finish the show for good.
Best performance – Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart
Should there have been another season? – No, this season demonstrates how the show has run it’s course. Plus the American House of Cards is filling the hole very well.
Season Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)