Spoilers for the third season of the Netflix series House of Cards appear in the following essai.
Douglas Stamper’s Romper Room
by DICK CHENEY
Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) saw that movie where Jennifer Aniston complains a lot about being in pain and took it to heart. Lynne calls Doug Stamper ‘Stampsies’, and every time he does something that requires a questionable amount of moral integrity, such as squirt whiskey into his mouth with a syringe or pitch a crying fit in the oval office, she cries out, “Oh Stampsies, what will you do next?!”
This season of House of Cards oscillates from utterly boring to bald-head-to-the-wall fascinating in mere seconds, which makes it a difficult show to review in my inimitable style. The point of this constant temperature change is to echo the real pace of politics, which most of the time consists of sleepy policy proposals and pseudo-scandals about Hillary Clinton chucking her hard drives into the Chesapeake Bay or you know, lying about the murders of American ambassadors.
It’s disgusting that Jon Stewart could give a shit whether or not he is lied to. All politicians lie, he moans between clips of the man he is dangerously obsessed with, Bill O’Reilly. You can judge someone pretty much completely by the types of people they take seriously. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) doesn’t take anyone seriously except his wife – and that abiding belief is erased by the events of House of Cards‘ third season.
At times in his rise to power, Underwood had various crises of faith and through her officious and cold decision-making, Claire Underwood (the stunning yet vaguely asexual version of Robin Wright) pulled her husband past the crisis. That he is unable to save her the way she has done for him is the through-line here.
To obtain the presidency, Frank had to do a lot of messed-up, implausible shit. Now that he is the president, he has to do a lot of moaning, spinning around in a chair, and gripping the throats of women with his non-masturbating hand. Frank is no longer the asynchronous terror he once was, and this season of House of Cards has been accused of being dull, watered-down, and excessively foreign policy focused.
The last charge comes with a new antagonist, Russian president Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Featuring the real-life situation of the suddenly disappeared Russian president in the real world hews a bit too close to home, making us realize there are tyrants far worse than Frank Underwood. That an aging and more sympathetic Frank comes across like a weak baby in comparison to the strong Russian president is an easy irony, but it doesn’t really help the narrative of the show. House of Cards has not lost the breakneck pace or compelling, theater-esque characterization that propelled it to success, but this season does seem to be missing a lot.
Spacey has aged precipitously since the last Cards ended with the Underwoods’ ascent to the Oval Office. His virility has dissipated more quickly than any of us could imagined. I know the feeling: I lived it. At one point in my life I had hair, and then I didn’t. (Likewise, Putin has returned from his sabbatical, where he received medical treatment to restore his low testosterone, but he will never really be as threatening to the West again.)
In order to sell the public on his brilliant American Works program that would employ every person currently sitting around during the day watching House of Cards on Netflix, Frank hires a novelist (Paul Sparks) with whom he has a weird, ambiguously sexual relationship after admiring a video game review the man wrote about iOS smash Monument Valley.
This entire threadline is setup for what will surely be played out in the show’s fourth season, reminding us how much we lost, character-wise, from the first two. Peter Russo was a gentleman and a scholar; Zoe was a witch but at least she was our witch; Christina had a certain something I once saw in a young Courteney Cox before her smile became frightening; Claire’s ex-boyfriend who she reverse cowboyed was a terrible photographer, but at least he provided something in the way of relief. It can’t be all-Underwood, all-the-time. That’s the mistake the Democratic Party made before the 2000 election.
Even in this season characters which might have been further fleshed out or reappropriated – like Benito Martinez’s savvy and handsome Hector Mendoza or Derek Cecil’s disturbingly manipulative Seth Grayson – don’t get much in the way of screen time. If you measure it out, more than half the show’s scenes feature Claire flipping her hair or being subtly disgusted by her husband’s misogyny. A hammer can only pound a nail so many times. Ask Lynne.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.