Through three seasons, House of Cards has taken on many different forms. The first season boasted a beautifully self-contained narrative arc, and, with Peter Russo, included the most sympathetic character to ever populate this fictitious Washington. The second season, on the other hand, was a lot less focused, and a little more limp.
The self-contained arc of the first season gave way to a more haphazard approach to storytelling, weaving in a ton of story lines that were either undercooked or thrown right out the window. It was all meant to lead to that moment when Frank takes his “rightful” place in the Oval Office—but the build-up was never really that compelling because Frank didn’t have any real, credible adversaries. (Spoilers for season 3 ahead, folks).
That’s where season three did things right. While much of the first part of the season felt like season 2, with the show focusing on foreign (the Jordan Valley peacekeeping resolution) and domestic (America Works) policy, the latter half of the season introduced a new dynamic that proved to be just what House of Cards needed, personally, to keep me hooked.
There was a lot of relationship drama to deal with in the back half of this season, and it made for some of the more compelling moments of the season. There was the simmering tension between Remy and Jackie, two Washington elites who seem destined to be together but just can’t figure out how to make it happen. There’s Tom Yates finding a connection with Kate Baldwin, but also with his two literary subjects, the Underwoods. Be honest: How many of you were expecting another threesome? I know I was. Meechum would have been so jealous.
Then there was the biggest relationship drama of them all: the crumbling marriage of Francis and Claire Underwood. These two have been an unstoppable team for years, but suddenly (or, in Claire’s case, not so suddenly) there’s a huge gap between them. I wrote in my recap of the finale that the show did a wonderful job of positioning Claire as the protagonist, as the one person we can root for. When she tells Frank she’s leaving him and then walks away, Frank fading into the background while Claire dominates the frame, I couldn’t help but fist pump. I’m all in on another season of this show that positions Claire as the deadliest threat to Frank’s legacy.
So, if the latter half of the season was some of the show’s best stuff, how exactly did each episode fare? Below, you’ll find a totally subjective–seriously, it’s just my opinion!–ranking of all 13 episodes (plus, a link to each recap) followed by a few questions and topics of discussion still lingering from this season. Let’s talk about season 3 of House of Cards!
A completely subjective ranking of the third season of House of Cards:
- Chapter 32: Just a devastating episode in terms of the emotions and political significance. One of the more patient and philosophical episodes the show has ever done.
- Chapter 37: The Democratic Presidential Debate contains some of the juiciest dialogue the show has ever put to paper. And the way Frank stabs Jackie in the back? Great stuff throughout this tense episode.
- Chapter 38: The cracks in the Underwoods’ marriage really begin to show, and Robin Wright absolutely kills it here.
- Chapter 29: This was like The Office‘s amazing “Dinner Party” episode but with all the cringe-worthy scenes boasting an undercurrent of political grandstanding.
- Chapter 39: Like I said in the recap: Claire Underwood 2016.
- Chapter 36: Claire becomes just an object in Frank’s campaign, propelling us toward the season’s conclusion.
- Chapter 33: With the mandala as its central visual metaphor, this is one of the more complex and layered episode of the season. Beautiful visually and thematically.
- Chapter 31: The idea of Frank pillaging FEMA to fund America Works creates great dramatic tension.
- Chapter 28: The show isn’t entirely sure what it wants its third season to be yet, but that final speech is worth all the uncertainty.
- Chapter 35: As with so many episodes this season, way too much focus is on the Rachel story line.
- Chapter 27: The season premiere does little to establish a compelling conflict to keep us watching for the rest of the season.
- Chapter 30: Drone strikes, Supreme Court appointments, and a whole lot of other stuff that doesn’t really factor into the season.
- Chapter 34: Please, House of Cards, never use voiceover like this to deliver ham-fisted dialogue again.
- So the show never revisited the idea that Claire was pregnant. I didn’t read that scene wrong, did I? It seemed pretty clear that she was exhibiting signs of morning sickness or something like that. It’s weird that it was never addressed again.
- Did Doug really kill Rachel? It seems obvious, but then again, I thought the whole story should have died a long time ago. And Doug came back from the dead, so who knows?
- Is there any chance that Remy and Jackie end up together? I really hope so. Those two heartbroken kids need it.
- Anyone else think it was weird that Frank, a man who has killed two people (that we know of), calls potentially rough sex with his wife “deranged”? That’s a messed up moral perspective you have there, Francis.
- Where do you stand in terms of Frank’s decision to raid FEMA? Illegal and reckless, or necessary to get a solid program up and running?
- Is Yates the next in line to be pushed in front of a subway? I’m worried about him.
- What was your favorite episode of the season and why?
- Any thoughts, predictions, or hopes for season 4? As we already know, I’m stoked to see Claire Underwood become a real force in Washington.