The Dose: Supporting cast drives ‘House of Cards’ third season

The Dose: Supporting cast drives ‘House of Cards’ third season

March 04
11:19 2015

Dalton LaFerney / Views & Digital Editor

The season 3 finale of “House of Cards” was of poor climactic intensity, following up on a season with intoxicating actions and direction. The rising actions are superb in this season; we are in limbo the entire time, though we understand the direction of the storyline and plot. The viewer is not given closure with the way the season ended, however certain implications could be asserted with a minimal knowledge of American politics of what played out after the conclusion.

Uncharacteristic of the series, the importance of the supporting cast is amplified, the common plot across storylines being the razing of Frank Underwood’s elite success, deconstructed by the supporting characters.

The symbolism of three particular characters is what enhanced season 3. While the audience got plenty of Frank’s grit and might, the life of the season is credited to the supporting cast.

The most important is the retraction of loyalty to Frank from First Lady Claire Underwood. Claire’s personal crusade has always been to run for public office. In season 3, her ambitions are muted by the the pulsating necessity of Frank’s to remain in the Oval Office. He does so in any way necessary, throwing Claire’s purpose into question.

Early in the season, Claire expresses her intent to run for public office, asking Frank to nominate her as Ambassador to the United Nations. She is approved, and useful to U.S. foreign diplomacy. Her knowledge for politicking and her tact for manipulation catapult her into a moderately effective ambassador. But knowledge of politics is no match for experience in politics. Her skill in manipulation is too weak to fend off the psychological warfare from Russian diplomates, led by the Russian President Victor Petrov.

When Petrov visits the White House, he has other priorities. He shows Claire how a man should treat her. He charms Claire, inviting her away from Frank; he even kisses her.

The Russians played a key role in the demolition of the Underwood marriage, a commonality across all layers of season 3. From numerous angles, the central focus of the third season is the Underwoods, for a strong presidential marriage is a pillar to political success. By prying at their marriage, Petrov and the Russians hurt the First Couple, slowly pulling Claire away from her husband.

Throughout the season, Petrov has an obsession with Claire, for reasons aforementioned. His battle is with Frank, but Claire is a pawn to Petrov’s success. When the Jordan Valley peace keeping mission Frank orchestrated turns into chaos, Petrov presses the American president to fire Claire as ambassador. And by meeting Petrov’s demands, Frank sends Claire down a path that leads to their ultimate separation in the very last scene of the season.

That path is one of bewilderment and epiphany. The season is dedicated to Claire and her goal to seek the full truth about herself and her marriage. Frank is often devoting his time elsewhere, not bothering to see her as foremost. In the end, she craves not only power and professional achievement, but her husband.

An interesting dynamic this season, author Thomas Yates, played by Paul Sparks, is hired by Frank to write a propagandist piece to support his signature legacy law, America Works. In hiring Yates, the president lets in a symbolic force of truth, as the author is in search of what is true for the book.

As the two become acquainted, Yates inquires into the more theoretical groundwork of Frank’s person and his background. In doing so, Yates gathers — from interviews and insight — the president’s feelings and emotions toward his wife; his guilt is copious and Yates instinctually pursues him. Frank even says Claire deserves better — she knows this.

Yates’ character is a buffer between Frank and Claire, a poetically just reckoner, awakening Claire and motivating her to seek further the truth she has always desired. Couple that with Frank’s abandonment of Claire both emotionally and professionally, and she is pushed away.

Yates is a spotlight, revealing to the audience Frank, authentic Frank Underwood. By writing the storyline this way, this season of “House of Cards” becomes a masterpiece, not only entertaining the political greed of men, but telling a story of love and passion. We see this in all of the main characters from the preceding seasons, and their individual predicaments.

And we know love is intertwined through this series, and resounds in this season. After all, Claire’s journey with the truth is motivated by love; she needs to know, which is why she connects with Thomas so much — he is a romantic, a novelist. Don’t forget his moment he shared with Frank in the latter part of the season.

The climax is the last we see of the season, no falling action to sooth the shock of what Claire tells Frank: “I’m leaving you.” This is a cliff hanger, unfortunate for a spectacular season. We don’t hear from Frank, because Claire has the last word, the most supportive figure to Frank’s success. Frank is done, and the show is likely done as well.

It’s filmed at the pace and tone of the “Harry Potter” films. “House of Cards” is elegant, fancy and slick. The sets create a stage for all the dialogue — notice the framed sets, like the royal curtains in the Oval Office. People move in and out of sets in such a pace as a live on-stage performance; it’s easy to follow. There is always movement and action. Even when a character is alone, their eyes, facial expressions and restless movements convey action, or some implied calculation. This show is a grand performance, an ostentatious and imaginative production.

Unorthodox were many of the angles from which the direction decided to film. When a character acted in a crowd, giving a speech or an address, the camera would film from within the crowd, from the perspective of the spectator, but in a way often distracting and bollixing.

Nonetheless, the camera creeped to and from, slowly sneaking around corners to add terrifying suspense, accompanied by anxious music. When Doug Stamper pursues Rachel Posner in the last chapter, murderous sequences are prolonged by a combination of wide shots, made personal with matching close-ups. It enhances the effect that a lurking monster is on her pursuit.

Bravo to all involved in the cinematography of this season, particularly the final chapter. The scenes in the New Mexican desert, the vast landscape made into a spine-tingling set for Stamper to waste Posner, the music again adding and largely creating the tone of all scenes.

Doug Stampers’ role was the same, but his efforts were focused on himself, something uncharacteristic of the series; his job was always to support Frank. Now we see him and we meet him for who he is. We are witness to his exile and to his retribution — not just professionally, but for himself.

In season 3, Stamper must prevent Posner from doing anything detrimental to Frank, so Stamper must get rid of her. His conflict is with himself, for he is loyal to Underwood, but bound spiritually to Rachel.

With Stamper, the audience again sees the hesitation from Frank and the internal reflection of a character. Just as Claire delves for answers, Stamper must overcome his handicap, furiously battle alcohol addiction and come to terms with rejections, all while internalizing his heart break to please the president.

An ode to himself, Stamper follows through with what must be done: killing Posner. In doing so, Stamper gives himself closure, true relief from his temptations. The time it takes for Stamper to kidnap her, drive to the distant desert and kill her is segmented over a reasonable amount of time.

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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