‘House of Cards’: has this show lost its mojo?

The trailer for the third season of Netflix series House of Cards signalled nothing short of a total unravelling of Frank Underwood and his wife upon ascension to the Oval Office.

The end of season two left viewers hungry for more – Frank was finally President of the United States after years of scheming, while his right-hand man, chief of staff Doug Stamper, had been left for dead after a brutal, if not entirely undeserving, attack.

After so much hype, including the accidental leak of the entire season on the Netflix site several weeks ago, the premiere was overwhelmingly unsatisfying.

• Video: ‘House of Cards’ season three trailer
• The Frank Underwood uprising: House of Cards

In fact, much of the long-awaited return episode was just plain bizarre. And fair warning: the rest of this review contains spoilers. 

Season three opens with Underwood visiting his father’s grave in Gaffney, South Carolina, telling the audience in his signature style that it’s good for his image now he’s president.

House of Cards Frank Underwood

The Russian president is a likely villain in the new season.

He then proceeds to unzip his fly and urinate on the tombstone.

Despite being one of the show’s most fascinating characters, the new president is seldom seen for the rest of the premiere, with House of Cards‘ writers instead making the gutsy decision to spend most of the runtime on Stamper.

Stamper is left barely alive after being beaten by his unrequited love interest, Rachel, and spends months in gruelling rehab on both his body and brain.

After being released from hospital, Stamper decides he wants to return to the White House to save Underwood from disastrous polling.

His perennial dedication to Underwood is on display when he fractures his arm ahead of a meeting with the new president, but instead of cancelling and going to the hospital, he painfully patches it up with gaffer tape.

Underwood tells him to to stay home and recover, and we are left with Stamper as another casualty of Underwood’s, returning home to hire a sex worker and have his first drink in 16 years.

House of Cards Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood loses his bite, but not his bark, as president.

Despite being notably absent from the premiere, Kevin Spacey’s terrifying and brilliant portrayal of Underwood doesn’t lose any of its sheen in the new season.

He struggles to sell his ambitious new jobs legislation to both the American people and his congressional colleagues, eventually steamrolling one of them in a White House meeting in his usual formidable manner.

The ruthless and conniving Frank Underwood that audiences will be so familiar with seems to have lost some of his bite, however – something that will need to be regained if season three is to be as good as its predecessors.

The marriage of the Underwoods, previously a Washington power couple, also begins to show cracks, and Claire’s career and own ambitions come under the spotlight.

Her and Frank have cooked up a plan to have her made an ambassador to the United Nations, and she tells Frank she has been in the passenger seat for too long, especially since it looks likely he’ll lose office.

As always, failure isn’t an option for Underwood.

Despite his poor polling and unpopular legislation, Frank promises Claire he will win the next election, vowing not to become a “placeholder president”.

Fans of the show should know that President Underwood lives up to his promises, and will let nothing – and no one – stand in his way.

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