TV review: No new insights from new season of House Of Cards

Television still of House Of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. -- PHOTO: MRC II Distribution Company
Television still of House Of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. -- PHOTO: MRC II Distribution Company

Review Television

HOUSE OF CARDS 3

RTL CBS Entertainment HD (StarHub TV Channel 509, Singtel TV Channel 318) / Wednesdays, 9.55pm

In Season 1, Democratic congressman Frank Underwood plots and schemes his way to becoming vice-president of the United States. The next season, he climbs the final rung on the power ladder and ascends to the office of the presidency.

What now in Season 3? The first episode sets up key story arcs for the season.

For Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the stakes are to win re-election as president so that he is not merely seen as a placeholder after the previous one was impeached. His wife Claire (Robin Wright) reveals that she has political ambitions of her own as she eyes the ambassadorship to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) - Underwood's go-to hatchet man - emerges from a coma after he was attacked at the end of the previous season by Rachel Posner (Rachel Borsnahan), a prostitute who possesses information that is a threat to Underwood if exposed.

Stamper turns into a wild card over the course of the series, leaving the viewer to guess where his loyalties lie. Is he, for some unfathomable reason, still dedicated to Underwood? Or is he genuinely helping solicitor general Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) in her bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination?

What made the first two seasons so riveting was the fact that Underwood was taking on more powerful adversaries and had to outflank, out-connive and out-manoeuvre them. There was the influential billionaire businessman Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) and former president Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), who had the weight of the office behind him even if he was not particularly effective.

Once Underwood himself grasps the presidency, the levers of power are now available to him. While he still faces opposition from the Republicans and his own party, who want him to step down after his caretaker term, he bulldozes onwards anyway, ramming his jobs creation programme, America Works, down everyone's throats.

In other words, the stakes just do not seem to be as absorbing this time around.

The introduction of the tough and wily Russian president Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) is an attempt - albeit an unsatisfying one - to give Underwood a formidable opponent.

The drama in its third year also fails to give viewers new things to learn about the protagonist. Even the inclusion of a writer Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) digging around for an officially sanctioned book fails to unearth much.

Given that the viewer already knows the depths Underwood will stoop to, nothing that he does can really surprise anymore: In the intense second season, there were oh-my-god moments such as when he shoved journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) off the train platform and when he and his wife had a threesome with their bodyguard Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow).

A saving grace for the new season could be the shake-up of Underwood and Claire's rock-solid relationship, as it is hinted in the trailers. As her own ambitions come to the fore, what happens when their agendas clash? Is their marriage merely one of mutual convenience? Where does love fit in?

In fact, Claire is the more interesting character as she shows signs of change and growth.

If what eventually happens in the Season 3 finale had taken place much earlier, it could have sent the show in a different, and less expected, direction.

Instead, House Of Cards, which remains a beautifully shot, well-acted drama with some resonance in contemporary American politics, feels very much like a show in transition at the moment.