House of Cards (BBC) (Season 3) TV Review

I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!

When you create a character as evil, powerful and unstoppable as Frank Urquhart, what do you then do when you actually want to stop him? How do bring down a legacy you have so carefully and perfectly crafted over two short but well-written seasons. The answer seems to be poorly.

Not terrible, the BBC version of House of Cards has never been that, but certainly nowhere near the excellent way in which the first season captured the double-crossing, backstabbing and manipulation in the corridors of British power. Having taken on his own Prime Minister, and then The King of England, it seems there is no-one left to stand in Urquhart’s way.

Urquhart doesn’t seem to have anyone to stand against him

That is the issue with the third season of this previously excellent drama. There is nothing for Urquhart to do and because of that, the season seems to stall and go nowhere for three whole episodes. There is plenty of people around Urquhart doing things but nothing seems particularly relevant or especially interesting for that matter.

What kept the series interesting in the first two seasons were the rivals for Urquhart’s power. After you have watched the villain take down The King of England, it is difficult to then watch him struggle with a member of his own party, a person who wouldn’t have troubled him in either of the first two seasons. You could assume that this was supposed to be the point of the season, aptly named The Final Cut, trying to make a statement about Urquhart’s lack of drive, power and loss of influence but if so, it needed to be done much better.

The series focuses more on two less interesting characters

Instead, this season strangely focuses on a couple of new characters. Isla Blair plays the new secretary to the Prime Minister and her intentions are not entirely clear. She seems to be on Urquhart’s side but is also sleeping with his literal enemy, a pre-Indiana Jones Paul Freeman. Both get a good share of the screen time but hardly offer a story worth watching.

It means we get the best part of the whole show left floundering. Ian Richardson is still great as Francis Urquhart but you can’t help feeling that this was one season too far. His character has lost his bite and it is difficult to watch him tread water until all the story threads that have barely been hinted at come together in the fourth episode.

Urquhart isn’t properly challenged like he should be

Luckily the final episode of the series and the whole House of Cards saga manages to make up for some of the errors in the rest of the season. It has some pace, a decent frantic story to tell and a great, if somewhat predictable finale. It is House of Cards back on form and goes some way to demonstrating how much a decent story can be told in one concise, well-written and directed hour.

Overall, House of Cards’ third and final season sees the drama run out of steam. Once you have built a character up so successfully, it seems it can be almost impossible to destroy him well and that is the problem facing the show. Urquhart is left to flounder while less interesting characters dance around him. Only in the final episode of the season do we get the firm and fitting conclusion you’d hope for.

Best Episode – Episode 4: A chance for the season to aptly wrap up the loose threads and finish the show for good.

Best performance – Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart

Should there have been another season? – No, this season demonstrates how the show has run it’s course. Plus the American House of Cards is filling the hole very well. 

Season Rating – 3

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

A fitting end for the great character


2 thoughts on “House of Cards (BBC) (Season 3) TV Review

  1. Your dates are waaay off; Paul Freeman’s turn as Belloq in Indiana Jones’ Raiders of the Lost Ark was in 1981, a full 14 years before this role in 1995, and he shows it as a middle-aged MP (although his sack romps with Isla Blair, who also looks great for circa 50 are an inspiration for us oldsters, and Freeman does the role full justice otherwise as well). A post- (by a lot) Indiana Jones Paul Freeman, vice pre-, is the correction. And BTW the show, particularly in the ongoing dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Urquhart which discusses the very malaise or ennui he is suffering, makes clear that they are very aware of the dangers of complacency and having no obvious dragons to slay, which paves the way for a dragon to emerge from his past (his murderous service in Cyprus), possibly the very message they intended to convey. And like the end of any well-liked serial, it may not zip along to your taste but at this point fans are savoring familiar characters, that is, like other things middle-aged, it’s now more for comfort than speed (see first point above). And the skulduggery re the Cyprus oil deposits and their demarcation, involving the corruption or at least subtle steering of a most incorruptible British judge, is superb. So all in all, I find your critique, “one season too far”, a bit harsh. And I don’t think the American version even comes close.

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