Robin Wright/Netflix

If it gets nothing else right (and many would argue that’s the case), House Of Cards does a fine job of conveying what a pain in the ass being the president must be. Sure, anyone’s marriage can fall apart, but most of us don’t have the added stress of simultaneously dealing with a heated primary battle and an unhinged Russian leader. Frank Underwood may not be the most sympathetic of characters, but it’s hard not to feel his pain when all the shit is hitting the various fans. In these moments of crisis, he’s always been able to turn to Claire, but now she’s the biggest thorn in his side of all.

Let’s tackle these headaches one by one, starting with our old friend Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), the Russian president who is having some of his wealthiest citizens killed for plotting a coup against him. One of these plotters, Igor Milkin, is sitting on a plane in Bangor, Maine, seeking asylum from the American government. Frank is planning to send him home to a certain doom until Petrov accuses Frank of orchestrating the coup. It’s hard to blame Petrov for jumping to this conclusion since it’s not as if Frank hasn’t earned a well-deserved reputation for Machiavellian scheming. Frank decides to accept Milkin’s plea for asylum, ratcheting up tensions with Petrov along with fuel prices.

It’s odd timing for a storyline about soaring gas prices and long lines at the pump given the low cost per gallon we currently enjoy, but House Of Cards doesn’t usually concern itself with being a “ripped from today’s headlines” kind of show anyway. (Sometimes it works out that way through sheer serendipity, however. This season may have filmed too early to catch the Trump wave, but the subplot in which a photo of Frank’s father posing with a Klansman surfaces in time to torpedo the South Carolina primary inadvertently echoes the recent controversy surrounding David Duke’s Trump endorsement as well as persistent rumors that Trump’s father may have been cozy with the KKK.)

Out on the campaign trail, alliances are being made and broken faster than on an all-star season of Survivor. Jackie Sharp is pulled into Claire’s plan to run for Doris Jones’ congressional district; in exchange for her support for the breast cancer clinic, she’ll get a $3 million campaign donation from a Super PAC. Just when it looks like Claire has secured support from Doris (and that her daughter Celia will graciously step aside), Frank sandbags Claire in his State of the Union address. (Why the SotU is taking place after the New Hampshire primary is a question for someone who lives in the alternate universe where this show takes place.) Frank not only announces his support for the breast cancer clinic, he endorses Celia’s run for the seat her mother is vacating.

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Claire can play dirty, too, which is why this season so far is juicier and more addictive than any since the first. It is she who is behind the KKK surprise, something she lets Frank know by having Leeann leave his mother’s precious diamond earrings in the safety deposit box where the photo was hidden. With her plans for Congress scuttled, Claire has a Plan B, and it wouldn’t be House Of Cards if it didn’t seriously depart from reality: She wants to be Frank’s veep. There are a million reasons this is preposterous, some of which Frank notes in his tirade of a response, but this show has long since proven it has no qualms about dealing in the realm of the ridiculous. It doesn’t have to be believable to be enjoyable, however, and through three episodes House Of Cards is more fun than it’s been it quite a while.

Stray observations:

  • Claire deciding between wearing a white dress or a black dress to the State of the Union speech is another example of that subtle-as-a-sledgehammer symbolism House Of Cards is justly famous for.
  • Lucas Goodwin may have avoided prison rape thanks to his erotic storytelling skills, but he’s not so lucky out in the real world. In exchange for covering his shift and providing a covert rental car, a co-worker insists on sexual favors. Instead of counting his blessings that he’s out of jail and off Frank’s radar, Goodwin ambushes Dunbar in hopes of enlisting her in the cause of exposing the evils of Underwood. She brushes him off at first, but by episode’s end she’s definitely interested.
  • The second episode is nearly over before Frank talks to us for the first time. There wasn’t much chance of the show ditching this device, especially now that Frank no longer has Claire as his confidant. He has to tell someone the truth.
  • The show is reaching deep in the vault for some long-forgotten characters this season. Oren Chase hasn’t been seen since the third episode of the series, and I needed to visit the Wiki to refresh my memory about him.
  • Seth is trying to pin the blame for his traitorous shenanigans on Meechum. Little does he know that Meechum and the president have a special relationship.

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