N.B. Please, seriously, do not blame me if you continue. There are spoilers here that literally will ruin the last seconds of the season. You have been warned.
“Sometimes, I think the Presidency is the illusion of choice.”
Of course, we may not find out, but I believe this to be a central question of the series at the end of season three, especially as Claire has come to understand that that goal is at an end, that whatever glory they might hope to achieve together has truly slipped away. Ultimately, however, it seems that Frank has his own agenda, his own dreams, and whether or not he believed that his actions were both of them, clearly something has gone awry.
Regardless, there are no easy fixes, either for America in during the Underwood administration or for the relationship central to the series. Even Stamper, who has had his own journey throughout the season and, in fact, throughout the series, has come to a point where he has destroyed the very thing he loved in order to serve the President. What happens when he realizes that his loyalty is too high a price, as Claire did? Assuming a fourth season is in the works, obviously some of these questions will be answered. However, with good television at this point in its history, not all answers are forthcoming, simple, or even answerable. Television needs not provide us the answers we seek simply because it is a conventionally simple medium.
(I say “television,” though this is clearly not broadcast television. However, only the artifice of delivery has changed: it is still a serial program, even if you binge watch it.)
There is a malaise, it seems, that has set in in the series, but only because there is a malaise in the White House, in the Underwood administration. This is not something that is happening due to bad writing but fine writing, writing which brings us into that malaise. It is, in many ways, the malaise of the office which Underwood holds: the inability to make real change in a job considered to be all-powerful weighs on this President and, ultimately, on the series itself.
That said, I do not see this as a problem: I see it as a sort of triumph. No, it is not the most enjoyable season of the three but it is, in many ways, the most intriguing, the most developed as a whole. It draws us so deeply into the Underwoods’s world in the most subtle of ways that it is hard not to end the season, which itself ends on a series of devastating notes, with some hope for the future of the series, with some hope that the downfall of the Underwoods can provide some satisfaction that some level of good can eventually triumph.