House of Cards Boss Beau Willimon Responds to My Biggest (and Pretty Much Only) Gripe About Season 3

Warning: The following story contains spoilers about Season 3 of House of Cards. Proceed at your own risk.

I know House of Cards‘ third season left some fans feeling as cold as Claire Underwood’s average body temperature, but I, alas, was not one of them.

With the exception of the tedious, suspense-deprived, Doug-centric premiere, I found Season 3’s obsession with foreign affairs, gay rights and campaign dramaturgy to be endlessly watchable. I welcomed all of the new blood, particularly Boardwalk Empire vet Paul Sparks as Frank’s quasi-biographer/man crush Thomas Yates, with open arms. And I was particularly engrossed by the slow deterioration of Frank and Claire’s unholy alliance of convenience.

That said, I had one pretty big bone to pick with Season 3, and it concerned the death of Rachel Posner at the hands of Frank’s top lieutenant Doug. Below, I present my case to series creator Beau Willimon, and he responds.

TVLINE | I was not happy about Rachel getting killed off.
Well, let me ask you, were you not happy in that emotionally it was just a punch in the gut, but you felt like, ‘Oh, that’s where the story had to go?’ Or did you think we made a mistake with the storytelling?

TVLINE | Both. I loved that character, and I felt like it added a lot of heart to the show. So it sucked to see her go. But it also frustrated me because I feel like the three biggest threats to Frank’s career — Peter, Zoe and now Rachel — have all been murdered. If someone gets too close to destroying him, Frank just has him/her killed. It feels too easy. And it undermines the suspense, because you assume the next big threat he faces will just be disposed of too.
This is something that we debated about a lot. Up until just before filming the finale, there was still a debate as to whether Doug should go through with it. But, ultimately, we arrived at our own moment of truth, which is Doug’s moment of truth. If Season 3 was about his recovery — physical and emotional — the [goal] of the recovery, for him, was getting back into [Frank’s] inner circle… And the only way to do that was to for him to tie up this loose end that had been plaguing the Underwoods for the bulk of three seasons, and become a brother in blood with the man that he is willing to make any sacrifice for. If he had not killed her, then he would be reverting back to where he was in Season 2, where he was not being entirely truthful about Rachel, where he was not getting the job done. And he and [Frank] paid a price for that.

So what felt difficult about it for us is that we invested so much into finally seeing Doug’s humanity. How do we reconcile that humanity with his willingness to commit murder? But all of us are a bundle of contradictions, and the big contradiction for Doug at the end of the that season is… here’s a man who has gained access to his own humanity in ways that he hasn’t before or for a very long time, and yet his deeper need is to get back by Frank’s side.

And if he had not done that, I think in his worldview, it would’ve been a sign of weakness. It would’ve been a sign of giving up. Or it would’ve been a sign that he had completely eschewed loyalty from his playbook. Because to have not completed the job is the equivalent of choosing Rachel over Frank, and it would’ve been against his true nature and his character to dispense of that loyalty entirely.

TVLINE | I get that part.
You think any time someone presents a problem to Frank, he kills them? First of all, that’s not true. We’ve had three seasons, and there’ve been three deaths. Far more people are alive than dead. And I would not say that the only threat to Francis Underwood is Rachel Posner by any stretch of the imagination. If you really think about it, there are plenty of threats, and they are mounting by the day.

TVLINE | I love the character of Frank, but I want him to pay. He’s a murderer.
I think that is great. And that might be one of the reasons some people responded differently to Season 3 than they did to Seasons 1 and 2, because we really wanted to explore that sort of conflict. I mean, for Seasons 1 and 2, despite Frank and Claire’s nefarious acts, for the most part, a lot of people unapologetically rooted for them. That’s getting harder, you know? And it’s getting harder for two reasons: One, precisely the sort of reaction you had to Rachel Posner’s death — it’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you’ve been rooting for Doug all season. At the same time though, in Season 3, you’re seeing Frank and Claire more human than they’ve ever been. You’re seeing the pressures of the White House take their toll on the Underwoods in ways that make them more sympathetic, and yet they’re also twice as ruthless. So how do you reconcile that? And the fact that you can’t is an interesting, dramatic place to be.

And so that can lead one at the end of Season 3 feeling in a state of flux. At the end of Season 2, a guy has achieved the Oval Office. Rapped his ring on a desk, and you get to go — voilà — he did it; you can celebrate that. At the end of Season 3, you cannot have that celebration. And if we had just constructed the season in such a way where you got another ring-tap on the desk, one, we would’ve been repeating ourselves, and, two, it would’ve been false to the reality that we created, which is one fraught with threat, pressure, and internal strife.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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35 Comments
  1. Andre says:

    I will continue to apologetically root for Frank to succeed at all costs.There’s something very powerful about wanting to root for someone like that. I don’t know if I could bare watching his “fall” unless he comes roaring back in a style that only Frank can do!

  2. CBWBDK1 says:

    I’m glad they killed Rachel. She had to die.

  3. David says:

    Killing off Rachel paves the way for Claire to be Frank’s main threat in Season 4.

  4. SUSO says:

    (SPOILERS)

    No. I’m sorry, but no. We felt just as much humanity for Doug at the end of season two, when he was about to kill her the first time. What season two represented in terms of that storyline was literally almost 13 hours of wheel spinning with absolutely no forward motion. Doug is injured to the point of death and takes the entire season getting back to the point where he does what he was supposed to do in the season two finale. It’s HOURS wasted, and really infuriated me as a viewer.

    And Ausiello, if this was your only gripe about season three, let me remind you about Frank deciding to run for re-election the episode after his most important idea falls completely apart, the random BBQ man getting a job as the lawn guy, Claire becoming bipolar midway through the season, Frank acting like an impotent slug for most of the season, the nu-Zoe Barnes who isn’t as interesting but functions almost exactly the same way and an entire half-season of false suspense as to whether or not Frank would be the Democratic candidate.

  5. Dude says:

    I had to stop watching House of Cards because not once in two seasons did I root for Frank or Claire. Kevin is doing incredible work and it’s a truly amazing character to play but I couldn’t help but hate them both and want them to pay for what they did and I knew they never would. My problem with the writing on this show is (from what I saw in the first two seasons) Frank is basically a God. He’s this man who can do no wrong and is never really tested and gets away with everything and no one really stands a chance against him. It takes away a lot of the tension because you know what’s going to happen every time.

  6. Geo says:

    Thanks, Michael, for bluntly asking them what’s bothered a lot of people about a key area of the show. To me, it’s not so much the idea that Frank gets rid of his enemies, it’s that it’s starting to feel really repetitive and we spend SO much time on characters where it doesn’t feel like their looooong stories ultimately add much other than yet another “gosh, isn’t Frank/Doug/Claire awful– they really will murder their enemies,” which we already get.

    I mean, this season ultimately took Doug from point A to… point A. At the end of season 2, he was as a brooding, stalkerish creep who would do anything for Frank and was planning to kill Rachel, but failed. At the end of season 3, he was as a brooding, stalkerish creep who would do anything for Frank and was planning to kill Rachel, but succeeded. Was that storyline really worth the seemingly endless time we spent on Doug moping around this season?

    The Claire/Frank stuff is fun, but who exactly are these other credible threats to Frank the showrunner mentions? His opponent in the primary was obviously doomed to failure, Molly Parker’s character feels like they’ve just made her an emotional mess, computer-genius Gavin (who once seemed mysterious and unpredictable) is now neutered, afraid, and hiding in another country, Tusk has been defeated and is out of the picture. The closest I can see as any kind of a legitimate threat is the Russian Putin stand-in, but that’s not really the same thing as someone who could bring Frank down from within.

    I’d rather it have left it with Rachel just out there somewhere and nobody could find her. It would at least feel like there was something always there that could potentially crash down on them, unexpectedly, at any time.

    • I think they are trying to set up next season as Frank vs. Claire. I think Claire can count as a credible threat to Frank’s re-election, but I’m still not buying the way the writes drove them apart this season.

      • salesdog says:

        The main reason why I’m not excited about the frank vs Claire scenario in season 4 is that she still has too much to lose. She set herself up for wanting more so I see a run for office in her future.this sort of leaves her somewhat impotent as a character because if he falls then she must too.

    • David says:

      Don’t forget about Janine. Janine is still out there, and she knows things.

    • Ravs says:

      Why does Remy Danton go into like a hiding – Does he wants to be a threat to Frank
      For what he is been with Tusk to chief of staff to nothing now. Is he still backed by Tusk

  7. William says:

    It felt like nothing happened this season. And i started to dislike both Frank (for his weakness) and Claire (she is simply annoying). The whole Rachel storyline was pointless. If you ask me now for a highlight from Season 3, I couldn’t give you an answer.

    • Iloen says:

      not even Lars Mikkelsen as ‘Petrov’/Putin? :) I loved all the episodes he was in, he felt like a real nemesis to Frank.

  8. Mik says:

    I loved Rachel as a character on the show. Had she not been there we wouldn’t see the consequences of Frank’s actions. She represented another side to the story. She was a constant reminder that Frank’s actions are not good, but now she’s gone sadly.

  9. jane says:

    I agree that killing Rachael seemed repetitive. I thought it just proved that Doug have really gone off the deep end. He’s the real threat. He’s unpredictable now and is more like the broken Peter was. I’m sure whoever the Republican challenger will be is the main rival next season. I also think Claire is just bluffing. She knows she’ll never have what she wants (which I assume is to be president) if she doesn’t play nice for the next 4 years. Don’t rule out Remmy either. He could cause a lot of trouble for Frank too. And what about poor Meechum? He was regulated to background character this season. He knows a lot of dirt on Frank. And Jackie? She’ll probably be killed next season. She double crossed Frank. He wants payback. IDK how closely they are following the plot of the book. I know how Frank’s character ends up in the book. I assume when the show ends the same will happen.

  10. danoregon says:

    Rachel was dead as soon as the (SPOILER ALERT) diary page about Claire was burned.
    And when you think about it – the Underwoods are getting what they wanted, all of the world’s problems laid at their doorstep. That they don’t like it is their problem.
    My main problem with season three was that the Underwoods suddenly became stupid and unable to anticipate their enemies counter-moves.

  11. Edgar says:

    Here’s what I want to see in season 4. Meachem needs a storyline, there is alot they could do with that character. Claire needs to go back to her old cold self and SOMEONE needs to be a serious threat to Frank. I’d love to see them re introduce the Zoe storyline by bringing back Lucas or someone from her past. (I miss Cate Mara on the show.) I loved season three as much as the other two seasons(Agreed Rachel shouldn’t have been killed off.) I hope they bring Lisa back too as it would be great to see Doug brought down by Rachel’s girlfriend. My main thing is that there be a season 4 (and 5 and 6 and 7). This is the best show on tv and it’s so addicting!

  12. ? says:

    I didn’t buy the Claire-Frank rift and Doug killing Rachel felt dishonest to the path he’d been on all season. Still entertaining television but something less than the show was in the first two seasons.

  13. Phillip says:

    Does anyone know if this show is 100% coming back for another season?

  14. Kathleen Walsh says:

    I am wondering if Rachel isn’t really dead; that Doug ‘anesthetized’ her and obviously has her in a shallow grave. So he can tell the heinous Frank that he ‘did his job.’ She ‘had’ and has a new identity and Doug is sloppy in this dimension. What is in the box that Rachel put in her drawer, before leaving her apt? And do we really think the older (gorgeous and powerful) Hispanic woman is going to let her disappearance ‘go?’ Frank and Claire remind me of the snake and spider reality; The snake is dangerous, but the spider can catch the snake in its web, bite and consume it. I got that idea from watching Claire’s hands…she moves like a blend of snake and spider. They ought not get away with what they have done; what they have become. They ought not be an echo of the Kaiser and others we can think of who are like them.

    • Terry Jacks says:

      I agree with you about the grave being obviously so shallow. Doug loves Rachel, can’t really kill her. I agree with you that she isn’t dead, but just knocked out. That opens up a great storyline for Doug knowing she isn’t dead, and possibly setting up a hidden life with her. I also like your comment about the gorgeous Hispanic woman, as I think she is as well.

      Doug still loves Rachel and wants to protect her by setting up a convincing death he can report to Frank. I thing Doug and Rachel are more interesting in HoC than the Frank and Claire relationship.

  15. Brooke says:

    I think that’s my only issue with the show, despite its absolutely fantastic writing and acting, some of the major storylines just sort of disappear. They spend hours and hours building up these huge tension situations and then they just sort of conveniently fall off the grid. Claire’s employee that she completely screwed over was such a huge storyline and then it just disappeared. Lucas? I could keep going. I kind of withhold my judgment, assuming that the writers will tie them back in later and that they happened for a real purpose, but then another season passes and they don’t. These storylines simply seem to fall off to make way for new storylines and we are just supposed to forget about them. That’s why Rachel’s death annoyed me… sure, it seemed logical and it actually wrapped up the storyline rather than just having it drop off like usual (although I’m not convinced there won’t be a fallout of it, and I think I will actually be annoyed if everyone just got away with it given how sloppy the whole situation was written: he hangs out in a small town for days, interacting with the locals and eating in local establishments after buying a van with no tags and hardware store items that scream “I’m murdering someone,” but he assumes that no one will look for her or link him to it despite the fact that he will be all over the media as soon as Frank announces his appointment. I’m going to keep an open mind that it was done on purpose and there will be follow up, but past writing tells me otherwise) but it just felt like more of “oh, we’ve exhausted this; let’s move on.” With that said, it’s still one of the best shows out there and I will enthusiastically binge-watch watch Season 4 if/when it’s released.

  16. Ofer says:

    Sorry about my ignorance of weak memory but can someone please remind me why Rachel HAD to die ….?!

  17. Eugeni says:

    I just finished watching the last episode of season three last night, and I thought, well the show could really end here. Frank has driven everyone away except Stamper, his most loyal soldier, and given the suggestions that Frank is a closet homosexual, it makes sense that his last loyal friend is Doug. Meanwhile the house of cards has fallen. If we take Claire’s leaving as final, we see

    • Chris says:

      Geez this is silly. I wanted Walter White to die cooking, I wish nemo’s mum didn’t die, hell I wanted Frodo to be king. Watch it for what it is not what you want it to be, that’s how all media should be perceived. Spectacular show. Spectacular display. And of you continue to watch it… Then don’t complain! You’re repeatedly watching it for a reason and if it’s to complain about it after, then never to your tele on again. P.S 13 episodes, 4 seasons, total of 52 episodes. 52 cards in a deck ;)

  18. Makbul Patel says:

    I’m not an avid fan by any means. Watched HoC over the course of a month (yes all 3 series). However I know quality when I see it. HoC straddles the middle lane. The detail and acting is soot on but it lets itself down with the humdrum predictable storyline that is analogous to real life events and people. It needs closure. S4 is one series too much. It had conclude in S3.

  19. Michael says:

    I really enjoyed season 3, but I did have a few grapes. I just don’t believe that Doug would have killed her. I think that’s my main issue with the season. I just didn’t quite buy it.

    I also had a bit of an issue with Frank’s character development. He… Lost his finesse this past season. It seems like he suddenly only had one tool in his toolbox and that tool was a hammer.

  20. bevie says:

    Well,here’s what I think. I think that the next season should begin to include those that Frank thought he destroyed — coming back at him which should culminate into something like “be careful how you treat people on the way up, because these are the same people that you see on your way down when you crash to the ground”.

    I would like to see that kind of message because, although I love how it shows how Frank and Claire did what they did to get where they are now. However, it should also show that double crossing and dirty dealing has its benefits for a short time. There should be something that shows, that those same benefits are short-lived.

  21. I was so disappointed when I saw Rachael die. I can understand that such ruthless humans as Francis and his accomplices exists, but portraying that in such a way that they get away with their crimes at all times makes me upset.
    I can’t wait to see the type of punishment Francis will get for all his crimes. I can only hope it will be commensurate to all his wicked ways.
    Rest in peace Rachael, Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes. I love y’all less than I HATE Francis…

  22. ACE says:

    I find it interesting that most of these comments seem to suggest that Doug hasn’t evolved as a character because he was planning to kill Rachel last season and simply failed.

    Personally, I never thought he was going to kill her in season 2, just relocate her (maybe take her back to her parents) and then tell Frank he’d done it. It just so happened that Rachel freaked out and neaely killed him before that happened. At the very least, he was conflicted about it and hadn’t yet made up his mind, but I don’t see anything in that episode (season 2) to suggestvthat he was *definitely* going to kill her.

    I mean, it’s weird, but part of me feels like he didn’t even *really* kill her at the end of season 3 (they didn’t show it, anyway…maybe he just went back to fill in the hole for some weird Doug reason. Lol).

    But assuming he did, I think the decision to stop hemming and hawing and commit to the role of Attack Dog for Frank would show a lot of personal growth.

    I guess it’s just me, though.