Feb 27, 2015 · 2 minutes

When Netflix flipped the switch on the third season of House of Cards Friday morning at 3 am, I was up -- bleary-eyed but game -- to watch and recap each episode. You can read all thirteen recaps from my sleepless marathon in one article here, but for convenience's sake we also split them up into individual reviews, all of which you can find right here.

“Chapter 29″

I know I’ve already written that, beyond the two leads, it’s difficult to care about these characters as much more than pawns in Underwood’s political chess match. But I had to smile when I saw weirdo hacker Gavin Orsay (played by Jimmi Simpson, who lovingly creeped out viewers as one of the awful and incestuous McPoyle brothers in Always Sunny) make his first appearance of the season. Orsay finds an uneasy ally in Stamper who, having been cut out of Underwood’s inner circle, wants the hacker’s help in locating Rachel and getting back in the President’s good graces.

The meat of the episode, however, concerns a boozy dinner where Underwood is beset by his most dangerous adversary yet: The Putin-esque Russian President Petrov. The competition is innocent enough at first: Petrov seeks to out-drink and out-sing his American counterpart at every turn — that is, when he’s not mercilessly hitting on Claire. Underwood naturally hates him.

But Petrov wants more than a sexy night with the First Lady. He bullies Underwood into backing down on a US-led campaign to install a UN peacekeeping operation in the Middle East. These are uncharted waters for Underwood. He understands the procedures and pathologies of the United States, but is adrift when speaking to a foreign head of state — particularly one as paranoid and powerful as Petrov. It’s downright painful to watch Underwood respond to the Russian President by — in the word used by Claire — “cowering.” And so with his own Lady Macbeth urging him forward, Underwood ultimately stands up to Petrov.

To be honest, this narrative — Underwood feels in over his head, Claire gives him strength (interestingly enough it’s always either through sex or personal disparagement), and then the President fights back — is getting a little tired. Nevertheless, the introduction of Petrov could prove to be one of the show’s most exciting subplots yet. Sure, the Russian could be all talk, but I suspect he’s more treacherous and more powerful than any opponent Underwood has encountered. And what I love most about House of Cards is that, the show’s writers are so ridiculous, they wouldn’t bat an eye at launching World War III.

Grade: B

[illustration by Brad Jonas]