Feb 27, 2015 · 3 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 28″

It looks like Frank Underwood is as much Gerald Ford as he is Ronald Reagan.

In the first episode, we learned that Underwood is in many ways a ruthless Republican in Democrats’ clothing — a sly commentary on how far right the Party has shifted since Jimmy Carter. But he’s also vulnerable — not because of his politics but because, like Gerald Ford, he’s taken over for a leader who resigned in disgrace and thus is political poison to his Party.

That’s bad news for Underwood but good news for viewers, who get to see Kevin Spacey totally lose his mind, breaking down in tears after a string of failed phone calls to rally support and cash behind his 2016 presidential bid. Then, in a scene that acts as a total litmus test for whether a viewer is able to stomach the over-the-top ridiculousness of this show, Claire approaches, coldly removes her pants, and mounts Frank without a word. It’s probably the most joyless sex scene anyone ever bothered to film, but that’s kind of the point. To Frank, a gay man, sex with a woman isn’t about pleasure, but it is about pride. And there’s something — maybe in Frank’s upbringing or maybe it’s due to some kind of societal pressure, who knows — that allows him to tap into hidden reserves of power by knowing he’s capable of fucking his wife.

So the next day, Underwood pulls the same clever trick he always pulls when faced with almost certain ruin — he makes his opponents believe he’s given up. Like when he offers to take the fall for President Walker at the end of Season 2, Underwood tells his Party’s leadership he will not seek reelection. Addressing the country, Underwood says the same. But here’s the trick: In giving up any hope of securing a second term, he’s able to put on a show of how courageous and bold he’s capable of being during his remaining year in office. This is his “Bulworth” moment, for lack of a better cultural reference. Underwood announces a total overhaul of social security, Medicare, and welfare programs, which he claims will somehow lead to ten million new jobs. The details are hazy, but that’s not the point. This is America, where the only thing better than actually creating ten million jobs is promising to do it in a rousing speech.

“You are entitled to nothing,” Underwood tells the country, before repeating it. “You are entitled to nothing. America was built on the spirit of industry. You build your future. It isn’t handed to you.”

Underwood’s game is clear: Become so popular by appealing to hardworking, self-reliant voters — or, more importantly, Americans who view themselves as hardworking, self-reliant voters — so that his Party, which has always struggled to gain favor among these voters, will have no choice but to hand him the nomination in 2016. It appears that staying President will require just as much clever maneuvering as becoming President. And let’s hope — in service of the show’s delicious outrageousness — it requires a few subway murders along the way, too.

Grade: A-

[illustration by Brad Jonas]