The third season of "House of Cards" premiered on Netflix last week. And while most fans -- guilty -- have likely binged through all 13 episodes already, the experience was undoubtedly a different one than before: a slower pace and lack of eye-popping moments distinguished Season 3 from its scandalous, murderous predecessors.
To unpack all of the marital drama, sexual intimacy and tonal shifts in the new season, The Huffington Post hopped on the phone with "House of Cards" creator and executive producer Beau Willimon to discuss everything from Frank's ambiguous sexuality to the Underwood's first-ever sex scene.
Spoiler alert for all of "House of Cards" Season 3.
1. Making Season 3 different was intentional
"In the first two seasons we devoted a lot of time to Frank and Claire's political effort. What we really wanted to focus on this season -- because now they’re at the top of the mountain and there’s nowhere higher to ascend -- is how these characters feel about that. The stress that it puts upon them and their marriage helped us discover new layers that we haven’t had access to before. [...] I think that if Frank wasn’t on the ropes in Season 3, that would’ve been false. [...] From where we stand, if we didn’t try that then we would be getting comfortable in the groove and not challenging ourselves or the audience."
2. Frank's sexuality is supposed to be ambiguous
"People have asked me straight up, 'Is Frank Underwood bisexual? Is he gay?' And I don’t think Frank Underwood really puts much stock in those sort of labels. As he says in the Sentinel episode [in Season 1], 'When I’m attracted to someone, I’m attracted to them. Period.'
"He's a man with a large appetite, he's a man who does not allow himself to be placed in any sort of milieu or with one definition. I think he’s incredibly guarded with who he lets get close to him, whether that’s platonic or whether that’s sexual. And when he does, it’s not necessarily a gender or preference, it really has to do with trust. There’s very few people in this world that we’ve created that he can trust. [...] We try to approach Frank the way he approaches himself, which is not to sort of pin him down."
3. What did that intimate moment between Frank and Thomas Yates really mean?
"It's an emotional connection. Not necessarily a sexual one, but it could be. It depends on how you look at that moment and I think there’s a lot of grey area there. [...] At least for that moment, he can trust Thomas Yates, whether it evaporates quickly or not."
4. We finally saw Frank & Claire have sex ... but it wasn't about sex
"In that scene Frank is perhaps the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen him and Claire recognizes that. Not to sound a little flippant about it, but she’s fucking the hope back into him, and the strength. We see the strength move from her to him. Sex is one way to do that."
5. But wait, what was that almost-rough-sex scene about?
"Later in the end of the season, we see it reversed. Claire wants Frank to fuck her, to be rough with her and sort of shake her out of this limbo that she’s in. And he doesn’t, in a way, return the favor. There you see the failure to consummate that moment, being one of many things that leads to the end of the season.
I often talk about love as being a transactional thing in the sense that if I give you my love, I expect your love in return. If I give you my vulnerability, my hope is that I will get your strength in return, and vice versa. That’s a good kind of transaction and more often than not, that's the kind of transaction we see with the Underwoods. The problem is when that transaction breaks down and you’re not getting the love or strength you need in return, you’re vulnerability is simply vulnerability with no return on it. That’s when you see a union start to dissolve."
6. So why did Frank reject Claire?
"It’s a difficult scene to jump on the phone and analyze without robbing it of its power. But if you put yourself in Frank’s shoes, this is coming out of the blue. This is a violent moment psychologically, emotionally, physically. You can’t necessarily blame him for not wanting to treat his wife the way she’s asking him to be treated.
"David Fincher told me this maxim and it’s so true and one of the best writing lessons I’ve ever learned: In a great scene everyone is right. And I think they’re both right in that scene. She needs something, something that is beyond language, something that is primitive and even violent. What he needs is order, he doesn’t need more chaos. He doesn’t need this violence. He is put off balance by it. You can’t blame him for that. When both people are right, but not right to each other, then you have conflict."
7. No, Frank isn't a sociopath. He can feel empathy
"We’ve seen Frank show his human side a lot. We’ve seen how strong of a connection he had with Tim Corbet. We’ve seen the way his friendship developed with Meechum and then in this season with Thomas Yates. Even when Peter Russo met his end, in his own sort of perverse way, Frank would’ve called that a mercy killing. He would’ve felt he was relieving this person of suffering.
"The big difference [between Frank and Claire] that you see in the sixth episode of Season 3 is that Claire, for the first time allows that side of her to display itself on the world’s stage, literally. Where Frank may have empathy, he also has an incredible ability to compartmentalize it, to compress it, to make sure it doesn’t threaten his goals. The reason he’s so upset with Claire is she allowed her empathy to derail something they’d both been working towards."
8. If there's a Season 4, can the Underwoods possibly exist without each other?
"If there is a subsequent season that’s precisely the question one should be asking. [...] I think [Claire] is very much in love with her husband when we start this series, and she may still be in love with him when we get to the final episode of Season 3. But this union is not making her the person she wants to be. And maybe this man is no longer the man that she needs in order to fully be her complete realized self. That’s where we leave it."
"House of Cards" Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.