Editor’s note: The following article discusses the first few episodes of the third season of House of Cards and contains spoilers. It is written under the assumption that the reader has watched Seasons 1 & 2 in their entirety, and, say, four episodes of Season 3. Proceed with caution.
One of the biggest surprises in the third season of Netflix’s House of Cards (released in its entirety on Friday), was the fact that Doug Stamper is still alive. As viewers of Season 2 will remember, Stamper–President Frank Underwood’s insanely loyal chief of staff–was pummeled with a rock by a prostitute who could link Underwood to the murder of a US congressman, and left for dead in the season’s finale.
Far be it from a show as ridiculous as House of Cards has become to pull the old soap opera “nine lives” trick, right? I mean, we’ve already seen some really, really hard to believe stuff on this show. From Underwood’s meteoric rise from House Majority Whip to VP to President to his undue influence during his run as VP, not to mention a supernatural ability of getting away with cold-blooded murder, the show is fun to watch but left any realm of reality way back in the first episodes of Season 2.
And now Stamper is back. Not just back, but waking-from-a-coma back. Wistfully gazing at flowers and get-well cards from the Underwoods back. Doing everything he can to stay in Frank’s good graces back. Breaking his arm and taping it back together with a wooden spoon and duct tape back. Hiring a prostitute and forcing her to shoot bourbon into his mouth with a needle back.
Yes, in what can only be an attempt at extreme edginess, the writers now have the alcoholic Stamper feeding his demons out of a syringe. And not just a syringe, but a needle syringe. He even keeps his gear zipped up in a fancy leather kit–something you’d expect Vincent Vega to use to store his madman, perhaps. Does he actually inject the bourbon into his veins? No. Well, not yet, at least. He just likes it shot into his mouth from the needle. It gets him off or something. In a scene designed to shock, Stamper pulls the syringe out during an encounter with a prostitute and for a moment the viewer is led to believe he may use it on her. Then he asks her to administer the medication.
But why? Why not just take a shot? We have some theories and they hover in the high school drama class-level symbolism range: Maybe he’s “medicalizing” the alcohol by administering it via the syringe. I mean, that doesn’t really explain why he needs a needle, but it’s a start. Perhaps this is the writers’ way of indicating that Stamper is on a slippery slope; what better way to symbolize a slippery slope than heroin gear? Everybody knows what needles and heroin mean. Trouble! Or, maybe he’s simply trying to carefully monitor the amount of liquor he consumes in an attempt to control his alcoholism. Then again, your typical shot glass does display ounce measurements.
Or there’s my favorite theory: House of Cards just wants to shock you. I’m pretty sure that’s it. How do you outdo yourself when last season featured subway murders, rock-bludgeoning, and security guard threesomes? I guess you make the First Lady a UN Ambassador recess appointee and have one of your more desperate characters fetishize addiction by drinking liquor out of a needle.