By Dave B.
Well, the end has arrived. Frank Underwood is dead and the final Season of Netflix’s hit television show House of Cards finds Claire Underwood nee Hale (Robin Wright) as a beleaguered POTUS, surrounded by enemies who either want her subservient to their will or dead. What few of them realize however, is that she was the mastermind behind many of her late husband’s plots and is at least as ruthless as he ever was. While the Shepherd siblings marshal their formidable economic powers and political influence against Claire, the stage is being set for a true clash of the titans as Doug Stamper dedicates his life to keeping Frank’s legacy pristine despite Claire’s need to crush and discard everything that Frank stood for.
The big question at the heart of this season of House of Cards is whether or not the show will be any good without Frank in it. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straightforward because despite never seeing an image of Frank and never hearing his voice, his presence permeates every facet of the show this season. Personally, I think it's an odd choice for the writers to focus so squarely upon Frank’s continued influence on political machinations that occur after his death. At times, the focus on him even seems to border on tacit support for Kevin Spacey, which is probably unintentional, but creepy nonetheless.
Season 6 starts well enough. Wright’s performance as POTUS is great. Claire’s brilliance, power, and ruthlessness shine through. And the story itself is fairly engaging, at least through the first six episodes. There are several cool "wow" moments, including an impressive Cabinet reshuffle. In episode 4, a funeral becomes the setting for the most concentrated bout of intrigue and power-playing in the show’s storied history. Even if one has no interest in House of Cards at all, the fourth episode is worth checking out by itself. That said, the show takes a nosedive from which it never recovers in episode 7.
The sixth season is shortened to eight episodes from it’s standard 13 and suffers as a result. The ending feels rushed, incoherent, and incomplete. At first, I thought the show would be better served by having at least 10 episodes, but in retrospect, I realize that the plot isn’t strong enough to support that number. The truth seems to be that the show’s writers aren’t comfortable abandoning Frank as a character and that unfairly and unnecessarily limits all the other characters. It’s hard for anyone to shine in the shadow of the Wizard of Oz after all. And the final scene…wow, just terrible. I’m one of those people that prefer an ending that provides and actual conclusion of some sort. If you’re like me in that regard, your reaction will range from disappointment to fury. It’s pretty clear that the writers of this show gave up and just wanted this thing done so that they could go home.
In short, Season 6 of House of Cards ultimately fails in its portrayal of Claire and fails in its portrayal of women in power more generally (or at least of middle-aged white women in power because those are primarily the only women that exist in the show) because the absent Frank dominates every scene, every decision, and every outcome in one way or another. Throw in the writers losing interest in their creation through the last quarter of the season and we end up with something of a mess. Honestly, I can’t recommend this season of House of Cards. The parts that I like, I really like. The performances are strong and seeing Claire in power is great. But this show is past its expiration date and its written as if the showrunners know it.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.