When House of Cards first premiered in 2013, the world was a very different place. The political climate had been markedly different than the current constant barrage of alarmist news. Netflix had yet to become the streaming giant with a slew of original programming under its belt. Kevin Spacey was an actor Netflix knew people would probably watch politically scheme.
A half-decade later, the world is a very different place. To talk about the final season of House of Cards, it is once again important to revisit the concept of kairos, or timeliness of media. We now know about Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct and that Netflix promptly cut all ties with him after the news broke. We live in a diametrically opposed political climate where known sexual assaulters have risen to position of power pretty much everywhere. Men’s rights activists and literal Nazis are things we have to deal with on a day to day to basis. All of this makes House of Cards such a weird show to watch in any capacity. It is eerily familiar in climate to our current timeline with the notable difference that Claire Underwood, as played by the charismatic Robin Wright, is president.
The Reign of Middle-Aged White Men is Over
Season 5 of House of Cards was remembered for the even more convoluted political scheming than any other season before. Whereas the first four season had moments of incredulity, nothing really stacked up to the machinations that got Claire Underwood as vice president and the exceedingly complex exit of Francis Underwood from the White House.
In many respects, this final season is a return to form. There are less opposing factions, although there are plenty of characters to constantly keep track of, and the scope of the season feels more contained. Claire Underwood’s presidency is marred by the exact types of commentary you’d expect: various people threatening her well-being, literally everyone questioning her competency, the constant comparisons to her late husband (yeah, Frank died between the two season), and the struggle of being the first woman president of the United States. It makes you wonder how the show would watch if weren’t in the darkest timeline.
Claire is repainted as an antithesis to her husband. Flying solo, Claire is still darkly charming and dastardly clever, but she is a significantly less cruel figure. Various scenes in the first half of the series are direct callbacks to earlier iconic scenes. She had her scene with an small animal. She had the iconic running through the capitol scene. Robin Wright, no stranger to playing the role of a leader, is given a chance to show off in every episode, and the classic Underwood breaking of the fourth wall features some top notch acting work which makes you wonder why Netflix didn’t go this direction sooner.
The plot covers Claire trying to maintain her new founded power through a laundry list of familiar situations, including (but certainly not limited to):
- The filling of a Supreme Court Justice seat
- A social media application that literally every US resident uses
- An FBI investigation into Russian collusion
And to the show’s credit, or perhaps to its detriment, everything plays out exactly how you’d expect. The show is compromised of logical conclusions of “What if [Insert Real World Situation] happened while we had a woman as our president” and answers them. There were plenty of moments where I wasn’t expecting the exact execution of a particular sequence, but at the end I wasn’t really surprised either. The notable inclusion of flashbacks to Claire’s childhood is probably the sole exception to this, as I found myself slightly more interested in them than I was expecting after the first one.
“Do you remember how much fun we had, before we understood the rules?”
While season 6 is mostly a fresh start, there is still a lot of continuity lockout. Lots of characters have stuck around for the final season. You have Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) who keeps his role as the deuteragonist as he deals with the aftermath of season 5. Cathy Durant (Jayne Atkinson), Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) are still political powerhouses. Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) makes a reappearance alongside Tom Hammerschimdt (Boris McGiver). Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) continues to have fun as the Russian representative, and rounding out of the cast is Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) who is given a much more prominent role this season as the vice president.
Newcomers to the cast include the siblings, Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill Shepherd (Greg Kinnear), as well as Annette’s son Duncan (Cody Fern). This trio acts as the primary antagonists for Claire and the main power behind the power that is constantly trying to jettison Claire from the Oval Office.
Together, they are a solid cast. Everyone has their moments of drama, and there is a good amount of chemistry as you try to organize all of the interpersonal relationships that sustain the bulk of the show. The smaller, albeit only by a little, cast and more focused storytelling redeems the final season of the exceeding caricature of egos that happened last season.
The cinematography and music remain dark and foreboding. Throughout the last five years, the show still has a unique audiovisual aesthetic that captures the exact tension this type of show demands form the audio.
Pain is pain
So, is the final season of House of Cards enjoyable? I could make the argument. I enjoyed it much more than its immediate predecessor, and I think Robin Wright is a fun actress to watch and plays Claire Underwood masterfully. While the plot feels a bit predictable, you can still find joy while knowing how it’s all going to end.
Is the final season of House of Cards good? That’s a much more difficult question to parse. The show has progressed beyond the transgression of its former central character. The show has rid itself of the Rube Goldberg-esque plot that made its last season a slog to watch. Furthermore, it’s hard to say if the world of House of Cards is a kinder or crueler world than ours, which I think just adds to the indecisiveness.
For me? I think ultimately I liked it, because it was revision of a series that I once enjoyed very much that had been tainted by the action of an actor and how the political climate evolved. It felt familiar and felt like a good way to end the show on its own terms.
Strange how some choices mean nothing, and others govern the rest of your life. pic.twitter.com/3OPj1NnWUq
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) October 17, 2018
House of Cards was the flagship series of Netflix’s original programming. Season 6 ultimately help steer it back to a safe harbor, and while it’s very middle road, it provides us with closure for all the completionist who want to see the narrative end. And if nothing else, seeing Claire Underwood as president is a nice change of pace.
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