For the greater part of this decade, the Netflix original series “House of Cards” proved itself to be one of the marquee shows of its era and effortlessly changed how we view politics and the consequences of misuses of power. As the universe would have it, real-life politics and the misuse of power have led it to what is shaping up to be the sloppiest and dullest final season of a once top-shelf show since the end of “Dexter.”
When “House of Cards” quietly premiered in February of 2013 as Netflix’s first original production, the state of American politics mirrored the show. A calm Democrat sat in the Oval Office, surrounded by a competent staff, and most Americans knew what direction was up. Five years later, who knows. I don’t have the page-length or patience to explain what the political landscape of our country is at this point, but it’s clear to see that the show has not been able to outpace reality in recent seasons. Regardless, the groundwork of the program was intact through the first wave of the Trump administration.
That solidarity collapsed last fall when a credible sexual assault allegation surfaced against the star of the show, Kevin Spacey. Production of the sixth season almost immediately halted, Spacey was cut out of the show (and Hollywood, really) and the showrunners were left with a monumental decision: What now?
I can’t say I went in expecting to fall back in love with the show; on top of all of the external reasons why this season ended up in the place it did, my doubts about the framing of the show ran deeper than its problems with Trump and Spacey. The previous season (five) saw the show completely lose its grip on any sort of grounding, ending with a questionable season finale, of Claire Underwood becoming America’s first female president and Frank receding to the private sphere to help her from the outside. The final scene showed Claire ignoring Frank’s calls from his hotel room to the White House, setting the scene for war.
The sixth and final season released Nov. 2, and I’ve never been more let down by a show I once loved. I’ll sum up the circular arcs for the impatient and discouraged, for which I am both. The ever-menacing Frank is unceremoniously killed off by Doug Stamper, saving Claire from the former president’s vengeful wrath. Claire Underwood comes under fire, both literally and politically: After surviving an assassination attempt in the first episode, she is pitted against the Koch brothers-esque Bill and Annette Shepherd, played shoddily by Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane, respectively. Above all, Claire is faced off against the growing sphere of toxic masculinity that threatens to tear her from the throne.
All of these are great ideas to base a story off of and I don’t doubt the show could have succeeded at that in the past. Unfortunately, the wind has been taken out of the sails of one of Netflix’s former mastheads, and it’s too late to right the ship. Robin Wright’s acting is great as always, but it doesn’t save her from her character’s dull pacing and frankly uncomfortable one-liners. Familiar motifs like sex, murder and twists become muddled where they used to be shocking.
The season is not without its redeeming qualities: The aesthetics of the show haven’t faltered; the cinematography remains among the most impressive in television today. The acting is, on average, decent – although none of the performances lay a candle to Spacey’s best.
That’s the big takeaway from this season: No matter how hard the show attempts to outswim the current Frank Underwood has drawn in the past five years, his riptide remains too strong. The final season of “House of Cards” just can’t avoid or overcome the Spacey-shaped hole in its fabric.
Whether it was the show’s fault or not, the house of cards has collapsed. Outside of the Netflix writers’ room, no one will ever know what the planned ending of the show with Frank would have been. The final season’s intentions are vaguely understandable, but ultimately gravely disappointing.
I guess that’s politics.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.