The final season of House of Cards upgrades Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood to the lead role — with mixed results.
After the inexplicable death of her husband and former President Frank Underwood, Claire, as commander-in-chief, must maintain power in Washington DC, even if bigger forces try to prevent her from it.
With Kevin Spacey out of the equation after allegations of sexual misconduct last year, showrunners Frank Pugliese and Melissa Gibson were left with the daunting task of concluding a show without its main star and the anti-hero the series had carefully laid out throughout the seasons. From the outset, there was never a better moment to do it. The show had already made Claire the President of the United States at the end of the last season, and with the “#metoo” movement coming into play more than ever, a female president on the small screen would certainly mark a change of pace for the show after some mixed reviews of the previous seasons.
After a rocky start, House of Cards does find its footing — especially thanks to an engaging story led by Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane’s new characters, Bill and Annette Shepherd, and favorite Doug Stamper, played by Michael Kelly. Their evil tactics and careful execution bring a new and exciting dynamic. However, it’s Frank Underwood’s shadow that never quite lets the season breathe by its own, with almost every storyline revolving around him even in his absence. And it’s a shame, since Robin Wright definitely delivers the performance of her lifetime, bringing previously unseen layers of Claire to light.
While Claire Underwood becomes a main character worth following, you can’t shake the feeling the writers are just morphing her into Frank, with the contrast between both characters not immediately apparent as in other seasons. It’s episode 6 that is the best of the season, letting Claire break free from previous shortcomings and finally delivering the trademark Underwood strategy that has kept the viewers watching. Unfortunately, an unnecessary time-jump in the next episode brings the pace to a halt and introduces new elements to the show that feel so random that you can imagine the writers scratching their heads to see how they could continue the show and end it on a satisfying note. While ridiculousness has always been part of this series, there were times where the storyline almost went full soap-opera, and although it has worked before, the writers never truly earn them.
While it does pick up in the last episode, the ending (which I won’t spoil) is confusing and anti-climactic, bringing the 6-season story to an unsatisfying end that will surely leave you scratching your head and wondering if there’s actually an episode left. While you can understand the intention, it never fully materializes, and without Frank Underwood being present, it just doesn’t feel like the real thing. The shock factor, which I’m assuming was the intended reaction, is clearly present, but it just doesn’t feel like a worthy conclusion.
Thanks to some amazing performances, especially by Robin Wright, and some engaging storylines sprinkled throughout the uneven season, the last season of House of Cards remains a worthy binge, even if can’t help but feel incomplete and lacking without its main star.