House of Cards returns to Netflix with a final season famously devoid of its original star, Kevin Spacey. Fans of the show will undoubtedly watch this new season and wonder what might have been. What would this season have revealed had Spacey’s multiple alleged indiscretions not forced the hand of producers? We will never know, but what we have is probably a better option in the long run. House of Cards season six instead focuses on the series’s greatest asset: the criminally underrated and unrewarded Robin Wright. Wright towers above the material to deliver the ultimate coda on the character of now President Claire Hale Underwood.
As a massive fan of her series-long performance, I’m completely fine with how it all turned out.
The plot of this final season is as complex (convoluted?) as any previous season. After Frank Underwood (Spacey) stepped down as president at the end of season five, then vice president Claire ascended to the most powerful position in the United States. Now with Frank dead, she’s free to run things as she sees fit. Or is she? The sixth season introduces several new monied characters who engage in a tug-of-war power play as they attempt to assert power over the first female president.
Her foremost adversaries are brother and sister team Bill and Annette Shepherd, played by Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane. Caught in between the two forces is Vice President Mark Usher (Campbell Scott) who considers himself the de-facto president. Much of this stretches credibility and never really rises above the level of extravagantly produced soap. But is that really all that different than any other season of House of Cards? With the right mindset, it can be a great deal of classy, trashy fun.
Many characters from previous seasons are make their final lap through season six, and as a long-time viewer of the series, it is nice to say goodbye. I never really bought Greg Kinnear in his role as a ruthless corporate villain because, frankly, he’s just too damn nice of an actor to really pull it off. Much more convincing, and nearly Wright’s equal, is the great Diane Lane.
But ultimately, House of Cards season six is mostly a two-hander between Robin Wright and Michael Kelly’s Doug Stamper. After all, the whole of the series has really been about three characters – Frank, Claire, and Stamper – and the lengths to which they’ll go to achieve power. Michael Kelly’s season six performance is perhaps his most complex yet as Doug travels grey lines here more than ever without his mentor. And of course, Wright is outstanding in her final turn as Claire Underwood, even when the script often betrays her character’s strength. I admire her for continuing to draw Claire as an impenetrable force, one that never shows her hand no matter the circumstances. It’s a challenge to play someone who is outwardly so icy yet fire and brimstone internally. My only grievance with her performance is that I’m not entirely convinced she can fully pull off breaking the fourth wall as Spacey frequently did. Her instances are far more jarring than his ever were.
Will controversy overshadow her tremendous series-long performance and prevent serious Emmy consideration? I hope not. It would be the biggest tragedy of the series yet.
And Michael Kelly should likely stand there with her. In the end, House of Cards is about these two survivors as characters and as actors. They should be rewarded with pushing the series forward to a logical conclusion. It may have come through very unfortunate circumstances, but it’s likely a better end than letting the Frank Underwood story drag out another few seasons.
House of Cards is now streaming on Netflix.