When it comes to the final season of House of Cards it’s impossible not to address the elephant in the room. Following multiple accusations of sexual abuse, Netflix separated themselves from the series’ lead, Kevin Spacey. Netflix and the series’ creators announced shortly after the fact that the final season would continue without him, Robin Wright was more than capable of carrying on the series as Claire Underwood. In the time leading up to its release I became more excited because I was so confident in the creators and in Robin Wright’s strength as an actor. But what I hadn’t anticipated was how much I would notice that said elephant.
Things get tricky when it comes to losing a lead character. What separates a wise decision versus a weak one is the way in which this is handled. In the case of Spacey’s character, Francis Underwood, he has died in the weeks prior to the opening episode. It’s not a surprising decision and it was revealed immediately in the Season 6 trailer. The creators didn’t have much of a choice here; you can’t completely ignore the character’s existence or their absence. Francis may be physically left out of the final season but he is still very much a big part of it. If I’m totally honest, he was sorely missed. Now before you misunderstand me, this was the right decision to eliminate him from the final season. When it comes to such severe accusations your hands are tied. What I struggled with was the heavy Frank presence throughout the entire season. It’s clear that Netflix wants to separate them from Spacey but he is so very present, not an episode passes by without multiple references to him, which I feel almost backfired on them. Instead of focusing on what was happening on my screen, his absence worked as a constant reminder of what was missing from this season. I enjoyed how the writers used his death as a part of the narrative and as a way to send Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) on a new mission. It also worked for me as motivation for Claire to separate herself from him all the while their likeness continued to increase. Getting rid of all ties with Spacey was clearly the right and necessary choice but as a fan of the series I couldn’t help but wonder what was originally scripted for Season 6. What it all boils down to is that without him, despite the effort it’s still a significant loss.
A change in its lead also brought on some other minor changes. The look of the show has changed; the world has gotten a little brighter. Instead of Frank’s shady dealings in the dark corners of the White House, Claire handles her business out in broad daylight. Just like before Claire breaks that fourth wall between the character and the audience offering insights to what is actually going on in her mind. But something new that I wasn’t a fan of is that this is no longer reserved to the lead character. I thought it was an odd choice to all of a sudden include Doug. His character was one of the most interesting and confusing throughout the series mainly because it was so difficult to get inside his head. This brief moment of insight came across as a simple way to move the plot forward. The pacing is another change, its much slower in Season 6. House of Cards isn’t known for its action or high-energy narrative but a monologue from Claire doesn’t come across with the same humor or fast paced delivery as it did with predecessor. As I started watching this season I was sad to see there were only 8 episodes instead of the usual 13 in the earlier seasons. However by the time the season was coming to a close it felt like it had been much longer.
Following the pattern set in past seasons, a new season means introductions to a handful of new characters. Adding the power hungry siblings, Annette and Bill Sheppard (Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear) to the cast were welcome additions. Both of them fit in seamlessly with their strong performances but I didn’t think they were given enough time to properly develop. I had trouble following Annette’s connection to Claire, how her son kept getting involved, their dealings with Doug, and what was happening with Bill’s health. Their characters worked for me as the driving force pushing Claire to achieve new levels of political gain but they also added to a rather confusing narrative. As expected this season has a lot going on so adding two new characters that don’t appear to be fully developed was frustrating. Multiple times I had to ask myself if I had missed something because there was plenty enough happening without their schemes to take over the Presidency.
As a whole this season of House of Cards was average and probably the weakest of the series. There were plenty of twists, some highly predictable and even one that felt completely unnecessary. The season builds up to this final meeting that you can sense from the first episode. Without spoiling the ending I can say that I was disappointed. It’s unfortunate that this season couldn’t match up to the earlier seasons or exceed it like I had hoped. This was not the ending that I had anticipated and it certainly didn’t feel like a series finale. It’s not a bad season it’s just the worst one in a great series.