“There are two types of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”
Kevin Spacey a.k.a Frank Underwood, uttered those lines right before he strangled a mortally injured dog in the opening sequence of House of Cards five years ago and the world was hooked.
A lot happened in those five years. The Syrian conflict worsened, the United States and China came dangerously close to a financial stalemate, the war on terror seemed to have fizzled but then rather unnecessarily saw a resurgence and of course, Donald Trump became the leader of the free world. And somehow, House of Cards managed to weave in each of these events into its narrative; tactfully navigating its global audience through the complicated world of realpolitik.
However, the one event that House of Cards could not withstand and which ultimately led to the exit of Kevin Spacey from the show was the #MeToo movement. As laudable a step that it was for Netflix to sever its contract with Kevin Spacey following allegations of sexual misconduct made by Star Trek actor, Anthony Rapp, there is no denying that even the most fervent supporters of the #MeToo movement felt a pang of disappointment at the unexpected end to Frank Underwood’s on-screen shenanigans.
After months of speculation about the future of the show, when Netflix had finally announced that it would return with House of Cards for one, final season featuring Robin Wright’s Clair Underwood as the President, the anxious fans welcomed the move. True, that we would not see Frank Underwood on the show again but at least there would be some form of closure.
Unfortunately, the series finale is a far, far cry from closure.
It’s not that the season doesn’t begin on the right foot. Quite on the contrary its beginning is actually quite promising. The many plot lines that had been recurring themes throughout the series (e.g. the murders of Zoe Barnes, Peter Russo and Tom Yates as well as the fate of former Secretary of States Cathy Durant) are all once again revisited in the hope of wrapping-up lose ends. The Russian President’s character, Victor Petrov (Lars Dittmann Mikkelsen) returns to reignite the volatile banter that he previously shared with Clair. Doug Stamper’s (Micheal Kelly) intense act also spikes one’s expectations from the finale.
Then there are new plot lines in House of Cards 6, bringing the very talented Diane Lane into the limelight as the primary antagonist. So engaging is the steely chemistry between Robin Wright and Diane Lane that it literally demands from the viewer to put away his/her cellphone or any other form of distraction to see the two stalwarts set the screen aflame with their acting prowess.
As the lead, Robin Wright is completely in command. You don’t entirely stop missing Frank Underwood, but Wright’s convincing performance makes the void much less conspicuous.
And despite powerhouse performances and a promising story line, House of Cards 6 fails to deliver.
At times, you smell fake feminism – which, if your’re a feminist, is a sin greater than being a chauvinist. There are certain instances, for example, the scene in the opening episode where President Clair is questioned by a departing female soldier if she has a plan for their safety once they’re in the war zone. The retort could have been virtually anything at all but the lines given to Wright read, “Would you have asked me that if I were a man?” This question is extremely valid given that women are routinely challenged and their competence questioned in every role that they take-up unlike their male counterparts who command a much higher degree of subservience. However, the soldier who had challenged President Clair was herself a woman and just as women face constant scrutiny in professional roles, women are often also regularly snubbed when they dare to speak. In that sense, the whole sequence seemed like an exercise in futility, unable to communicate the point that it was trying to convey.
Similarly, the way Clair’s backstory has been explored is rather scrappy. You get a sudden glimpse into her childhood and adolescence, leaving you hoping to understand how Clair Hales became the unemotional and cruel, Clair Underwood. You do get a sense of it from her guilt induced upbringing but it’s not an explanation that is good enough or convincing enough to justify the deeply layered character. It would have served the makers better to have not touched upon Clair’s back story at all rather than rushing through it and leaving behind lose ends.
Then there is the struggle between President Clair and her powerful oligarch friend, Annette Shepards, which never really sees a conclusion and the series ends with certain aspects of their tussle left unanswered. Clair’s pregnancy is also treated in the same, unceremonious way.
But all these flaws could have been forgiven and forgotten had the final episode been wrapped up gracefully. Towards the end, the final twist is actually quite unexpected. But the way it was handled leaves behind more questions than answers, making one raise their hands in frustration as the credits begin to roll.
Unless Netflix has a drastic change of heart and decides to renew House of Cards for another season – don’t see that happening though – there is too much left unresolved to consider House of Cards 6 a befitting farewell to an otherwise outstanding series.