“House of Cards” returns to Netflix with a satisfying sixth and final season after a delayed and altered production put the show’s conclusion at risk.
Kevin Spacey was fired roughly a year ago from the Netflix original after his history of sexual misconduct was revealed during the height of the #MeToo movement.
“House of Cards” was gradually progressing toward co-main characters with Frank and Claire Underwood, so the handoff to Robin Wright feels more natural than it should.
Season six has been reduced from the usual 13 episodes to just eight, but a short time jump helps with the sudden change, as the season starts with Frank dead and Claire—now President Hale—wrestling to find the best strategy to run the country.
Claire faces immense pressure with every decision she makes due to the combination of her criminal past and her role as the first female president of the United States. Endless doubt is thrown her way, similar to some of the doubt Robin Wright faced when it was announced the show would carry on without Spacey.
As a performer who has been nominated for multiple Emmys, Golden Globes and Screen Actor Guild Awards, Wright has no problem being the star of the show and commanding the screen with a presidential demeanor. She notes in the beginning of the season that tyrants come in many forms, and proves herself right by offering a totally different (but equally effective) form of manipulation than Frank used. As a lone woman in power, Claire cares about feminism but also realizes she can use the image of being the first female president to her advantage. She can be cold and calculated or terribly ruthless.
While Claire endlessly tries to shake Frank from her past, whether it’s by cutting ties with past associates or reverting back to her maiden name, the show uses his absence as a ghostly presence that haunts her and anyone else who truly knew the authoritarian couple.
Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) returns in an effort to save Frank Underwood’s reputation from being tarnished by the truth, and his irrational loyalty to Frank sets him and Claire on a clear collision course. Both have secrets to hide while they try to expose the other without jeopardizing themselves.
Dianne Lane and Greg Kinnear also join season six as sibling couple Annette and Bill Shepherd, a wealthy pair intent on pulling strings in the Oval Office from outside the White House. “House of Cards” has no clear “good guys” of “bad guys,” but the Shepherds make for an interesting opposition once they are fully developed. The first few episodes are spent building their background, and season six begins relatively slow because of this—with the exception of an early assassination attempt in the opening episode. But it gains full steam once the Shepherds are established, and the show feels like it’s working with a full cast of characters again.
Season six would have benefitted from the typical 13-episode season. Five fewer episodes plus a slow start and a semi-rushed finish leaves multiple characters hastily dealt with as the remaining episodes dwindle down. And the ending leaves multiple loose ends. Not every character conclusion is handled abruptly however, as some make for nice shocks and feel somewhat inevitable.
“House of Cards” is at its best when using real-world influences, like voter fraud and an unstable relationship with Russia, to create political theater and place longstanding characters at odds with each other. Robin Wright gives a great performance and, along with many other actors and writers, helps turn what should have been a disastrous season into a laudable conclusion to one of the most popular shows of this generation.