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Released: 2nd November 2018
Created by: Beau Willimon
Number of Episodes: 8
Where to Watch: Netflix
Starring: Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Diane Lane, Campbell Scott, Boris McGiver, Derek Cecil, Constance Zimmer, Greg Kinnear, and Lars Mikkelsen
As the show that made Netflix a major player on the streaming scene, House of Cards earned its keep on adapting Michael Dobb’s original novel and transferring it to the United States. With Kevin Spacey fired due to sexual abuse allegations, Robin Wright has stepped up to take up the lead role for the sixth and final season.
The series was clearly heading in this direction, following Frank’s unceremonious exit from the Oval Office at the end of season five. Claire Underwood, now in control, plans a new method of rule, but this time a major corporate lobbying group led by Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill (Greg Kinnear) Shepherd are out to dethrone her. Meanwhile, the likes of Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), Vice-President Mark Usher (Campbell Scott), and Seth Grayson (Dereck Cecil) gradually grow more disgruntled with the first female president’s reign. This is as good as it gets for House of Cards’ finale; surrounding Claire’s presidency is a metric ton of filler.
Where previous seasons used political elements such as passing laws and political competitors to drive the story, season 6’s pacing is hackneyed. The more sinister deeds of Claire’s presidency are brushed over too quickly and the foreign affairs involving Russia and the Syrian conflict are mostly pushed into the background. The scramble from the showrunners to put together an end to the story across eight episodes as opposed to the usual thirteen really shows. Without spoiling anything, the way everything wraps up is simply awful, providing no conclusion to many character arcs and leaving things on a frustratingly basic note. If you were expecting some kind of comeuppance for Claire, Doug, and their various associates, you'll be sorely disappointed.
From a performance level, the main actors are still firmly committed; Robin Wright is more than capable of carrying the bulk of the material. She’s given plenty of monologues to deliver and maintains a sense of ruthlessness. The same holds true for Michael Kelly; Doug Stamper has been a drastically conflicted character throughout the series and his final power play is well-portrayed, even if the plot doesn’t do him any favours. Staying consistent with previous seasons, Seth Grayson and Mark Usher fill their roles well. Sadly, the introduction of new cast members doesn’t do season 6 any favours. While Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear are competent, matching Claire’s manipulative tendencies, other new characters really don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. They simply fill a place in Claire’s cabinet and occasionally speak out against her plans. Because they aren’t a major part of the plot, any momentum the series had left comes to a halt. There’s also the problem with front-loading Claire’s backstory with flashbacks that frequently interrupt the proceedings; these elements feel as if they were thrown in quickly to provide a quick backstory to a character that should have been more evenly spread out across the season.
At the very least, House of Cards is still professionally produced; the costume work, set design, and camerawork are still as capable and authentic as it's ever been. While the sense of scale is limited by the season's stripped number of episodes, there are some suitably sweeping moments, most notably the moment in which Claire first addresses the US military. The same can't be said for continuity, however; determined to erase every trace of Kevin Spacey from the series, the moments concerning Frank's ultimate demise feel very convenient, refraining from showing the viewer any glimpse of how his character passed between seasons. It's one symptom of a larger problem.
After a string of diminishing returns, House of Cards clunks to an end in its final season; many have bemoaned Kevin Spacey’s absence, but the problems run much deeper than that. This last run feels insignificant, inconsequential, and incredibly anti-climactic, resulting in the only piece of the six-part political odyssey that I can’t recommend.
Rating: 2/5 Stars (Disappointing)