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If you ever get talking to me long enough, you'll find out that House of Cards (the American version), is by miles one of my favourite TV shows. Before the release of season 5, I wouldn't have hesitated in telling you that it was my favourite show outright. But the show has slipped, but not just stumbled—I'm talking slipped on a piece of ice and ended up breaking its own neck.
The show's first season was released in 2013. Beau Willimon was the showrunner and acclaimed Director David Fincher was brought on to direct the first two episodes. Season 1 unequivocally stands up now as the best season of television I personally have ever seen. From start to finish the story pacing is steady, each character and their motives are clear and compelling, and everything just works the way it should. This was Netflix's first foray into original programming, and with this as its first attempt, the future certainly was bright for the platform.
Fast-forward five years and the fans have been given the 6th and final season. Kevin Spacey no longer stars in the central role, that instead being taken by Robin Wright's character, Claire Underwood, in what I can only describe as the worst season of television I have ever watched, and I've seen the first season of Iron Fist.
As the years and seasons went on with the show, it was clear that the show struggled to continue telling engaging stories for the Underwood power couple, and indeed my own view on why the show sunk so poorly is simply that it attempted to keep telling the story after the Underwoods won.
Those familiar with the show will know that the set up is a scheme of revenge. Frank, feeling jilted by being overlooked for the nomination of Secretary of State, sets about on a quest to destroy the Walker Presidency that wronged him. Season 2 climaxes with the final scene of Frank stood behind the President's desk in the Oval Office. Having just assumed the Presidency for himself, he bangs on the desk with his recognisable double-knock, and the screen goes black. That's the end of season 2, and in my view, should have been the end of the show.
Sure, there would have been incredible speculation by fans as to what would have happened next, but that really would have been the lasting legacy of the show. Fans speculated and dreamt of what an Underwood Presidency would look like which could have gone on for years and years, outlasting the 5 years the show eventually ran for. Instead, the writers kept writing, and after season 2, particularly in seasons 5 and definitely 6, the quality just plummeted.
Over time the stories themselves became a betrayal of the characters we had been introduced to in the first two seasons. No longer were Claire and Frank the cunning and manipulative sociopaths we had come to know and love. They had turned into shells of their former selves, characters unsure about what they really wanted, and who, in the end, simply resorted to murdering anyone that ever crossed them.
Those familiar with the original British version of House of Cards will know that, in the broadest sense, the American version does follow along with the key themes of the original, even in its more insane moments, but that wasn't what the American version had established itself to be. In my view, Frank Underwood had been set up as being smarter than just needing to bully and kill anyone who messed with him. In fact, if the show-runners really were so determined to keep going after 2 seasons, the third season should have seen the House of Cards actually fall.
Much has been made of how poor season 6 was, and a lot of that criticism has been levied, unfairly, on the head of Robin Wright. She is an exceptional actress who did what she could with what was clearly just bad writing, but I think the main reason people really disliked season 6 is that it just had no pay off. For those who have yet to suffer the season, be warned that spoilers lie ahead.
The final showdown between Claire and Doug, which led to Doug being killed at the hands of Claire, felt flat and pointless. We know that Claire would be able to spin this easily; she was attacked and defended herself, but then what about everything that was set up in prior seasons? With the murder of Tom Hammerschmidt, there's no clear sign that the House will ever fall, and while there are certainly hints of that being a possibility, the whole reason behind people being so invested in the show for so long is because we wanted to actually see that happen.
House of Cards wound up a failure in that the final season(s) are almost universally panned by some of its most loyal fans (including myself). It was a show that set up the idea that the "House of Cards" would eventually fall, yet dragged on for six seasons teasing this very possibility and just never delivering. It didn't just leave fans feeling disappointed, it left them feeling insulted, and that's the biggest failure of all on Netflix's part.