Review: House of Cards final season
Starring Robin Wright, Michael Kelly
When the US version of House of Cards debuted in 2013, it marked one of Netflix’s first forays into original programming. Praised for Kevin Spacey’s performance, it won awards and depicted Washington’s dark underbelly.
Fast forward five years and the final season of House of Cards has dropped. After a less than stellar fourth season and sexual misconduct claims against Spacey, the season feels like the end of a tired administration.
After many seasons where the show’s tight plotting was praised, it is disappointing that the writing for House of Cards’ final season is uneven.
Writing around Kevin Spacey’s departure was always going to be a challenge and for the most part, House of Cards’ writers fare well at centring the events on Claire as the new protagonist. There is one instance in particular, however, where the write-around is abundantly obvious, namely during a cringeworthy monologue from Claire. The condensing of the show’s season down to eight episodes and the incursion of a few plot holes are the more obvious signs of a swift reworking.
The season sees new US President Claire Underwood under siege, with new and old enemies plotting against her. The usual intrigue, scheming, and counter-strategy from previous House of Cards seasons remains a central point. The final season is at its best when Claire is able to take centre stage, countering the forces that would end her presidency in new and unexpected ways.
Perhaps the season’s most fascinating element is the way in which Claire is able to deploy a form of weaponised feminism so as to protect herself and advance her very dangerous agenda, garnering goodwill by being a woman in a traditionally male role and using this political capital to potentially harm thousands.
There is more than one occasion when the season jumps the shark. Avoiding spoilers dictates that these instances cannot be named, but certain episodes are laborious to struggle through. There are enough intriguing plot points to keep things moving towards the conclusion however.
While not all of the script is strong, House of Cards’ capable cast do what they can to elevate the material. Michael Kelly delivers well as Doug Stamper, depicting him in a state of internal conflict over a secret that he is holding. Robin Wright’s performance is the highlight here, delivering a confident portrayal of the United States’ first female president that is partially endearing and oftentimes menacing. Not all of the cast members deliver at this same, level, however. Dianne Lane and Greg Kinnear join the regular cast as members of a powerful Washington family, but their performances are inconsistent and seem to be unworthy cyphers for the absence of Frank Underwood (Spacey).
Claire Underwood is a fascinating character, who, much like her husband, lacks any ethical compass save for what she needs to gain or hold on to power. In contemporary politics, this particular nihilism is not uncommon and so the exploration of such a character remains timely.
For House of Cards aficionados, this season offers glimmers of the show’s past brilliance and the chance to finish the show. The Insights office was divided on the question of whether or not the ending was fitting.
The final season of House of Cards is streaming now on Netflix
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor