House of Cards was originally supposed to be two seasons. They followed Frank Underwood’s betrayal-fueled journey from House leadership to the presidency. The writing was sharp, the plot compelling, and we rooted for the evil puppet master pulling the strings.
Those seasons helped put Netflix on the map as a provider of quality original programming. And that’s the problem. Creators had to extend the story beyond what they originally envisioned. The rise to power was much more compelling than governing and staying in power.
Then came Kevin Spacey’s fall. Accused of sexual assault by multiple accusers, it didn’t take Netflix long to cut him from the show and retool a final season around Robin Wright’s Claire.
The No-val Office
Viewers rejoin the series with Frank Underwood disgraced, despised, and dead. Yet his spirit is omnipresent. It seems Netflix can live a dead character’s spirit as long as the living actor is nowhere to be seen.
From there it’s a messy mess. The show tries to explore how a powerful woman is despised and walks with a bigger target on her back than any man. In her way is a pair of powerful lobbyists protecting their privilege, Doug Stamper who is blindly loyal to Frank and his legacy, and Frank’s (unseen) ghost.
None of it really makes any sense. Greg Kinnear plays Bill Shepherd, one of the lobbyists. He’s fighting dirty even though he’s facing death. The idea is to make him seem like a true believer, but neither illness nor principle nor impending death lends any sympathy or to his character or makes him relatable. So he fits right in.
Then there is the paternity issues of his sister’s son. Another ‘who cares’
plot line tangent.
Meanwhile Doug is trying to resurrect himself again. Michael Kelly continues to play him brilliantly, but the character is mired in a confusing and laughably bizarre storyline.
And the ending? Don’t get me started. I won’t spoil it for you. If you watch, it will spoil it for you all on its own!
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
My recommendation: Avoid the final season of House of Cards. Instead go to your nearest bar and order a Southern Comfort, chilled. It will invoke the spirit of Frank Underwood without having to think of the man who brought him to life (eww).