Yes, there is another season of Netflix’s House of Cards. Yes, it features many of the same things that have endeared its devoted fanbase and enraged its most critical reviewers since it became the first original streaming series ever to score significant Emmy Awards nominations in 2013. And yes, despite everything that happened as a result of the platform’s decision to fire star Kevin Spacey following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, the Robin Wright-centric sixth and final season is quite good.
At the end of season five, Spacey’s Frank Underwood, the former congressman turned disgraced American president, has resigned. This act promotes his vice presidential wife, Wright’s Claire Underwood, to the highest executive office in the land. Despite the setback, however, the ever-scheming Frank decides that he can still control what happens in Washington thanks to the new circumstances afforded the pair.
Unfortunately for him, Claire has an agenda of her own, so she ignores his late-night calls to the White House, turns to the camera and declares, “My turn.”
Of all the shocking cliffhangers that House of Cards has ever produced, the fifth season’s finale is definitely one of its most memorable. After all, it debuted in May of 2017, right in the thick of a (surprisingly) real-world American presidency that, among other things, places almost no stock in the capabilities of women. So by promoting Claire to the Oval Office, showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese were essentially giving the finger to actual American politics.
But can the new season, which debuts Friday, November 2nd on Netflix, live up to such massive expectations? Competing with the day-to-day politics of the modern United States is one thing, but considering the equally (if not more so) ridiculous world that creator Beau Willimon, Gibson and Pugliese have created over the course of five seasons, trying to one-up America’s current political zeitgeist already feels like a lost cause.
And that is the ultimate rub of House of Cards. More often than not, the heavily exaggerated drama about Washington’s penchant for sometimes literal backstabbing can be a bit much, but people just can’t stop themselves from watching it. So no matter how mad the show can make some critics, House of Cards is here to stay — albeit while taking its final bow. So aside from watching something else, there is nothing any of us can do except sit down, press play and hope against all odds that Claire spares us from her righteous wrath.
Depending on who you’re rooting for following Frank’s offscreen death between seasons five and six, you very well might make it out alive. Even so, House of Cards isn’t simply going to let Claire off easy. Like her manipulative husband before her, the new president must conspire with (and against) old friends and new enemies. This includes the wealthy and domineering Shepherd family, led by siblings Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Annette (Diane Lane), as well as the latter’s son Duncan (Cody Fern), who steps in with his technological prowess.
While the Shepherds more often than not operate as a deeply felt presence through the first five episodes, they sometimes appear in the flesh whenever they deign it absolutely necessary. Bill is especially adept at brandishing power, both as a blunt instrument and a backhanded compliment, and almost always at Claire’s expense. Yet these occurrences are few and far between, because Vice President Mark Usher (Campbell Scott), a former adviser to the late President Underwood, is never too far away from the phone to take the Shepherds’ calls.
Others from the Underwoods’ past, like the murderous Doug Stamper (Michael Kelley) and dogged reporter Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer), have also reentered the picture. So in many ways, despite Frank’s death, it seems that all of the many pawns he laid out, or totally forgot about, in seasons past are back to make sure that House of Cards’ final bow is unlike anything audiences have seen before.
For the most part, it is. House of Cards season six feels like a return to form, from its increasingly complex subplots to its overarching story, and much of its success has to do with Gibson and Pugliese’s willingness to fully exploit the more nostalgic aspects of the entire run. Though most of the credit belongs to Wright, whose turn as President Claire Underwood, in many ways, trumps the character’s previous appearances. This is a woman in power who, after waiting in the wings for the men in her life to seize and lose such strength, has taken it upon herself to go in for the kill.
Kinnear and Lane’s turns as Bill and Annette Shepherd are also a welcome addition to the mix. This is especially true of Annette who, as viewers will soon find out, shares a special relationship with Claire that will come to define many important aspects of this season’s story. Unfortunately, all of the good work that the House of Cards team has put into these final eight episodes is undermined by Gibson, Pugliese and the writers’ efforts to constantly remind us that yeah, Frank is dead, but the fruits of his best and worst-laid plans are still here, waiting to be picked or smashed into oblivion.
Had House of Cards spent far less time dwelling on the mysterious, offscreen death of its former leading player, then maybe season six could have perfectly reset many of the previous seasons’ failings — not to mention the ugly, and very public, situation that developed amidst Spacey’s scandal. Instead, the show chooses to constantly remind its characters (and those of us watching at home) that Francis J. Underwood is dead but not forgotten, thereby robbing Claire of the weight her “my turn” declaration once carried.
The sixth and final season of House of Cards premieres Friday, November 2nd on Netflix.