“House of Cards” falls flat without Spacey



Promotional poster for season six featuring Robin Wright’s Claire

When developing the sixth and final season of his Netflix series “House of Cards,” creator Beau Willimon was put in an impossible situation by the show’s star, Kevin Spacey. Spacey, who played the primary protagonist politician Frank Underwood, was fired by Netflix following a series of sexual assault allegations that spanned decades.

So how would Willimon wrap up “House of Cards,” Netflix’s first major original series, without his main character?

As far as the overall plot of the show, the timing of Spacey’s dismissal could have been worse. Season five concluded with Frank’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright), becoming his Vice President and then usurping him as President of the United States. With this shift in power, the plan to focus more on Claire was already in place, but Frank was still supposed to be making deals behind-the-scenes and working in the private sector after his numerous scandals forced his resignation.

But supplanting Spacey with Wright as focal point of the series was not simple. Spacey wasn’t just the main character, he also narrated much of his endeavors by breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly into the camera to the viewer. He was the only character doing so until Claire gains power and looks into the camera and reveals she knows we’ve been watching the whole time.

Season six picks up with Claire struggling to maintain her presidency, facing extreme scrutiny both publicly and within the White House. Frank is now deceased, having passed away under suspicious circumstances in his bed, but looms large as she (and the show) try to distance themselves from his legacy.

Nearly everyone around Claire is secretly sabotaging her, or at least working against her. But no one more than billionaire siblings Annette and Bill Shepard. They portray a fictitious version of the Koch brothers, wielding their fortune to influence policy. Annette and Claire went to boarding school together and were once close friends but are now enemies jockeying for power and go to immense lengths to destroy one another.

The Shepards, played by Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear, are excellent additions to the cast. Their dynamic as siblings and level of shadowy control over the White House bring forth a new element that helps fill the void left by Spacey while giving Claire clear and worthy adversaries.

Throughout the season, Claire must also compete with Frank’s longtime chief-of-staff, secret keeper and fall guy Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). He has always been blindly loyal to the Underwoods, but with Frank gone he has lost his way. At first, Doug appears intent on aiding Claire against the Shepards and her other foes, but as time progresses he turns on her after she begins to shred Frank’s legacy. The issue for Claire is that he possesses the one thing that could destroy her—the only copy of Frank’s audio diary, which contains ample evidence of the corrupt methods they used to take control of the oval office.

The growth of Doug’s role is one of the few bright spots in this installment. Kelly’s character has always been pivotal yet understated, but not anymore. His importance only increases as the last few episodes go on, culminating in a startling revelation at the end.

Essentially, the entire final season of “House of Cards”, which is only eight episodes as opposed to their usual 13, revolves around Claire’s unpopularity and struggle to maintain that control. While that was often the premise when Spacey was leading the show, her character lacks the charisma and magnetism that made you root for him despite his villainous ways. Her character is much icier in nature and her motives are usually unclear and sometimes even pointless.

For five years, “House of Cards” was one of my favorite shows, but the conclusion was massively disappointing. Overall, I think the transition from Spacey to Wright was a success, and Wright’s acting was superb. My problem is with the lack of actual conclusion within the narrative itself. Countless question marks remain from both Frank and Claire’s stories. So little was actually sewn up in the end, that they could have just not had the sixth season and we would have nearly the same amount of closure.

If you’re a fan of the series, I understand the desire to watch the final eight episodes. Also, considering the despicable accusations against Spacey, I appreciate why you wouldn’t want to tune in. But regardless of the reasoning, don’t waste your time. All you’ll be left with are more questions and the frustration in knowing they will never be answered.