TODAY is an important moment for Netflix. The reason why it’s as popular as it is ends tonight, and things will never be the same again.
THIS is it. The end.
After putting Netflix on the map for original content as its first ever TV show, House of Cards bows out today with a shortened eight-episode season and is still mired by the stench of Kevin Spacey’s scandal.
Because as much as House of Cards tried to move on and rightly focus on Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood, Frank Underwood, killed off-camera between seasons, haunts the story, a spectre that refuses to depart.
In the first five episodes made available for review, Frank’s problematic legacy hangs around Claire like an albatross. It’s only at the end of episode five, there’s an exciting development that hints at a more invigorated final three chapters.
But it wasted so much time getting there.
As a refresher — because it’s been 18 months since the previous season dropped — we last saw the Underwoods with Claire behind the Oval Office desk after Frank resigned in disgrace, paving the way for his vice president wife to take the presidency.
Claire had just killed her lover Tom Yates but she entrusted their adviser Mark Usher to dispatch the body (“It’s on ice”). And Aidan and LeAnn both also had to go, permanently.
When the new season starts, Claire’s presidency is already besieged by a media pack baying for blood and by Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill Shepherd (Greg Kinnear), a powerful brother and sister corporate duo who had exacted certain promises from Frank before he died. And they intend to collect.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Claire has a history with both of them and Annette was her childhood friend. Bill, in an effort to remind her of the gender dynamics of their youth, constantly calls Claire by her maiden name, Claire Hale.
Also returning for the season are Mark Usher (Campbell Scott), who is now the reluctant vice president with his own ties to the Shepherds, the enigmatic Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), whose agenda is never clear and former press secretary Seth Grayson (Derek Cecil), who now works for the Shepherds.
As always, there are a few subplots in the air, with journalists Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver) and Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer, returning after a season away) digging through the closets of the Underwoods and the Shepherds.
Meanwhile, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) remains loyal to Frank’s memory but you’re never sure which way he’s going to land on anything.
And that’s part of the problem with this season. Frank was always so nakedly ambitious and clear with his agenda, which made following all the convoluted plotting easy enough.
This season, everyone is in it for … not sure. Not every character can be a cipher with duelling loyalties and yet they are — it’s exhausting. You’re not even sure of Claire’s end goal until much later on in the season, and a less patient viewer may not stick around to find out.
There’s a lot of goodwill going into season six, knowing that Wright worked hard to keep the show going and to save the crew’s jobs after the Spacey calamity.
It was smart to pivot the spotlight to Claire, who’s increasingly become the more interesting character over the past couple of seasons — and Wright is just so good in the role of this morally complex woman.
The promos have made a point of emphasising female rage against the patriarchy, a promise that carries through in the actual episodes.
Claire is less willing to compromise and be told what to do and what to say. Even her wardrobe has moved to more militaristic styles and dark colours — gone are the ice blues and greys that marked her as “cold”, now she means business.
But Claire will always be a problematic feminist figure — what with the murdering and stuff — so it’ll be interesting to see exactly where she ends up by the series’ end.
With this and Orange is the New Black ending after the next season, it really is the end of an era for Netflix.