House of Cards falls over

Being a political junkie, House of Cards was my all time favourite drama series. And what drama. The evil emanating from the Underwoods, both full of political ambition, both prepared to stop at nothing to get to their goals, was delicious. Based on the British series, but much darker and more dastardly, the series featured murders of people who knew too much, drugs, lying and obfuscation, and political manoeuvring of the highest order. With an excellent central character, played by Kevin Spacey, and his wife and political offsider played brilliantly by Robin Wright, it appeared that the wranglings and the out and out evil could last for years to come.

Alas. Kevin Spacey’s career became victim to some indiscretion from decades ago, and as so often happens, there was a trial by media and his career was finished… and so was the show.

The show’s producers should have left it where it was, an excellent series, even without a grand finale. But the dollar signs beckoned and, in the #metoo era, decided that it could all be done with a woman as the main character.

They were wrong.

The series starts after Frank Underwood gets an off-screen death, leaving a serious vacuum. While it still had Robin Wright to make it work, how does it tell the story of what happened to Frank, without bringing Spacey back for a few more scenes, which they were never going to do?

So House of Cards did the only thing it could do – it created a “whodunnit?” Who killed Frank? Yes, and although Claire tries to stand out on her own, the show is still all about him. But without actually seeing Frank, even in flashbacks,? the results are strange indeed.

The series, regardless of Spacey’s disappearance, was always heading this way regardless,?with Claire poised to overtake Frank at the end of season 5, so none of it feels forced exactly. It just all feels a bit like a Greek drama, where all the important things happen offstage, with many things inadequately explained.

There are lots of feminist themes running through the season – from the very first scene when Claire realises she gets a lot more threats? than Frank ever did, as the country’s first every sitting female president, to flashbacks to? her past – one including not being supported by her mother after she attacked a boy who had? humiliated her sexually, and another explaining how Frank allowed her to be as ambitious and deadly as she wanted – to the all female cabinet she manufactures to keep herself in power. This was never what House of Cards was about. It was about the ruthlessness of politics, and an insight into what it took to get to – and stay at – the top. Feminist themes were never at the heart of the series, even though there have been strong women throughout. But they all used to fit into the plot, and now suddenly the plot fits around them.

There are some new nasty characters creeping out of the woodwork this year too, plus a few old foes, but again, it all seems a bit surreal. There is Jane back on the scene, not to mention Catherine Durant, but Doug Stamper is still the ultimate Frankophile, getting weirder by the episode. There are also the new kids on the block, the Shepherds. These are siblings of an oligarchic dynasty who have been puppeteering presidents for decades. They all hiss and spit at each other, but the ending is unsatisfactory

Everything points towards a showdown between Claire and Doug, which happens in the grand finale, as Doug tries to do everything he can to topple Claire without also damaging Frank’s legacy. It can’t be done, and it doesn’t end well for Doug.? Sadly, the ending lacks the dramatic finish the series deserves, as characters who were built up throughout the season get lost in favour of resolving Frank’s death, and a lot of loose ends, referred to all through the entire series are never tied up properly, if at all.

The first five seasons get 10/10 from me, but the final series maybe a 3. Robin Wright is an excellent actor, but even she cannot carry off a series with a poor script and a dreadful storyline. I think it also goes to show that feminist themes do not always make good drama, and in fact, they ruined this season. Clare was supposed to make it on her own in spite of being a woman, not because of it. The fact that she felt she had to resort to an all female cabinet just said to me that she couldn’t make it in a man’s world, and that is not the Clare Underwood we all know and detest.

I almost didn’t finish the series, but I sat through it, mainly to see if the murders of Zoe Barnes, Lucas Goodwin, Peter Russo and Rachel Posner would ever get resolved. Needless to say, that didn’t happen either. Presidents and high flying politicians really can get away with murder. This series proves it. But that leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction. The whole point of the ‘good triumphs evil’ world we like to think we live in is that good always wins. Here, that didn’t happen, and it just doesn’t feel right.

I’ll leave the final word to Frank’s cufflinks, given to him in Season 1.

Sayonara House of Cards. It was good… not quite right up until the very end.

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