‘House of Cards’ collapses with a farcical whimper of a final season
House of Cards’ sixth and final season would be hilariously horrible were it not so painfully humourless. As a TV drama so preposterously-plotted that it could likely never have had a satisfying conclusion, a final season burdened by the loss of its main character to a real-life sexual abuse scandal simply was not worth the effort, and has arrived in the form of some of the worst content ever produced by Netflix. House of Cards was never a great drama, but for it to end on such a bum note is frankly an embarrassment for the streaming service, for original creators Beau Willimon and David Fincher, and arguably even for the publicly-shamed Kevin Spacey, who — on a creative level — has never appeared in anything this atrocious.
The season opens with Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) still an unelected US President, riding on sympathy from the death of her husband Frank (Spacey), who was President at some point earlier in the show’s run. But — hey — it turns out Frank’s master manipulator status was compromised, as the pair were being puppeteered all along by the Shepherd siblings (Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear). Yes, you lose the powerhouse of presence that is Kevin Spacey and you replace him — not with Alec Baldwin, Michael Shannon or J.K. Simmons — but with… Greg Kinnear?!
The Shepherds are a ridiculous panic button exercise, brought into the show to wrap up loose ends from earlier seasons, yet the audience simply ends up feeling cheated and betrayed. Why even try to wrap things up when it’s blatantly obvious these 8 episodes were only produced to compensate the crew for the abuse suffered under Spacey’s reign? Lane and Kinnear, ironically, are the most watchable players in the cast, with Patricia Clarkson and Constance Zimmer also popping up and trying their best.
Wright, who’s extremely shortchanged by these episodes’ determination to deal with the legacy of Frank, rather than the future of Claire’s political career, has to deliver some of the worst dialogue ever put to page. Her asides to camera are reminiscent of A Serious of Unfortunate Events’ Patrick Warburton monologues, except that’s a show for 10-year olds and House of Cards was once nominated for multiple Emmys. The adult Emmys.
Michael Kelly, meanwhile, continues to give the least engaging performance of any series regular on a political drama in TV history. Doug Stamper is a boring character who Willimon should have killed instead of Corey Stoll way back when. Stoll, or Kate Mara, or Reg E. Cathy, or Ellen Burstyn, or Joel Kinnaman, would have been such welcome presences in this god-awful run of episodes.
But House of Cards just never knew how to keep a good character around. And so, in the final scenes of this grossly overpriced and overseen soap opera, we’re left with Michael Kelly, Campbell Scott, an unruly pair of scissors and a conclusion to a six-year arc so unsatisfying I’ll be amazed if “House of Cards” doesn’t become the new shorthand for Bad TV Endings. I pray this mediocre show is soon forgotten; it never deserved its status in the cultural conversation. And, boy, was Kevin Spacey providing all the life support.