All the cards have been dealt and laid on the table for the series finale of House of Cards.
If you’re like me, this was a bittersweet viewing. Yes, you’re excited to see how everything will end, but also anxious because, well, it’s ending. Being emotionally involved in a show for six years can do that to you.
The biggest buzz surrounding this show was the fact that Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, would not be featured on the final season. The announcement came on the heels of sexual assault allegations against Spacey. So, as far as we were all concerned, everything was up in the air. How were they going to deal with Frank’s character? Would he be killed? Jailed? And what would that mean for the house of cards? Would it finally collapse around everyone? These are all questions that were answered and I’m definitely going to talk about them. Buckle up, a spoiler warning is in effect.
“That can’t be it. That can’t be it,” I said as the credits rolled on episode 8 of the final season. I sincerely thought Netflix was playing a cruel joke on me. I even thought that, perhaps, they decided to split up the season to draw out the life expectancy of the show. No such luck. I went into this season intentionally blind. I didn’t read any of the news or updates for the show, so I was completely unaware of how they would deal with Spacey’s character as well as how many episodes there would be. I wanted to be surprised.
Well, at the very least, I got what I wanted, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a good thing. I found it interesting how Frank was written out of the show. He was killed, by the way, though in the beginning of the season we are led to believe that he died naturally. But no one should have been fooled. We all have watched this show long enough to know Frank had many enemies and if he was going to die, it was because someone wanted him that way. I highly doubt that Frank was ever destined to die of natural causes during this show. Sure, that’s what the autopsy said, but we know the truth.
Doug killed him.
Yes, you read that right, and I’ll get that back to that in a moment－I promise. Anyways, the show used Frank’s death as a vehicle for the duration of the final season and I can’t help but wonder how differently the show would have turned out if Spacey had been allowed on the show. The final season was chock full of conspiracies surrounding his death, who done it and why? But the end result was nothing if not disappointing. There was a lot of finger-pointing and blame-placing, but no real investigation on anyone’s part. Claire said “they” killed him and I’m sure that, initially, many believed that she was the one who had done it. For what it’s worth, I knew she hadn’t done it. That would’ve been far too easy and you all know how much I loathe the cliche.
So, let’s talk about my biggest gripe with this season－Claire Underwood didn’t talk to us enough!! I felt like an insecure high school girl waiting for her crush to say something, ANYTHING, to her. And just when I started to turn my focus elsewhere, I get the attention I’ve so desperately wanted, only to be put on hold again. Some people may not have had an issue with the amount of fourth-wall breaking, but I certainly did. Frank made us feel like we were best friends! He clued us in to so much of what was going on, offered his opinions on most anything. Even if we didn’t know what everyone else was planning, we almost always knew what Frank had up his sleeve. Claire said she would “tell [us] the truth.” I must have missed whatever it was she was trying to convince us. When Claire broke the fourth wall, it seemed forced. The moments were sporadic and seemed to be strategically placed so that one could argue that she’d done the bare minimum. There wasn’t a real connection there. It sounds like the rest of the season in general to be honest.
There was no lack of card playing in the season. In this area, the show did not disappoint. A new player, the Shepherds, was introduced. The way they were established was intended to give us the feeling that they had been there all along. I would argue that they could have done this with any of the already present figures from the show’s history, and they certainly should have. The reason that they established a new family was to establish new faces. Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear were brought in seemingly as a consolation prize. While they did a great job with their respective roles, I don’t think they would have been necessary if Spacey were still a part of the show.
The writers of the show were working under immense limitations, I’ll give them that, but everything was still so confusing. It was my understanding that Claire was favored for the White House far more than her husband was. Early in season 5, everyone seemed to be vying to get Claire in the White House (including Frank)－and they succeeded. It was Frank who was the outcast, Frank who needed to be pardoned, Frank who was being investigated. So, why was it that, in this final season, it seemed like everyone wanted to get her out of the White House? The Shepherds were Claire’s biggest antagonist. Tom Hammerschmidt was still doing his digging (but is later given a consolation prize), Doug becomes adversarial, but the Shepherds are the ones that Claire has to contend with the most.
The Shepherds claim to know secrets about Claire that Frank told them. Frank? Are you kidding me? Frank was nothing if not loyal to his marriage and I don’t buy that he would have told another party the devastating secrets that he was said to have told the Shepherds. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I buy, it’s what’s written. And what’s written is that Frank told the Shepherds that Claire had multiple abortions. We as the audience already knew this, but we also remember the extremes that were taken to ensure no one else knew this information. Yet Frank seemingly told this information to the Shepherds. I could understand if Doug, having had the journal pages, told the Shepherds this, but I don’t see Frank being the one to have divulged this information. At any rate, Claire sidesteps this blind side and it is more or less swept under the rug, never to be heard of again. The fact that, given Claire’s midnight murder, an abortion is the best blackmail they could come up with is irritating. The show devolved into a messy drama, a soap opera at best.
Speaking of pregnancies, we learn that Claire is pregnant during this season. The last person we had seen her copulate with was Tom Yates, but she gives the impression that Frank is the father of the child. Did I miss something? When was the last time she and Frank had even shared the same bed, let alone had sex? See? Messy drama.
We knew that Claire would prevail over the Shepherds, but we wanted it to be done in the most grandiose way possible, the way Frank always prevailed over his foes. That doesn’t happen. The Shepherds talked a great deal about killing Claire. This was done openly and frequently which was a disappointment. In seasons past, you usually didn’t know about someone’s death being planned (with the exception of the terrorists and Rachel Posner) until it was just about to happen. The way that Claire’s desirable death was discussed with such bravado lets us know immediately that it wasn’t going to happen－and it didn’t. Side note: there were other deaths in the season, but they seemed like the writers’ harried attempt to tie up loose ends. The Shepherds didn’t discuss killing Claire until it was clear they were losing whatever war they were waging with her. I say “whatever war” because a lot of the scheming of this season is somewhat convoluted and rushed. In seasons past, all the conniving and backstabbing has a purpose－you can make sense of the journey once you have seen the goal. But that wasn’t the case with this season.
The Shepherds, while trying to bring down Claire, end up trying to enlist Doug’s help. This is where I will revisit him being the man behind the murder mystery. All season he is attempting to bring down Claire because she has still yet to pardon Francis and even begins to tarnish his name. She doesn’t defend him, but rather wipes her hands of him. This angers Doug, which shouldn’t be surprising because Doug was probably the most loyal person to Frank there ever could be. This is where his descent begins and he makes it his mission to bring down Claire. The way everything was played, I kept waiting for him to look at the screen and talk to us－and he DOES! This infuriated me and almost caused me to stop watching, but I figured I had made it this far (thinking I was over halfway through the season when, in fact, it was the final episode). One could argue that he was thinking aloud and the camera angle was meant to give the effect that he was talking to us, but I think this was deliberate and he was meant to be talking to us, which was disappointing. When the climax/resolution of the final show is reached, Doug admits he killed Frank because he had to “protect the legacy from the man.”
It’s revealed that Frank was coming to the White House to kill Claire, which makes sense. Frank did say, “if she doesn’t pardon me, I’ll kill her,” in the final episode of season 5. Doug claims to have known this and didn’t want to risk having Frank destroy everything they built. Okay, fine, I’ll bite. But if Frank killing Claire would destroy everything that was built, what would Doug trying take out Claire do? The entire season Doug fights to get Claire to pardon Frank and admit what a great man he was. He spends all his free time trying to help Claire’s enemies bring her down while trying to convince them to leave Frank’s name out of it. None of that makes sense. I understand his need to protect Frank, but I don’t understand his desire to bring down Claire when he claimed to have protected her in the first place.
And did I mention the will?
Frank’s will goes missing. Yes, in one of the oldest tricks in the book, no one can find Frank’s will. People have seen it supposedly, but no one actually knows where the real copy is except Claire. In the will, Frank was said to have left everything to Doug. I don’t deny that was a possibility. If Frank amended his will once Claire hadn’t pardoned him, I could see him leaving everything to Doug since they had no children. But hang on a second. Claire says Frank’s assets were no longer his to give. Claire admits that there is a clause in their pre-nup that claims that their heirs will inherit the deceased’s assets. Claire’s pregnancy seems pretty convenient now, doesn’t it?
By the final episode, Doug seems to be conflicted and has come to terms with the fact that perhaps he can’t win against Claire. He goes to her office to confront her and winds up dead on the floor of the Oval Office. This scene is probably the most ludicrous of all. Doug has broken down, admitted to the murder of Frank and simply wants Claire to admit that Frank made her, which she won’t do. This causes him to put a letter opener to her throat, which Claire ends up putting in his abdomen. I kept waiting for her to call for help, for her to scream, something. I mean, the Secret Service is right outside the door. But none of this happens, she simply holds Doug until he dies and then says to the screen: “no more pain.”
I was in SO much pain at this point. It was marvelously poetic for Claire to end the final episode of the series the way Frank began the first episode of the series. It brought their relationship and the series full-circle, but it didn’t ease anyone’s pain. First of all, how in the bloody hell is she going to explain that bloody mess? How will all of that be explained to the Secret Service? We are just made to believe that everything is going to be okay because Doug is dead now? No! This makes everything stickier! Tom Hammerschmidt gets killed, on orders from Claire, but Janine Skorsky was back in the picture and she had the information Tom was working on－he’d handed it off once he realized he was about to be murdered, or martyred one might say. Mark Usher, whom Claire made Vice President, had to vacate his position due to nefarious allegations (drummed up by Claire of course), but he didn’t go away. He’s still a contender. The issues with the Shepherds were completely unresolved and, by this point, Claire had been operating without a Vice President or a Chief of Staff. I would argue that Claire could have agreed to put someone the Shepherds liked in either of those positions to make amends. She had so many cards up her sleeve.
Season 5 inadvertently set up the transfer of power very well and everything else just got dumped down the toilet. This may have been one of the worst series endings I’ve watched thus far. That is just my opinion, but I stand by it. I would have been completely satisfied if they had left everything at the end of season 5. There was a satisfaction to Claire’s closing scene that would have slaked my thirst for new episodes. I have to hand it to Robin Wright. She and the rest of the cast for that matter, did a phenomenal job acting. If not for the amazing theatrics displayed by Wright, I think this season would been a travesty. Netflix not wanting Spacey to be featured in the final season was a huge handicap to the writers. The writers did what they could with what they had, it just didn’t seem to be enough (though I do believe that if the original show runner had been involved it would have been much different…). The acting, the hope for the final season, and the few glimmering moments that reminded one of seasons past were really what saved this season. But that’s a wrap.
The House of Cards has finally fallen.