Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

House Of Cards dies as it lived, in an avalanche of absurdity

Constance Zimmer
Constance Zimmer
Photo: David Giesbrecht (Netflix)
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Even by House Of Cards standards, this final season has been a weird one. Given the circumstances under which it was made, that was probably inevitable; either there would be no sixth season at all or it would be truncated and assembled in haste. The result is compromised, consisting of too much plot and not enough storytelling, but that doesn’t make it so different from everything that came before. Watching this show, I always feel like some connective tissue is missing, like pages have been torn out of the scripts at random, with the result that crucial plot information and character development just aren’t getting through. This season was like that, but even more so.

That the final season exists at all is largely due to the efforts of Robin Wright, so it’s only fitting that she directs “Chapter 73.” She directs it well, too, conjuring tension and suspense from very little in terms of material. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, but really it all boils down to this: who is going to kill who? Will Claire Hale or Doug Stamper be the last one standing?


As we know all too well, that was never meant to be the final showdown. Stamper is forced into the role of Frank Underwood’s surrogate in the material world, protecting his legacy and carrying out his vengeance, and it just doesn’t work. The last-minute revelation that it was Stamper who murdered Frank to prevent him from killing his wife and forever destroying his reputation kind of makes sense, though. Once Stamper’s character became completely defined by his need to preserve Frank’s image, it stands to reason (in a House Of Cards sort of way) that he wouldn’t even let Frank get in the way of that.

So all the stuff about Claire’s threatened nuclear attack and the Shepherds turning on each other in the press and the back-and-forth with Petrov...it’s all just noise. None of it is going to be resolved because none of it meant anything anyway. Bill is a character who was dying from the moment we met him, but he’s still breathing when last we see him. Does it matter? Did anything regarding Duncan’s parentage matter? Was Seth brought back just so the writers could make fun of him? Did House Of Cards make the most of its “My Turn” moment?

I can’t answer any of those questions except the last, and my response would be an emphatic “No.” If the show had anything to say about the subject of empowered women, it wasn’t going to be said through the character of Claire Hale Underwood, who turned out to be a sociopathic mass murderer (and possible mother of the anti-Christ) concerned only with getting everything she ever wanted at any cost. Early in the season there was some glimmer of hope that her ruthless ways were in service of a larger purpose, but trying to spot any trace of a coherent agenda in these last few episodes has been a fruitless endeavor. Denying Doug Stamper his final wish—to hear her acknowledge that Frank Underwood made her who she is—doesn’t feel much like a feminist triumph. It’s just one loon beating another one to the punch. Stamper dies, and any hope of preserving Frank’s legacy (which, let’s be honest, was pure garbage anyway) dies with him.

And the legacy of House Of Cards? It will always merit a footnote in television history, not for any trenchant observations about politics or indelible characters, but for its role in changing the way we consume television. It’s hard to believe that dropping every episode at once was a novelty when the show premiered only five years ago. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine House Of Cards surviving this long if it had followed the weekly model. It was built for the binge, to leave you feeling a little sick and slightly ashamed when you finished powering through it all. If it had tried to sustain viewer attention from week to week, it would have collapsed like a...well, I’m sure there’s a phrase for it, but it escapes me.


Stray observations

  • Food for thought: Bill goes on CNBC to bemoan the good old days when families sat down together at six o’clock for dinner, no matter what else was happening. Throughout the episode, we see people bringing food to others who don’t want to eat. Claire questions Petrov about his lunch, which he is eating alone. Is the show really buying into Bill’s line? Is the finale saying all we have to do to restore the natural order is go back to breaking bread together? Have I been up for too many hours writing these reviews? Should I go get some air?
  • Stamper suggests naming the baby Frances Underwood. I doubt that’s going to happen.
  • Claire suggests that no one knows the word “misandrist.” I suggest that Claire is not on Twitter.
  • Tomorrow is Election Day. Please vote! You don’t want something as ridiculous as this happening in real life, do you? Oh, wait...

My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.

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