Netflix released the sixth and final season of House of Cards this weekend. The award winning show was already set to end with this season, but after the sexual assault allegations made against Kevin Spacey, filming came to a screeching halt as he was fired and writers were given a unique opportunity—where do we go now? With such a divisive political climate and the rise of the #MeToo movement in the United States currently, they were not short of options.
Promotions rolled out around as early as March, with follow ups in September and October, all centered around the same theme: Frank Underwood is dead, and Claire has now become the first woman president of the United States. Underneath these short clips were an overwhelming statement (or a prediction?) that the patriarchy is about to be demolished by a woman who has stood in the shadow of her husband their entire marriage.
In the first episode, appropriately taking place on the Fourth of July, Frank Underwood feels like a distant memory, yet remains a central focus of the show. The script does not let him die quietly— all of his allegiances, belongings, and heinous acts still haunt the White House. His memory persists even as Claire takes her first steps into presidency, waging war with Syria and making it known she is going to have her way with any legislation arriving to her desk. The only character who seems to truly care about Frank’s death is Doug Stamper, who is being psychologically evaluated after his “confession” to murdering Zoe Barnes in the first season. Even beyond the grave, Doug still lies like a dog at the foot of Frank’s reputation, refusing to let it be tainted by Claire’s newfound power.
An ominous air permeates the introduction to this era of House of Cards; everything seems just a bit more dangerous. Only one episode in, and an assassination attempt is already being brought into play. At first, this seemed a little cheap to me, and then my phone lit up with a headline reminding me of the climate we’re living in. Death threats are hanging all around figureheads of political and social issues. Bombs are being sent to news stations, to a former president’s house—sometimes it takes seeing it on TV to see how insanely unthinkable our reality is right now.
I want to believe Claire Underwood when she breaks the fourth wall like Frank did, I want to believe her when she tells the listener that everything he ever said was untrue, but I cannot help but question it. In fact, she follows in many of his footsteps throughout earlier seasons; she is just like him. A history of patriarchal thinking won’t be wiped out in a single season of a television show, just like it won’t be wiped in real life by a single court case, or one female presidential candidate. Neither ended up proving an overhaul of changed minds or hearts. Changes so massive take time, and we are still in the beginning stages, but hopefully by inserting more matriarchal narratives, we can change the stigma. I am just not sure if House of Cards has built the correct foundation to cause such a shift due to the despicable nature of Claire’s character depicted in all five prior seasons. Maybe they will pull it off, but it definitely was not done in the first episode. Hopefully as her character closes out the show, it will prove to be worth it in the end.