In Season 6, though, it felt as though the writers gave up. The new villains, Bill and Annette Shepherd (Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane), represented a mix of blandness and bizarreness: As bazillionaire GOP donors, they were able to orchestrate assassinations and massive data-mining schemes, and yet the Underwoods had never even mentioned them in the previous seasons. They also too closely resembled previous big-bads of the show, such as the capitalist caricature Raymond Tusk and the savvy power couple the Conways. The final episodes often seemed to be merely passing time by fixating on the Shepherds’ inconsequential interpersonal drama, including a never-solved mystery about Annette’s son’s paternity.
Read: Before you watch the new ‘House of Cards,’ do yourself a favor and see the original
The grappling with gender was not thoughtful, either. Claire faced every obstacle that a powerful woman might face for being a woman, including stereotypes about emotionality, comparisons to the men in her life, and scrutiny about her reproductive choices. This being the cynical Cards, she leveraged sexism to her advantage. Watching Wright fix her face into a fake rictus of grief—a totally novel look for her on this show—was a hoot. But her pregnancy, her appointment of an all-female cabinet, and other stunts (a war-room lecture on misandry?) were both too thinly depicted and given too much weight. It was as if she could perform magic, changing the entire country’s opinion of her with the simplest fake feminist gesture.
The sense that Claire had superpowers was compounded when the offing of three nuisances—the journalist Tom Hammerschmidt, the adviser Jane Davis, and the on-the-lam diplomat Catherine Durant—happened while the president sat in comfort elsewhere. Weirder still was that she was able to foil a supposedly elaborate assassination conspiracy from within her own government by pointing out the would-be killer—a soldier carrying a nuclear briefcase—and having him taken away by the Secret Service. These plot conveniences happened, quite obviously, to clear the stage for the final showdown between Claire and Doug, the only two major characters still in the mix.
But that confrontation was really, on a nearly explicit level, between Claire and Frank. Spacey had left the show, but he lived on with the hat trick of dead-character mementos: a secret will, a tell-all diary, and an unborn child. Stamper served as his illogical avenger, working in the name of an Underwood “legacy” that was nonexistent except for in the accomplishments of Claire, whom he continually tried to sabotage. If her shivving of Doug represented the final triumph of the female—a long-awaited achievement of independence—the spoils of that victory will have to be left to the imagination. So will questions of how Claire will spin Doug’s death, whether the journalist Janine will expose any of her crimes, and whether Claire’s baby is actually Frank’s.