Not My Claire Underwood: Reviewing House of Cards’ Final Season

Maggie Flaherty ‘20

Chief Features Editor

The last time we saw Claire Underwood, she was sitting in the oval office as the newly inducted President of the United States. Her husband Frank had just stepped down in an attempt to cover up his  season 2 murder of journalist Zoe Barnes. Frank – and the audience – operated under the impression that Claire will publicly pardon him and their longtime hitman/chief of staff Doug Stamper. Yet in quintessential “House of Cards” fashion,  our protagonist flips our expectations: Claire ignores his calls and breaks the fourth wall, turning to the camera and addressing the audience with two prophetic words: “my turn.”

Even before allegations of Spacey’s sexual misconduct broke and he was subsequently fired from the show, the series’ trajectory had already begun to set Claire up to as the more powerful Underwood. After all, that season five twist made it clear to viewers that Frank’s ascendancy to the presidency was in fact just a stepping stone on Claire’s scheme to her own rise to power. Early critics of the show lamented that Frank had no worthy intellectual adversary save for Claire. Potential enemies failed to heighten the political stakes or tension central to the show because, with Claire on his side, Frank was terrifyingly unstoppable.  Yet Claire waited for her turn and outwitted the outwittable – Frank made the audience privy to his cunning plans for five seasons prior, but Claire’s late season fourth wall breaks made it evident that she always knew we were watching, but was smart enough to trick us into believing otherwise. I wish the showrunners chose to explore the implications of Claire as the more powerful of the Underwood duo instead of choosing to remain entrenched in his world, focused solely on what remains of the shattered remnants of his legacy instead of forging her own.

Oh, how I wanted this show to succeed without Frank Underwood. I always thought Claire was the mastermind anyway, and the season five twist of her rise to power was refreshing; it harkened back to the golden days of Season 1 House of Cards, where every twist was still  grabbing my attention and every fourth wall break was chilling, not corny. I think it easily could have succeeded without Frank, too – but, without spoiling the (disappointing) conclusion, the writers decided to just have Claire slowly turn into Frank. The season culminates with an act that solidifies Claire as just as bad, if not worse, than her infamously immoral husband. The show frequently references and eventually mimics a specific Frank-centric scene from Season 1 to solidify Claire’s transformation into Frank. The scene in question was not even a major plot point of the first season. Maybe other people found the allusions fitting, but I can’t be bothered to remember what I had for dinner last night, let alone recall the specifics of an isolated scene from a season that aired in 2013.

The legacy of “House of Cards” will live on in its own right. It will go down in history as Netflix’s first show, essentially launching the era of streaming services that we live in today. “House of Cards” is the show that launched a thousand binge watched-seasons – I just wish they gave Claire her due. Maybe an outlandishly corrupt alternate political universe cannot exist in today’s political landscape. Maybe “House of Cards” got too scared without Spacey at the helm and decided to play it safe. Either way, I know my Claire Underwood would handle her presidency differently.

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