The future is female (and contains spoilers).
Netflix’s first original series “House of Cards” came to a close this year with the release of its sixth and final season. After Kevin Spacey’s departure from the show, writers positioned his television wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) to take over as president.
In the first episode, it’s revealed that Francis Underwood (Spacey) is dead. Claire, in a signature move of the series, addresses the camera directly, explaining how she found Francis cold and dead next to her in the bed. That’s a lie, however. She adds in one of these asides that, unlike her late husband, she is going to be truthful to the audience.
Underwood’s absence does more this season than his presence had in previous ones. Large, dull and empty frames haunt the show. Claire is constantly looking towards his empty bedroom in the East Wing, and it just feels like something, anything else, should be there. Comfortable scene coloring contrasts with the conversations, with death threats being calmly issued against eye-pleasing backgrounds in physically uncomfortable interactions.
His physical presence, or lack thereof, haunts the characters, and so does his reputation. Claire is constantly distancing herself from her marriage to the late president, and the world stage almost pities her. She fights back by giving powerful, controversial speeches, resisting a political power collective funded by the top one percent and a longtime friend of Claire’s, Annette Shepherd (Diane Lane), and by dropping her husband’s name, becoming President Claire Hale.
The presentation of male-female relationships this season is interesting. At multiple points, Claire asks people if they would have asked her the same questions if she was a man. She faces sexism and double standards from everyone. In Claire’s presidency, the audience has to confront the same questions that might have been asked during a Hillary Clinton administration.
The show questions what it means to be powerful, how much power is too much and to whom should power be designated. Claire is either too strong and bordering on despotic, or too weak and unfit for office. Sound familiar?
Perception and reality are questioned in this season. The truth about Francis’ death is not revealed until the end of the season, and even then, it is vague. Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) was Francis Underwood’s right hand man for over 20 years, but Doug killed Francis to protect his friend from undoing his own legacy by killing Claire. The sixth season challenges the narrative established in the previous five. Claire tells the audience that Francis was untruthful in his asides to the camera, which are later revealed to be an audio diary that is sent to Claire as blackmail.
This season draws striking parallels to current events, including a divided nation over a president, a growing military, conflicts with Russia and a generic-brand terrorist group. As a show, it breaks down these issues so persistent in the media to something comprehensible. While the characters and situations are fictional, the parallels are drawn to reality and people can understand the motivation behind certain administrative decisions.
The series ends just as quickly as it begun and just as shockingly. It stops with the death of the last person connected to Francis, and according to Claire, “no more pain.”