This ain’t it chief.
Throw your oven mitts on for this scalding hot take. Sexism… exists. Like, pretty clearly. In first world countries, it’s less of a problem now than it was, say, 50 years ago, but it’s definitely around. If you want evidence that it’s alive and well in the United States, just look at everything surrounding childbirth. Not just access to contraception and abortion (which is pretty messed up as-is), but also how we treat parents after their children are actually born. The expectations of women as caretakers hinders professional development, and taking time off work during pregnancy is a major factor in the “gender wage gap.” On the other hand, paternity leave, which is a legal guarantee in pretty much all of Europe and Canada is basically non-existent in the US. My point here being that I fully recognize societal problems relating to gender, I’m not here to take shots at any post-modern cultural neo marxists, nor do I want to school some “SJWs” with facts and logic. So know that everything I’m saying in this (mostly negative) review comes not from a place of hate, but of love. Love of television that isn’t trash. Got em.
In the first few (widely acclaimed) seasons of House of Cards, one of the show’s main draws was the power dynamic of the Underwoods. Obviously the focus was more heavily on Frank, since he was the one doing all the political stuff, but Claire had a fairly prominent role in many of their schemes. It was clear that the two were acting together, both having their own motivations, and willing to undermine the other if it meant getting closer to attaining them. At this point in the series, Claire was (dare I say), a strong female character. She had agency, she made her own decisions, and whenever she disagreed with one of Frank’s actions, she made her opinions clearly known.
In season 6, with Frank gone, you’d expect her to be even more independent. But she isn’t. At all. Half of the conversations she has in the first part of the season go something like:
Guy: Hey Claire, can you do this thing?
Claire: No, I don’t want to.
Guy: But Frank and I made a deal.
Claire: Well guess what I’m not Frank so uh deals off bozo.
On the one hand, given that Frank just died, and he was the previous president, the constant comparison isn’t all that outlandish. But at that point, it seemed more like the Netflix writers felt the need to remind everyone that they definitely fired Kevin Spacey, and they took every opportunity they saw to do so. The problem here is that Claire being “not Frank” actually makes her a lot less of a defined character than she was before. Doing the opposite of everything someone else does isn’t the same thing as being independent. Remember kids, a correlation of -1 is a strong correlation. Nate_Silver.jpg
There are other points where it’s less about Claire being Frank’s wife, and more about her being a woman. Which, again, isn’t necessarily a problem. Claire is, after all, the first female president, so you’d expect some conflicts with her gender. What doesn’t makes sense is why everything is suddenly about that fact. There’s one scene in the first episode which takes place after Claire orders US troops to invade Syria cause uh… tyranny bad? She goes to a military base and talks to a female soldier who asks her whether she has a plan that won’t get all of them killed. Claire defensively responds with “would you have asked me that if I were a man?” And look, maybe she wouldn’t have. Maybe she would’ve been more intimidated if Claire were male. But here’s the thing: that doesn’t really invalidate the question. That would be like if someone told me, “hey Bod, you should frost that chocolate cake with mayonnaise,” and I was like, “no, that’s a dumb idea.” And then they hit back with, “well if Gordon Ramsay had asked you to do that, would you have said no?” I mean, if Gordon Ramsay burst into my kitchen and told me to do something, I’d probably do it. That still doesn’t make it a good idea.
This happens so many times, where Claire completely ignores other people’s advice because “they wouldn’t have criticized me if I was a guy.” But consider they also wouldn’t have criticized her if she were competent. Like yeah, maybe being a woman puts her under more scrutiny. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in this case). Maybe someone should tell the president no sometimes. Or whatever.
The whole gender thing comes up more later in the series, but I should probably provide some context by getting into…
Remember Frank Underwood? He’s dead. Claire’s president now, which is cool I guess. Their campaign manager from last season, Mark Usher, is now her VP. Oh and Doug (Frank’s former chief of staff) is in a psychiatric facility. Claire meets with Bill and Annette Shepherd, two extremely rich political donors who apparently own half of Congress, despite never having appeared or even been mentioned in previous seasons of House of Cards. Weird how that works. Bill tells Claire to sign some deregulation thing but Claire doesn’t want to.
There’s some oil spill or whatever at one of the Shepherds’ companies. Claire presses the governor of Ohio to declare a state of emergency, then comes there to grandstand. Later at some gala event Claire meets with Bill, who tells her she sucks and needs to listen to him.
Claire refuses to sign Bill’s bill, further angering him. They tell Mark to get her in line. One day, when Claire is out on a run, Mark stops her in the street, brings her over to a car, and shows her the dead body of her ex-lover, Tom Yates. How he managed to get this body into a car in a residential neighborhood in DC, or why he thought that displaying a corpse at room temperature in the back of a van was a good idea, I don’t really know. He tells Claire that she should do the stuff the rich people want her to or else bad things will happen. Was that a 4th wall break?
Russian president Viktor Petrov (AKA Vladimir Putin’t) comes and tells everyone that he plans to send Russian troops into Syria, and that they need to make a deal with him to avoid a war. Claire makes the deal.
At the start of next episode, we’re told that Claire has totally disappeared from public view for the last 23 days. Mark, the Shepherds, and Claire’s cabinet struggle to maintain order in the interim. People start suggesting invoking the 25th amendment, declaring Claire unfit for office and having Mark take over temporarily. Just as they’re about to sign the letter, Claire bursts into the room, snatches the letter, and dismisses her cabinet. She then frames Mark for secretly working with the russians.
While all of this business has been happening, Doug’s been out and about doing some stuff. After breaking out of the mental hospital, he begins to work simultaneously with both the Shepherds and Claire, giving them information about the other and keeping one step ahead.
In the oval office, Doug finds an SD card containing a bunch of Francis’ voice memos, which he begins to listen to.
Episode 7 starts and uh… Claire’s pregnant? Apparently with Francis’ child?
[Just as an aside, Robin Wright is 52 years old; even if her character is a bit younger, say 45, that’s still fairly late to have a child. Whatever.]
We’re told that Congress has begun to form legislation that would remove Claire’s authority to use nuclear weaponry. Somehow, despite this, Claire’s approval ratings are in the 70’s? Okay. Meanwhile, Annette, Mark, and some other powerful DC people meet to discuss Claire’s assassination. Everyone seems pretty much on board with it. Can’t really say I blame them.
And finally, we come to the season (and series) finale. Claire learns that some terrorists in the Syrian desert tried to purchase an atom bomb. In response, she suggests nuking them first so nobody can get it. Literally everyone tells her that this a bad idea, but she ignores them. Doug tells her that the Shepherds are trying to kill her. She promptly orders everyone to get out of the White House, requests the nuclear football, and then arrests the Colonel that brings it to her for… reasons? Doug meets Claire in the oval, and it’s revealed that (gasp!) Doug is actually the one who killed Francis, since he was on his way to kill Claire and it would’ve fucked up his legacy or something. Doug threatens Claire with a letter opener, which she then takes from him and stabs him with, killing him. The end.
Now you might be thinking: wait, Bod. What about the nukes? What about the assassination plot? What about Claire’s pregnancy? What about all those other loose ends that the series never even bothered to address? Wasn’t this supposed to be the last episode of House of Cards? Where are our answers?
Oh wait, hold on, Netflix just emailed me this link.
No one in this season really had clear goals or any motivation for doing things. Everyone was kinda just fucking around waiting for the next stupid thing to happen. I want to highlight a few specific characters that I think really demonstrate this show’s total lack of direction.
Duncan Shepherd- Duncan is Annette’s son. I didn’t mention him in the plot summary because he doesn’t really do anything important, but he does get a fair amount of screen time. If I had to describe this character in one word it would be “whiny.” He just does a bunch of dumb shit, and then people get mad at him for it, and then he runs off crying. There’s this whole subplot about who his real parents are which amounts to nothing. Honestly the biggest twist of the season was that he wasn’t the inbred offspring of Bill and Annette.
Jane Davis- I don’t remember exactly when Jane was introduced in House of Cards, but from the get-go, her character didn’t really make sense. She’s not exactly a Mary Sue, more of an omnipotent force who controls everything. She has close contact with all “the agencies,” by which I’m assuming they’re referring to the CIA, FBI, etc. and not something like the FDA, although in my opinion that’d make the show a lot more entertaining. Claire casually asks her to put a hit on someone, and she just goes along with it, because she can? Jane also somehow knows Petrov, and the two apparently hate each other. Anyway Claire kills her somehow and that’s the end of that story.
Doug Stamper- Unlike the other two, Doug is a character I really enjoy. A lot of the stuff he does is just as contrived and unrealistic, but Michael Kelly’s performance at least makes it entertaining. On top of that, he’s pretty much the only person on the show with a motivation that’s both clear and has some amount of depth. Doug is fanatical about protecting Frank’s legacy, to the point where he’ll kill people (including Frank) if they threaten to harm it. He also makes some really cool power plays, pitting various interests against each other in order to get what he wants. That is, at least, until Claire pokes him in the abdomen and he dies. 😢
One of the saddest things about Season 6 is that, every so often, you’ll get a glimpse, a fleeting remnant, from when the show was actually good. This appears in the script semi-frequently, when a character will say something sharp or clever, and you’re reminded that it used to be mostly like this. For example, when Mark is talking to Claire’s new press secretary, Kelsey, he says, “your inability to lie is a liability.” Netflix writers out here hitting us with that antimetabole.
But then, of course, you also have some trash writing that was thrown in there for seemingly no reason. Here are a few I decided to write down:
Random security guy: “Well, ma’am, there’s been threats against you, many of which involve the c-word— ”
Claire: “You mean Claire?”
Jane: “Doublespeak is your mother tongue”
Some cabinet member: “We still live in a world of due process. That would send a chilling message— ”
Claire: “The message is we need to protect our democracy.” ← [Claire_irl]
But my least favorite piece of dialogue of the whole season comes in the last episode, when Claire is trying to defend her asinine position of nuking Syria. When all of her advisers tell her it’s a bad idea, she says the following:
“I couldn’t sleep last night. For obvious national security reasons, of course, but also because the baby kept me awake. And for some reason the word “misogynist” popped into my mind. And I was trying to think of the word for the opposite. You know, the word for when a person hates men. Does anyone around this table know that word is? The word for when a person hates men? Anybody? I had to go and look it up.” (Credit to Springfield Springfield for the script)
Now, at this point, I’m basically yelling “misandry” at my monitor, when Claire finishes with:
“Misandrist. And no one really knows that word because it’s not used in our culture.
So what I’m getting at, is maybe we all, regardless of our gender, would do well to examine the preconceived notions that we have about who can and cannot act as Commander In Chief.”
I hate these lines for a few reasons. Firstly, “misandry” isn’t all that uncommon of a word. Even if it were, Claire is repeatedly depicted as being well-educated/having a fairly extensive vocabulary, so the idea that neither she nor any of her also highly-educated cabinet members would know this word is shocking to me. But aside from all that, the logic of the statement makes absolutely zero sense. What is Claire’s argument here? “Sexism against women is more common than sexism against men, er-go fuck yourself, let me nuke the middle east.” And after she says this, the show just hard-cuts to the next scene. So I guess we’re left to believe that Claire won this argument? Wack.
Another holdover from seasons’ past was the show’s great presentation. All of the sets were really well-made, and everything looked good. At times, perhaps a bit too clean, but there was clearly a lot of effort put into making the environments look as close to their real-world counterparts as possible.
House of Cards has a really unique style, with a cool, greyish-blue color palette (at least for this season, previous ones were more greyscale), and dark lighting. There’s a really clinical quality to the camera work, with most shots being completely static, or involving a slow, precise pan or zoom on a certain person or object. Typically, the shots will also be at a wider angle, so rather than cut to frames with individual actors, you can see the entire scene unfolding at once.
While a lot of the scenes from this season lacked the same weight or impact that previous episodes had, I think that had a lot more to do with what was actually happening in them, rather than how they were displayed. I will say, though, that some of the editing was pretty rough. Scenes would end on some completely nonsensical beat, or go unresolved completely. Many of the transitions ended up being more confusing than anything.
If I had to make an analogy for this show, I’d say it’s kind of like the Titanic. When it came out, it was pretty much the best of its kind, and everyone was really stoked about it. Then, following some unfortunate mishaps, it sank into the ocean. So overall just a big waste of money. But at least it left us with a nice story.
Also, not to tell you how to do your job Reed, but as a considerable stakeholder in your company (.00000044% baby), I have to say I’m a bit concerned. Given that Netflix just issued 1.5B in debt to pay for more content, if this is the standard we should expect, I can’t say I’m too thrilled.
Good for: Boredom, Completionists, Kevin Spacey’s self-esteem
Bad for: People with anything better to do
Bod R8s: 3.3/8
Featured image sauce: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-playing-card-structure