Returning after a lengthy and controversial 18-month break, and driven by change, House of Cards’ Season 6 opener is best described as unyielding. Avoiding the dual traps of nostalgia for Presidents past, and overcompensating for their loss, the new President (Claire Underwood) has taken her place – and no prisoners.
In true Underwood style, the first episode wastes no time in dealing with the messy business of killing off a sitting US President. Bursting with empowering, multi-layered dialogue to uplift Robin Wright’s iconic politician and rid the show of any lingering entitlement left over by Kevin Spacey’s previous incumbent, the script is filled with brilliantly woven systemically sexist tropes; the ever-sharp writing team use Frank’s death to prove that a female President would have far more interesting battles to fight.
Chapter 66 makes statement after statement about how President Underwood is treated: doubted by her security detail – who find it difficult to say ‘the C-word’ in front of her (she holds no such reservations); undermined by her VP, who acts as though the Oval Office is his; and challenged by some dangerous newcomers with words and weapons. It’s already a difficult ride for Claire, and the choice to keep her calmly steadfast instead of vengeful speaks volumes. Playing off her former husband’s penchant for self-inflating fourth-wall breaking, Claire assures the audience that she will be honest with them, and teaches them a new way to deal with pain. House of Cards’ new tyrant is patient, which likely makes her far more formidable.
The familiar faces of Netflix’s political drama remain the same, with a focus also given to Michael Kelly’s spectacular Doug Stamper. Somewhere between house arrest and therapy, Doug is fraught without his former master. Unsure of his future, it’s made clear that while he’s struggling, Claire is still keeping a close eye on him.
The new faces, however, are where the drama really begins. Greg Kinnear, Diane Lane, and Cody Fern make up The Shepherds, a wealthy family shamelessly at odds with Claire’s values, and autonomy. Kinnear’s Bill directly challenges Claire’s authority during his introduction, and makes little effort to distance himself from an assassination attempt, while his wife plays ally to the new Commander-in Chief, and his son Duncan speaks as though he already has the President outsmarted – it’s made definitive that The Shepherds are a force to be reckoned with.
Based on its opening chapter, House of Cards’ return is a robust success. The fans have a new ruthless President to root for, except this one has more challenges, less help, and far more capacity for emotional turmoil. Claire’s brand of understated threats lead to some top-tier work from Wright – even one episode in – and makes quiet plain that the show is more duplicitous, stylish, and front-facing than ever.
House of Cards Season 6 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.