House of Cards: Claire Underwood’s deserved turn to take charge
Chris Bryant | On 22, Jul 2018Reading time: 4 mins
This month, Netflix celebrated the 4th of July by dropping a teaser trailer for the upcoming final season of House of Cards. But Season 6 of Netflix’s political giant has already made headlines between seasons for the departure of lead Kevin Spacey, following harassment and assault allegations. This inevitably led to a minor outcry from certain Twitter users, who talked of boycotting the show, because it now has a woman on the poster instead of a man – no matter what that man is accused of, or the concerns of safety Netflix addressed by asking him to leave. Contrary to the cries that Spacey’s Machiavellian politician was woven into the fabric of the show, it seems clear that Frank Underwood’s time as a character has drawn to a close.
House of Cards has had to pivot dramatically around the election of Donald Trump, a larger-than-life character so Underwood-esque that House of Cards became a parallel commentary of reality, rather than a fictional exploration of ‘wouldn’t it be scary if’ scenarios. That pivot came in the form of Robin Wright. Having co-starred with Spacey from the off, it made sense (and was decidedly overdue) that the focus should switch to Underwood’s loyal, but equally ambitious, better half. Having been a focal point since day one, Claire Underwood had all of Frank’s ruthless charm, but also had a semblance of conflict, embodied most explicitly by her intimate relationships with artists. Claire has always been more interesting than Frank. His everlasting drive for success, while useful, didn’t always make for rollercoaster viewing – it was never in doubt that he was truly the bad guy, even when he was being nice. But Claire has the capacity for improvisation, for compassion, for re-evaluating her aims, for genuine change.
Season 5 displayed this expertly, with Claire seizing the reins from Frank, to-ing and fro-ing about whether or not to pardon him, after years of his underestimating her and forcing her to support his goal with no reciprocation. A major moment in Season 5 is Claire’s revelation that House of Cards’ signature fourth-wall breaking did not go unnoticed by her, that she was always well aware of the audience. It’s a huge reveal, showing that she shares status with her husband, but also stating that she has considerably more restraint in terms of flaunting her success to the viewer, “I question your intentions, and am ambivalent about attention,” she says to the camera. This leads directly to the 4th of July teaser in which President Underwood declares her own independence with the hashtag #MyTurn, a foreboding suggestion of what’s to come, as well as a statement for those doubting Robin Wright – and her Golden Globe and seven Emmy nominations.
Wright’s lead role follows a blueprint seemingly designed by Claire herself. Recognisable for her roles in The Princess Bride, Unbreakable, and Forrest Gump, all of which involve her playing the partner of extraordinary men, recent years have seen a powerful renaissance for the actress – helming the military force of the Amazonian warriors as General Antiope in Wonder Woman, and displaying a thoughtful detachedness as Lt. Joshi in Blade Runner 2049, neither of which see her yielding easily to anyone.
While the accusations and pending investigations facing Kevin Spacey are enraging, disconcerting, disappointing, and surprising, no one is such a fan of Netflix that they’re willing to risk the safety and personal autonomy of a show’s cast and crew, not least on a series that is so clearly the effort of a large team of talented people all working together, and not the sole efforts of one man playing one role. House of Cards is not Kevin Spacey. Netflix’s political juggernaut has now all but discarded the patriarch, and a total focus on the spectacular Robin Wright’s deeper, more conflicted President not only honours the source material, but also completes a transition that’s been brewing since the first episode.
Fans of the show can look forward in terror – and not back – to the new President Underwood, in a final season in that’s likely to be a new kind of self-aware. House of Cards hasn’t changed: there’s simply a new multi-award-winning acting tour-de-force front and centre, with the same razor-sharp writing and directing team behind her. As far as both Robin Wright and Claire Underwood are concerned, it’s her turn.
House of Cards Season 6 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.