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House of Cards Series Finale Review: What Did We Think About That Ending?

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I discovered House in Cards during my junior year of high school. It was the first season, which was just few months old. Believe it or not, there was a time when a “Netflix original series” seemed like an abstract idea. “So what, you watch it on the computer?” I remember my father saying. I had no idea of the empire that was about to be built.

Fast forward six years. Streaming dominates the awards shows, basically owning the public’s collective concept of watching television. I am now a college graduate and the final season of House of Cards is complete. The show that helped launch a new era of television, and was always by my side through high school, college, and into adulthood, is now over. The gates to the kingdom are closed, never to be opened again.

A little recap: This season followed Claire (Robin Wright), now President of The United States, in her attempt to pave her own path as the leader of the free world, while leaving Frank’s (Kevin Spacey) rocky time in office behind her. She eventually discovers this is impossible, and that her name is forever glued to her husband’s.

Meanwhile, old friends of Claire’s, the Sheppards (Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear) are under investigation by the EPA for a radiation leak caused by their organization while also stealing people’s personal information through an app they’ve created for journalists. Also, Doug (Michael Kelley) is recovering from his time in rehab while doing everything he can to protect Frank Underwood’s legacy. And, last but certainly not least, the war between the US, Russia and Syria is in full force (the biggest burden left over from Frank’s time in office), and Claire’s inability to take action is hurting her trust with the American people.

In my review of the season premiere, I said:

“It is worth noting that this season is only 8 episodes, instead of 13 like every season prior. I like this. It tells me the filmmakers don’t care about filling the quota, but instead only telling the exact amount of story that needs to be told to finish this series.”

This remains true. This season probably had to simplest and easiest plot to follow from the series’ whole run, which was for the better. Even though it was shorter, it moved along at a snail’s pace, which allowed us to spend more time in the series’ new environments (there’s almost an entire episode that takes place at Cathy Durant’s memorial service), and get better acquainted with the new characters.

Initially, the change of pace was off-putting, but after a while, you come to realize it’s better for the slow-winding build up. As additional layers of the conspiracy were revealed, and more characters stabbed each other in the back, you come to realize the enormous scope of problems Claire is dealing with, and the series becomes more and more deeply unsettling. The final two episodes of the season function almost like a slow-building smartly calculated horror movie. It feels like the apocalypse is coming.

And at last, we come to the final episode. Now, given the unfortunate circumstances under which this season was forced to exist, “Chapter 73” is, in short, a very solid ending. Though, it’s safe to say it’s focus is more on thematic closure than an end of the story. More on that later.

One of the biggest unsolved mysteries of this season was a the fate of our former protagonist Frank. Finally, it is revealed [MAJOR SPOILERS FROM HERE ON] that Doug killed him while he was attempting to kill Claire in a fit of post-impeachment rage, somehow without Claire’s knowledge. This was an understandable choice. If Francis had successfully murdered his wife, that would have been it for their legacy. He would have only descended further into disgrace. He would have been irredeemable. Doug had to save what he believes is a legacy, and what he believes is a good man whose been wronged. We admire his loyalty, but pity his ignorance to the truth.

The biggest kick in the ass this season was the Vince Foster-esque killing of Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), the only person who, at this point in the series, knew the truth about Frank and Doug’s murders. Not long after he effortlessly squeezes a careless confession out of Doug, he is shot and killed in a restaurant, leaving a USB full of all his information in his dog’s collar. Days later, this information is found by Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer), leaving her as the last bastion of hope in uncovering the truth.

This plays into my belief that writers were focused more on thematic closure and symbolism than ending the story, which brings us to the final scene of the series.

Remember every time Frank broke the 4th wall and gave a little speech to the audience about how he was feeling? Yeah, well, apparently those were recordings in his audio diary. This seemed a little far fetched at first, but it is a good justification for how often he did it. These recordings now exist on a small MP3 player that Doug has sent to Claire as blackmail.

The show’s final scene is an absolutely spectacular showdown between Doug and Claire in the oval. After Doug admits to Frank’s murder, Doug tells her she’s ungrateful, that she’d be nothing without Frank, despite how much she despises him. Then, in a book-ending of the series’s first scene in which Frank suffocates a dog, the two have a violent physical altercation before she puts him out of his long standing misery. Her final line is even the same as Frank’s from the first episode: “No more pain.”

So what does this all mean? Why was this the way the ended the series? It’s simple: you have been deceived. See, we all know that if Tom, for all his efforts, couldn’t prove his theories about Frank to the media despite insurmountable amounts of evidence, then Janine won’t be able to either, and she’s probably the only completely innocent character in the whole series. The little man always loses.

Just like other conspiracies throughout American history, no one will ever really know the truth about Frank Underwood. We can only guess. We’ll only know what the history books want to tell us. It is as Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) tells Claire in the penultimate episode: “History belongs to the highest bidder.” In this case, that bidder is Claire, who can either release the audio recordings of Frank’s diary or destroy them, forever hiding the truth from the American people.

Concerning Claire, though, Doug was ultimately right. She was a hypocrite. She talked often this season about how much she wants to put him in the past, how much she regrets marrying him, how much she regrets helping him do the things he did, but she wouldn’t be where she is if it weren’t for all those choices. She dug her own grave, but she doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.

And in then end, there is no resolve. There never could be. The plots concerning the war, the Sheppards, and Claire’s pregnancy are left unfinished because they don’t matter. If the ending angers you because it left you wanting more loose ends tied up, I fear you are missing the point. Now that everything has collapsed, you need to realize you have been lied to and your heart has been lead by the series’ characters to be in the wrong place. If you care more about the details the media tells you than which politicians are pieces of trash, then this series has successfully done its job in cheating you. When it comes to politics, remember to try to be angry at the right things.

On this, I urge everyone who disliked this finale for its open-endedness to rewatch the season again from a different mindset. It’s not about what you want, or even what you think you want. House of Cards has never been a series that exists to please. It existed to shock, to make you think about what’s really going on in your government, to make you change the way you think about the information you hear. If it succeeded in any of this – and it is the opinion of this humble reviewer that it did so in spades – then this finale is a fitting send-off.

If I have one major complain about this season, it’s that Claire breaks the 4th wall and addresses the audience way, way too much. When she first did it last season, it was a pleasant surprise. With her doing it this season in almost every scene she’s in, it got very tiresome, and plus, if Frank doing it was actually his audio diary entries, than what are Claire’s? Just fan service? They didn’t add anything to her character like they did Frank, and they could been almost completely cut.

Nevertheless, I will miss House of Cards greatly. It wasn’t always perfect, and like most shows, it had ups and downs, but man, it’s been only a couple days since I watched the finale and I’m already getting sentimental. Thank you, Beau Willimon for adapting this show into the great, eye-opening journey that it was, and thank you, further showrunners Pugliese and Gibson, and especially Robin Wright (who directed the finale with the same excellence she always has) for bringing it to it’s end. It was bloody and exhausting and relentless, both in its content and the way it made me feel and think, but I wouldn’t have asked for anything else.

Farewell. Long live the Underwoods.


House of Cards Series Finale is not streaming on Netflix.


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