Claire Underwood is in the White House, and all is not well with the world. Or with “House of Cards,” judging by the critical and internet reaction.
The sixth and final season of the filmed-in-Baltimore Netflix drama became available Friday. Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is gone (Spacey was fired last year after charges of sexual harassment arose against him; his character opens this season dead and buried). Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood is in charge (and under fire). And the backbiting and conniving (which are really polite words for what goes on in the universe of this show) are in full throttle.
Here’s a sampling of what critics and fans are saying about the final season (which is only eight episodes long, down from the normal 13). Be forewarned: It’s generally not-all-that-positive. Also, while we’ve tried to tread carefully, there may be spoilers in the text ahead.
"A series that was built around the chemistry between two actors — and that had been building toward a climactic showdown — is suddenly a solo act. And while the sixth and final season of “House of Cards” is as mixed a bag as the thrilling but uneven Netflix drama has yet produced, the good news is that Robin Wright is up to the task of anchoring the show."
-- Daniel D'Addario, Variety
“It’s difficult to judge the entire season based on the first five episodes. That being said, the final season of ‘House of Cards’ is a frustrating end to a series that laid such intrigue and curiosity for fans of political drama and was a flagship for Netflix for the past six years. Mostly unfocused, the final season of ‘House Of Cards’ touts consistent performances, a sleek and elegant look, but ultimately a feeling of wanting more.”
-- Julia Teti, The Playlist
"When an actual president admits to authorizing a $130,000 payment to a porn star — but denies having an affair with her — and praises a congressman who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter, it almost seems quaint to focus on a TV president who is threatened with public disclosure of an abortion she had many years ago."
-- Eric Deggans, NPR
"Now the painfully protracted, often overwritten, covertly Shakespearean melodrama comes to an end, at last, with the release of Season 6 on Friday, while the rest of us keep shuffling toward the end of the world. Besides noting ‘House of Cards’s’ role in the streaming-TV revolution, there’s not much left to say about it, besides good riddance to its perpetual notion that Washington only works when Washington is cruel."
-- Hank Stuever, The Washington Post
“That’s the thing about this series that makes me still love the feeling of slipping into its D.C. darkness each season — there really are no good and decent people in any leading roles. The world of ‘House of Cards’ is a toxic stew of ambition, betrayal, narcissism, lies and death. This is the swamp of swamps and its darkness is never redeemed."
-- David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun
"Rather than treat the subject of their fallen star directly in the premiere and then move on, as the writers of ‘The Conners’ did, the ‘House of Cards’ team all but keeps Spacey in the cast, hanging its narrative on hooks involving the political promises Frank made before he died, the question of a posthumous pardon, a recovered audio diary, and of course, the way he actually died."
-- Brian Tallerico, The New York Times
“This being ‘House of Cards,’ there is still plenty of ludicrous: the plot, the schemes, the motivations, the narration. In order to understand what is happening, you probably will need to have the ‘House of Cards’ wiki open, until you realize the specifics don’t much matter, and you can just let the gist wash over you...Generally speaking, the show feels knowingly ludicrous, so in on its own jokes that it can occasionally transcend them. Sometimes all a show needs is the help of a woman so good at being bad.”
-- Willa Paskin, Slate
"The best part of these first five episodes is that they offer few clues other than some broad-stroke ones that smell suspiciously like red herrings. Claire, who breaks the fourth wall a few more times this season (she began that annoying habit in the 5th) isn't about to offer any clues either, but her few asides do suggest she knows the endgame, or thinks she does."
-- Verne Gay, Newsday
“The first female president arrives in the Oval Office like an organ in a host body that wants to reject it. The season opens with the Secret Service gruesomely describing death threats against the president that are arriving at a rate her husband never experienced. As she takes the reins, the forces arrayed against her try to hold her to Frank’s promises, accuse her of dithering, and, more than anything, marvel at her shiftiness. Unlike with Frank, ‘you never know’ where you ‘stand’ with her, complains former Underwood Press Secretary Sean Jeffries (Korey Jackson). ‘I don’t know whether or not she’s a person, or just playing the part of one,’ Bill (Greg Kinnear’s conservative industrialist Bill Shepherd) says.”
-- Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic
"The story is trying to wrap up five seasons of action—which includes the death of a half-dozen business-casual flunkies and several layers of Machiavellian manipulation. The story of Season 6 just doesn’t cohere; it barely even tracks well enough to summarize. In a way, the total breakdown is sort of beautiful; it’s like watching the story collapse in upon itself, a deserted building, carefully demolished."
-- Sonia Saraiya, Vanity Fair
And some samplings of what the twitterverse is saying (and its denizens do not seem pleased):