Well, not nothing. There’s something to the final image in the final episode (I’m not going to spoil it. Watch and you’ll understand me). But it comes across as incredibly anti-climactic, given the sturm und drang it tries to build. I watched it last night, and my initial response was “non-ending”. Which, on further reflection, it isn’t exactly. I suppose the real meaning of the ending is that we’re right back at the beginning and nothing really has changed.
The mammoth task of ending House of Cards without its main character would probably have defied any creative team. But there was another problem: the character they had, by default, to replace him with was an enigma for six seasons, and the new season did nothing to illuminate her.
Who is Claire Underwood/Hale? What does she want?
One did not have to ask these questions about Francis Underwood. He was a politician; he wanted power. He was Richard III re-imagined as an American Congressman, complete with scene-chewing asides and soliloquys thrust like a dagger through the Fourth Wall. The point of this was to take the audience on a journey into the dark heart of the City of Washington, to show us how the sausage is made via one man’s struggle to be the Greatest of Butchers.
And yes, the exercise wearied after a while, became a parade of improbables and extra-constitutional fancies, with freshly-minted secondary characters acting without clear motivation (Who the hell is Mark Bishop? Who the hell is Jane? What are they doing? Why?). Like Richard III, Frank Underwood loses his control of events when he wears the crown, and that got dull to watch.
But Claire is an enigma wrapped in a duality and seasoned with progressive bromides. Am I really supposed to believe that the woman who made the office manager of her charity foundation lay off half the staff, and then fired her, is a feminist? Am I supposed to buy that the woman who murdered her lover considers herself somehow better than Frank? Based on what?
The charm of the first season was that these two schemers were a team, they understood and complemented each other’s darkness, strengthened and enlightened it. Claire wasn’t, like Lady MacBeth, full of the wish to murder and empty of the capacity for it. She wasn’t Frank’s driver, she was his partner.
And then, for some reason, she wasn’t. At the moment of triumph, she pulls away from him. Sometimes it’s because she feels guilt, but only sometimes. Sometimes it’s because she feels like she wants her turn, but when Frank offers her exactly that, she becomes his enemy. Nothing she does makes any sense, except in the context of “I want it all, and I want it now.”
Which, I understand. Which even makes sense for the tone of the show. So why can’t she just come out and say it? Why does she have to pretend that she’s somehow better? Why can’t she wryly analyze the difference between her exoteric discourse, the performance for everyone else, and her esoteric doctrine, which she lets the audience see? In the end, it’s precisely when Claire broke the Fourth Wall that I found her least truthful. Unlike Francis, who showed us without shame the foulness within, Claire seems oddly insistent that I find her heroic. Sorry, lady, but the blood on your hands is the same as your husband’s. He was no hero, and neither are you.
There’s a lot of threads in this final season that go nowhere. The App business. Mark and Jane. The Shepherd’s family secrets. Eventually all these become nothing more than red herrings meant to drag our attention from the true conflict of the season, that of Claire vs. Stamper for control of Frank’s Legacy. Which has a logic to it: Frank as the Dead Prophet with a schism between a guided caliph (Stamper) and a blood caliph (Claire), to put an Islamic cast on it. I just wish I came away from the closing credits with a feeling of something other than “that’s it?”