This sixth and final season of House of Cards is especially important. Last fall, Kevin Spacey was fired from his lead role as president Frank Underwood after 20 people came forward with accusations of inappropriate behaviour, sexual misconduct and assault.
Netflix responded like a boss, killing off his character, which was awesome to see. In recent years, House of Cards has acted as a mirror to the current political climate—particularly with Frank Underwood reflecting decisions made under the Trump administration—so it was cathartic to see Spacey face concrete consequences for his actions, even if the actual POTUS never does.
With Frank dead, his wife/vice president Claire (Robin Wright) takes the reigns in the White House, and as an OG House of Cards stan, I was so ready to see Claire have a turn. But then I binged all eight episodes, and TBH, season 6 is a straight-up bore. Instead of giving Claire a chance, the writers shove her off the glass cliff in a lazy attempt to keep the show running.
Robin Wright was only given a shot after Kevin Spacey screwed up
For the uninitiated, the glass cliff— when women are allowed access to top jobs during times of crisis and then are tossed out shortly after, when they inevitably fall short due to circumstances outside of their control—is in the same sexist vein as the glass ceiling, but worse, because it gives the illusion of equality.
After the news broke about Spacey’s transgressions, the future of HoC seemed bleak. Fans had questions: How would the show go on without its enigmatic lead? Would it be as good as the previous iterations? Was it even worth continuing the story without him?
Enter Claire. Despite being a compelling character in her own right, Claire has always lived in Frank’s shadow. Consider their extramarital affairs, for instance: while Frank’s wandering eye leads him to Zoe without any concern for his wife, Claire waits to get in bed with Tom until Frank gives the OK. Gross, right?
Claire only appears to be given some agency after Frank dies, but given the fans’ skepticism about a version of House of Cards without Spacey, her newfound control doesn’t really matter. She’s merely steering a sinking ship through its final voyage.
The show’s exploration of sexism is superficial at best
Sexism hits Claire hard in her first weeks as president, but her experiences lack nuance.
One crystal-clear example is the way the media, her cabinet and the people of America question her mental health. Claire shows too little emotion at Frank’s funeral, then later, too much emotion when she feigns a breakdown in a scheme to suss out who in her cabinet is disloyal. (Spoiler: it works.) Her mood swings freak people out, and her response to questioning—sighing, or responding with a quip—is supposed to be menacing but it’s impassive at best. If you’re longing for a strong character to dispel the myriad myths surrounding female displays of emotion, this season is not for you.
Similarly, the writers miss any and all opportunities to explore what it’s *really* like to be the first female leader of the free world—and all the sexist shit that would come with it. Case in point: when a member of the military asks Claire if she “actually has a plan” for the war she’s sending them into. Without missing a beat, she replies, “Would you have asked me that if I were a man?” End scene. It’s momentarily stirring, yes, but there’s no deeper meaning or nuanced commentary about sexism to be found throughout the season.
Ultimately, President Claire is just a convenient fix
Whether Claire has any true agency in season 6 is questionable. I literally can’t recall one time when she makes a presidential decision without a weird, winding back-story which reveals her to be a puppet for other powers.
She shuffles her entire cabinet to include only women—which, on the surface, was really freaking thrilling—but then we don’t see any of the impact this actually has. Are women’s rights at the fore of her agenda? Is Claire slammed for the decision by her male counterparts? At the very least, do the emails contain 100 percent more smileys?
Even her fourth-wall-shattering asides (the ones which, when delivered by Frank, used to give me icy chills) are monotonous, feeling less like things she would *actually* say and more like clichés.
Nevermind how exciting it was to hear that Spacey was removed from his role on House of Cards—even if his punishment didn’t last that long—it’s impossible to walk away from season 6 feeling satisfied. I don’t just want a woman in the lead role because a dude messed up. I want a badass female character with depth, staying power and agency.
And Claire Underwood ain’t it.
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