It is stating the obvious to say that a good deal of venomous rage and everyday misogyny is aimed at women in positions of power. Turn on the news any day of the week and you can see the evidence. Go online and you can quickly find yourself horrified by the rage.
That is why the opening scene in the new season of House of Cards (streaming on Netflix) has much less emphatic power than everyone involved had presumed. Claire Underwood is now president and she calls upon her staff to read aloud all the threats against her. They hesitate, since some things put online are shockingly graphic. She insists on hearing it all. It’s like an episode of Mean Tweets concocted by Satan and his minions.
It’s meant to shock, but it doesn’t. House of Cards has now fallen apart, brought down by the reality of the absence of the disgraced Kevin Spacey and by the fact that fiction about U.S. politics is beggared by the daily unfolding of current events.
One can understand why the series was kept alive after the accusations against Spacey. One wished it well. It would have been ignoble on several counts simply to cancel the show. Besides, with the Frank Underwood character gone, the focus could be put on Claire and other female characters. The series might be both reinvigorated and cleansed.
That opening scene is meant to lay the foundation for a new storyline. Claire faces toxic hate, just for being a woman. The other main storyline is also established quickly. It, too, lacks shock value: People with vast amounts of money expect to be able to control her and manipulate her agenda. On those twin pillars, the final eight-episode season is built.
What happens, mind you, is a lot of obviousness. Since its second season House of Cards has been going awry, with all that treachery and murder becoming so twisted that it reached the point of self-parody. It’s a bit difficult, at this point, to have any sympathy for Claire Underwood. She is not a representative powerful woman, she is just a perambulating example of corruption who happens to be perambulating in a dress and heels. In an attempt to keep the remnants of the show’s sorcery alive, Claire occasionally addresses the camera, as Frank did, with aside comments. They fall flat, amounting only to coolly delivered bromides.
Enter the Shepherd clan, a family with its money in media, military contracting and many other industries. The Shepherds are new to viewers but apparently they had Frank Underwood in their pocket for years. They now expect to control Claire and in the first episode are telling what bills to pass and who to hire or ignore.
This storyline, too, is meant to stir recognition in the viewers. Rich families and business conglomerates determine what happens in the White House. Here, however, that issue of undue and unhealthy corporate influence is distilled into a personal-feud drama.
Annette Shepherd (Diane Lane) and her brother Bill (Greg Kinnear) are the ones who confront Claire and issue the orders. The Bill character has neither menace nor gravitas. “It is time for you to deliver,” he tells Claire in regard to something he wants done. He sounds more whining schoolboy than dangerous puppet-master bullying a politician. And the Annette character seems to be a grown-up mean girl who has hated Claire since school. Or something. There are scenes of pulsating anger between Claire and Annette that are meant to catch fire but they don’t. “She can’t decide if she’s Lady Macbeth or Macbeth,” Annette says of Claire, taking the dialogue to a dead-end of redundancy.
The truth is, House of Cards was heading for redundancy before it was necessary to remove Spacey. Netflix’s first original prestige series became representative of the streaming service’s tendency to let shows go awry and wallow in self-indulgence. Besides, reality made it seem tame. Bob Woodward’s book Fear made the current White House appear far more crazy-malignant than anything dreamed up on the show. It felt like a chore to watch a portion of this final season for review. What was once macabre is now mundane.