By the time that the political situation in America was alarming enough I thought I’d actually get something out of watching the first five series of ‘House Of Cards’, news had broken that made me no longer want to spend my time watching a show fronted by Kevin Spacey. Unfortunate timing, really.
The Netflix political drama is now back for its long-awaited sixth and final series, with the eight new episodes debuting just two days shy of a year since it was confirmed that Spacey had been dropped from the show.
With Spacey gone, and his character Frank Underwood dead and buried, the stage is set for Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright) to step into the spotlight, giving people like myself - curious about ‘House Of Cards’, but with no desire to watch a show led by the disgraced actor - a reason to tune in for the first time.
But just how easy to follow is the new series of ‘House Of Cards’, for someone who’s never actually watched an episode before? Well, fortunately, easier than you might think, and that’s because the first instalment feels very much like you’re watching a brand new show.
When we first meet (or are reintroduced to, depending on your own history with ‘House Of Cards’), Claire Underwood, seemingly the first woman to ever become president in the US, she’s commemorating both the Fourth of July and her first 100 days in the Oval Office. She’s not having an easy time finding her feet, though - largely thanks to the people who surround her constantly underestimating her, based not just on her gender, but also on constant comparisons to her late husband, themselves rooted in sexism.
He’s never seen, for obvious reasons, but the ghost of Frank Underwood (or Francis, as he’s referred to almost always throughout the series) hangs heavily over series six - not just with his widow trying to shake him off and forge her own identity - but also around those he knew in life, who are still dealing with the aftermath of his apparently shocking death.
And this… is where I begin to struggle to cling on to the story. When it’s Claire taking centre stage, things are more or less easy to follow, as a lot of her experiences are new to her, as well as the viewer. But when she’s not around, and the action centres around other characters, things get a little more complicated, whether that’s due to my lack of knowledge around the past events of ‘House Of Cards’ or, indeed, the intricacies of the US political system, and exactly what key figures’ roles actually are.
What doesn’t help either is just how sketchy everyone is, and with everyone in my fresh eyes having a clean slate, it’s tough to gauge who is trustworthy (apart from Claire, of course, she looked us in the eye and told us she was, and why would she lie to us through the broken fourth wall, right?). It’s also hard to know who is telling the truth, and what people actually know about the goings on behind the scenes, either politically or relating to Frank’s death.
Similarly, there are a lot of these sketchy folks, coming and going throughout the series, and trying to work out who they all are, and their relationships with each other and whether they’re trustworthy isn’t an easy task. Particularly when you’re also trying to swot up on five years’ worth of action and an entire country’s political system at the same.
Some back stories are explained, but others rely rather heavily on fans’ existing knowledge, which new viewers like myself don’t have. This is made even more tricky when you factor in that some details are also being withheld to keep existing fans guessing. This is all well and good if you’ve been following the show for the last five years and therefore know what everyone is muttering and rolling their eyes at each other about, but some of us just don’t need that much Kevin Spacey in our lives.
Make no mistake, though, even if certain aspects of the show verge on confusing for someone going into the show blind, ‘House Of Cards’ is still very much an enjoyable watch, and that’s thanks in no small part to its leading star, Robin Wright. Whenever the interchangeable white men who populate much of the show were starting to cause my interest to wane, I was able to stick around, safe in the knowledge she’d be back to command my attention soon enough (and what helps is that the character of Claire Underwood is so no-bullshit that she demands those around her drop formalities and stick in simple terms to her, which came in very useful).
As the newly-elected president, Robin Wright is completely believable, and much like there’s a sense that Claire Underwood has been waiting for this job her entire career, there’s a similar feeling that the actress has been just as patient for the chance to really show off what she can do in a leading role. What’s more, while there’s no denying that her portrayal of Claire is as someone stern and commanding, there’s also a feeling she wants to do good for America with her presidency. It’s a welcome change not just from the corruption that surrounds her (and preceded her, apparently), but also more troubling issues going on in the real world.
So, yeah, there’s going to be a lot of conversation around ‘House Of Cards’ in the next few weeks, while existing devotees pick apart the new series. If you’ve not watched it before, but don’t fancy bingeing the five previous Spacey-led seasons, you could well be left wondering whether you should pick it up at the new series. But if you’re questioning it, I say go for it.
‘House Of Cards’ series six showcases some truly great acting in a meaty political drama, while also telling a timely story about a strong woman grappling with all the usual bullshit women have to deal with when they’re given power and authority - something that’s even more important to take note of in today’s current climate.
But if you are going to go in blind, like I did, then make sure you rid yourself of all distractions beforehand. Maybe put your phone in the other room, or you’ll find yourself missing potentially crucial details. Oh, and give the show’s Wikipedia page a once-over before you hit play.
‘House Of Cards’ series 6 is now streaming on Netflix.