If we were discussing what single major issue adversely impacted this final season of House of Cards the most — and boy is there a lot to choose from — the decision to center so much of the story on Frank Underwood would have to be in the conversation. When allegations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey saw him removed from the show, the writers had to quickly pivot away from their original final season arc that would have seen Frank and Claire battling for power. That’s no easy task, and choosing to kill Frank off screen makes a lot of sense. The problem is, Frank never really goes away. He lingers all season long, and it’s difficult to create dramatic tension when so much of the story involves a dead character.
Frank’s ghost is right there in the opening scene of the series finale. Doug lays on his couch, pondering his upcoming life-changing decision: whether to kill Claire or not. Uncertain, he recites a mantra that’s helped him through many a crisis over the years: “What would Frank do?”
The Frank talk continues as Claire opens up about his corrupt behavior during a press conference. She says that it’s come to her attention that during the previous election, Frank may have exaggerated the terrorist threats on election day, and therefore tipped the scales. She’s sharing this information because she wants her administration to be transparent, she says, but really it’s to continue to chip away at Frank’s legacy.
“Frank’s legacy” is, inexplicably, the cornerstone of the series finale. Despite never really explaining what that legacy might be, the show uses it as fuel for the feud between Doug and Claire. Every decision made has to do with either cementing or tearing down Frank’s legacy, and it’s so difficult to care about any of it. The stakes don’t feel personal or character-based. But this is the case with so much of the final season, where various subplots and storylines do little to add anything meaningful to what should be the story of Claire as President.
As “Chapter 73” unfolds, it’s clear that the final showdown is going to be between Doug and Claire. It looks like Doug has agreed to kill Claire, and while he’s not doing it for the Shepherds— again, he’s doing it to protect “Frank’s legacy” — they certainly have a vested interest in her death. The whole episode plays out like an elaborate, absurd crime drama, with every piece moving into place for one final confrontation. Nathan Green retires from the Bureau, but not before telling Claire to stay in the White House because of an impending assassination attempt, a lie that’s meant to set her up with Doug later on. Annette and Mark discuss plans for after the assassination, while Doug continues to taunt the Claire by releasing lines from Frank’s diary to the media. In essence, Annette has instructed Doug to goad Claire into accepting a meeting with him to discuss the diary and its scandalous contents, all so that Doug can get close enough to kill her. (Recap continues on next page)