House of Cards is finally ending with its just-released sixth season, and the first reviews show that it's doing fine without Frank Underwood.
For starters, Robin Wright seems to have stepped up big time to fill the void in The Oval Office. And while one critic seems to be down on the hushed tones of House of Cards' characters, that seems to be a minority view, with the bigger complaint being one of pacing (something common among Netflix Originals).
Here's what the critics are saying about the first 5 episodes (Netflix declined to share the last 3 episodes) of House of Cards Season 6.
Kristen Baldwin at Entertainment Weekly's review is all positive (with a B+ rating), with praise for Wright's performance.
"A genteel powder room showdown in episode 2 [is] a brutally funny and just the right amount of absurd — and, unfortunately, one of the few scenes Wright and Lane share in the first half of the season."
"House of Cards does not suffer from the lack of Kevin Spacey; anyone who has stayed with the Underwoods this long knows Wright is more than capable of carrying the action as the show’s anti-hero."
"Wright brings more humor to Claire than ever before as the President exploits sexist stereotypes about female hysteria (“America’s worst fear when it comes to a woman in the Oval Office,” she coos to the camera)."
In his review for TV Guide, Malcolm Venable is positive about Robin Wright, but slams the show's pacing.
"It's a true joy watching Claire challenge colleagues and constituents both male and female, querying their backtalk and questions about her decision-making with cold, emotionless aplomb and then doing whatever the hell she wants anyway."
"It is refreshing, it must be said, to see Claire get the power she always wanted; between Wright and her departed co-star Spacey, she's always been the more chilling and captivating player."
"All that should have set up a juicy conspiracy that would allow the oft-sleepy series to end on terms more confident and bold than its past few snooze-worthy seasons. But House of Cards never quite maintains momentum, again; the first five episodes sent to critics are sometimes promising, sometimes plodding."
"But it's as slow as Congress, even with murder mysteries and backstabbing aplenty, which makes it fairly apparent that House of Cards's instability after its early seasons was never really all Frank's fault."
At The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber joins the chorus of critics praising Wright, but wishes that the cast would simply speak louder.
"Great credit should go to Wright, and the show’s writers, for locating complexity beneath the pat description “icy” that so often gets applied to powerful women."
"Scenes unfold with wan smiles and inscrutable sighs volleyed between Claire and the other sphinxlike principals, such as the delicately formidable adviser Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), the unstoppable fixer Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), and the vice president Mark Usher (Campbell Scott), whose matter-of-fact deadpan disguises divided loyalties. The performances are excellent, maybe better than ever before."
"But Cards has always been a show whose plot contortions could confuse and whose incremental intrigue could bore, and those problems are worse now that everyone seems to be whispering."
"Unfortunately, it isn’t until more than halfway through the eight-episode season that Claire’s big plan becomes clear."
Chicago Sun Times
Richard Roeper, whose Chicago Sun Times review begins with a warning of "minor spoilers," praises the show for retaining its electric feel, but also notes about the clumsy introductions of new characters.
"Robin Wright has delivered masterful work throughout the series run, and she’s nothing short of commanding down the stretch. In the midst of all the heavy drama, Claire displays a fantastically bent sense of humor, sometimes letting only us in on the joke."
"Every now and then, the nearly overwhelming clutter of characters and storylines gives way to intense, revealing scenes featuring only Claire and Annette. Thanks to the electrifying performances of Wright and Lane, in those moments “House of Cards” is as good as it’s ever been."
"As always, most of the major characters on “House of Cards” are scary smart and certain they’re a step ahead of everyone else... As always, some of the twists and turns stretch plausibility, even for a slick soap opera."
"Out of nowhere, we’re introduced to the obscenely wealthy, politically powerful and chillingly influential Shepherd family ... I’m pretty sure we’ve never even heard of the Shepherds until now, which seems curious given we’re told Bill Shepherd is arguably the most powerful person in America, including the president. We just have to go with it."
The Hollywood Reporter
In a review at The Hollywood Reporter, Daniel Fienberg notes where the show peaks for him, while taking time to explain where this final season is inextricable from its roots.
"When House of Cards just puts Wright and Lane together and lets them whisper threateningly through feigned public smiles, there's a pleasure I haven't felt from the show since the first season, when it still had the British original to lean on. The second episode includes a scene, a bathroom conversation between Annette and Claire fueled by decades of shared secrets and diverging ambition, that's probably my favorite five minutes the series has ever produced."
"The old show [with Spacey] was one I've disliked for a long time. The newer show [without Spacey] is one I can imagine missing. I wish there were some way the ties could have been severed immediately."
"It's a change that comes far too late for the show to escape many of its worst narrative instincts, or a surplus of flat recurring characters,"
"Claire may boast, "The reign of the middle-aged white man is over," but House of Cards spends too long investing in the character arcs of middle-aged white men for this final season to be a full reboot — to the show's detriment."