House of Cards Just Couldn't Be As Interesting as Real Politics Anymore

The final season of House of Cards dealt a lot with confessions, so here is mine: This piece is late because I fell asleep watching House of Cards' final season. Twice.

After writing a review -- completed by watching the bare minimum/first five episodes Netflix provided -- I procrastinated writing a full season summary by bingeing a show that was far more fun (OMG, have you seen Chilling Adventures of Sabrina?!) and only got around to finishing House of Cards because of repeated reminders from editors about deadlines, and steel will. So this is late, not that it matters much. Even after doing my due diligence and finishing the final season of this once game-changing show, my initial take was right: House of Cards' end, beautifully crafted though it is, required a lot of patience. Maybe it's not entirely the show's fault; after all, House of Cards could never be as interesting as real-world politics.

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You already knew this, of course. Calling this post a long-winded monument to obviousness is 100 percent correct. I have no defense here except the acknowledgment that, like bottomless mimosa brunches and all-Beyonce gym playlists, obvious things are sometimes really enjoyable. Sometimes I'm basic, sue me.*

(*Not an actual invitation to be sued.)

This week alone brought about big changes in Congress; the stunning, if not entirely surprising, canning of the one guy in the Justice Department willing to resist the president's desire to squash an investigation into his own behavior; and an unprecedented berating of a White House reporter that resulted in an almost-shoving match and the White House sending out a doctored video of the whole thing -- as if to prove that it actually does operate in an alien universe where up is down and dogs can do algebra. Amid all this, I watched House of Cards,where the most shocking turn of events involved Annette (Diane Lane) threatening Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) with an avocado.

Even the actual murders on House of Cards feel like mere exposition, nowhere near as stupefying as one of those 7 a.m. Dadaist tweets. I realize I'm conflating two worlds here and that fiction has no obligation to be bound to truth. But with a series about something as familiar as the White House -- a universe containing figureheads who the public has at least some understanding of what they do and their general functions, responsibilities and parameters for appropriate behavior -- the baseline of appropriate behavior from which fictional drama can reasonably springboard has all but vanished.

Veep remained relevant in its most recent, Trump-concurrent season because Veep has always been insane -- a circus atmosphere is baked in its DNA. House of Cards, in comparison, started by going right up to the line of what's believably presidential and then inching past it just enough. When the real president can't figure out how to use a desk phone or an umbrella or orders refugee children torn from their parents in the dead of night, it's sort of hard to play with the limits of outrageous behavior because nobody knows what those are anymore.

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Paradoxically enough, the real-life cultural (and political) fallout from #MeToo worked its way into Season 6 just fine; Claire Underwood's revolt against entrenched sexism was its most interesting idea. But short of introducing a black villainess, a scorned porn star, an entertainer off his meds, a couple of full-blown race riots and central members of the Underwood campaign going to jail, nothing House of Cards could do in its final season could come close to the insanity and dread its viewers experience every time they scroll their feeds.

Whereas previous political dramas like 24, Scandal, The West Wing and more made espionage, action, manipulation, sex and nuanced legal gymnastics central building blocks of their stories, House of Cards was by and large built on shock value. What depraved thing would the president do next? How low would the Underwoods go? When what constitutes a presidential low -- say, defending Nazis -- has literally sunken further than what any Hollywood producer could make up -- the antics on screen seem inconsequential. You could say that shock was House of Cards'... trump card, but I'm not going to. I'm kind of basic, but I'm not that basic.

House of Cards is streaming on Netflix.

This article originally appears on TV

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