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Review: 'House Of Cards' Without Kevin Spacey


The final season of the Netflix political drama "House Of Cards" debuts on Friday. It's also the only season without star and executive producer Kevin Spacey, who was fired last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show, now focused on Robin Wright's Claire Underwood, still feels a little out of step with our current political moment.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As the show opens, Claire Underwood is the nation's first female president, surrounded by people who suspect she's not quite up to the job. She's not particularly popular either, judging by the litany of threats her head of security reads to her.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I'd like to fry her eyeballs. If no one else steps up to kill the president, I will - a tweet out of North Dakota.

ROBIN WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) What else?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) God never intended a woman to rule this land. She is the anti-Christ.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) What else?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) A lot of threats involving the C-word, ma'am. Lots and lots of the C-word, unfortunately.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) You mean, Claire?

DEGGANS: Probably not.

Claire became president last season when her husband, Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood, resigned. Frank's legacy looms over a season that's supposed to be centered on Claire, even though producers have brutally excised Spacey's character. Spoiler alert - the public is told that Frank died in his sleep next to Claire. But it's "House Of Cards," and Claire's already killed off another romantic partner, so who knows?

The fact is Claire often seems so emotionally detached, she's a less compelling anti-hero, even when she does that talking to the audience thing that Spacey's Frank Underwood once did so well. He once talked about the difference between useful and useless pain. But when she talks about her own pain, she seems curiously disconnected from it.


WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) It's not true what he told you all those years ago - that there are two kinds, useful and useless. There's only one kind. Pain is pain. Francis, I'm done with you. There. No more pain.

DEGGANS: Claire's pain mostly involves trying to liberate herself from the wealthy, mostly male powerbrokers Frank promised favors to. That patriarchy is embodied by Greg Kinnear's Bill Shepherd. He's the conservative head of a family-owned conglomerate that comes on like a telegenic Koch brother. And he's determined to dominate Claire.


GREG KINNEAR: (As Bill Shepherd) Your husband and I had an agreement.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) Francis is dead, Bill.

KINNEAR: (As Bill Shepherd) Promises were made.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) Not by me.

KINNEAR: (As Bill Shepherd) I've seen your list of candidates for the midterms.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) Yes, mostly women.

KINNEAR: (As Bill Shepherd) I don't care what sex they are. But this slate of yours - it will bankrupt the country. They will set us back a generation. They will completely...

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) Support me.

DEGGANS: One character who doesn't support her is Diane Lane's Annette Shepherd. She's Bill's sister and a rival of Claire's from their days together at school. Where Bill is fiercely controlling, Annette is smooth, insulting the Underwoods even while admitting an affair.


DIANE LANE: (As Annette Shepherd) You know, I slept with him once.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) Your brother?

LANE: (As Annette Shepherd) Your husband.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) I know.

LANE: (As Annette Shepherd) Interesting. Though come to think of it, I guess it makes sense.

WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) What does?

LANE: (As Annette Shepherd) That your marriage allowed for that.

DEGGANS: "House Of Cards" was Netflix's first big scripted hit, so it's a little sad to see the series wind down with a season so wrapped up in its own convoluted storytelling. It just doesn't feel groundbreaking anymore. I've only seen 5 of the final 8 episodes, so the season might still come together in the end. But at a time when the nation is on the edge of its seat over a real-life midterm election, the fictional politics of "House Of Cards" just aren't relevant enough anymore. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.