This article contains major House of Cards spoilers.
Despite the fact that Netflix cut ties with Kevin Spacey following the sexual assault allegations levied against him, his House of Cards character Frank Underwood remains a significant part of the show’s sixth and final season. He dies off-screen before the first bit of new footage pops up, of course, but his name is spoken aloud several times by the players who remain.
President Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) was supposedly the last person to see him alive, while his right-hand-man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) constantly suggests via his covert words and actions that he believes otherwise. As the final episode of House of Cards makes its way toward whatever conclusion showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese might have in store for us, however, Claire utters one of season six’s choicest lines.
“I’m so tired of talking about Francis.”
And yet, as the final moments of the House of Cards series finale reveals, the ultimate fate of Frank Underwood, his many schemes and those who carried them out on his behalf is finally revealed. The former president wasmurdered, but not by Claire, whose complicity in the matter is teased throughout the season. Instead, it was Doug. The trusted assistant killed his old boss by spiking his medication because he found out that Frank was going to kill her.
“I couldn’t let him destroy everything we’d built,” a tearful Doug confesses to Claire in the final minutes of the episode. “I had to protect the legacy from the man.”
Claire tells him Frank “got weak,” though it’s probably not the best thing to tell him. Why? Because they’re together in the Oval Office, where the president has just acquired the nuclear football from its military handler after having him arrested for trying to prevent her from using it. Doug, meanwhile, is there on behalf of the wealthy and powerful Shepherd siblings, Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Annette (Diane Lane), who have decided to play their final card against Claire.
It’s a scene so rich in the gaudy soap opera-like drama that House of Cards fans both love and despise, but here we are. In the final season of a show that began as a story about a man who was passed over, and his increasingly complicated quest to seek vengeance against those he felt had wronged him, it ends with his death and the rise of his greatest ally turned enemy: his wife. When those who remain loyal to Frank try to strike a final blow at Claire, she strikes back.
Quite literally, because after Doug draws blood from the president when pressing Frank’s sharpened letter opener to her neck a fit of rage, she uses it against him. Claire, who by now has survived two assassination attempts on her this season, stabs her would-be killer in the gut and suffocates him.
“Well as shocking as all that was, it’s House of Cards so I’m not too surprised,” some of you might be thinking.
The thing is, it’s actually quite a surprising way to end the series. For starters, Doug’s death now means that the previously rumored spinoff featuring his character isn’t going to happen. Kelly confirmed as much ahead of Friday’s debut when he told Variety “they decided not to do that,” and now we know why.
As for the story itself, if viewers were expecting House of Cards to tie everything into a nice little bow, then they probably haven’t been keeping up with the series as of late. For every single one of the major revelations or twists that showrunners Gibson and Pugliese included in seasons five and six, these solutions were accompanied by plenty of unanswered questions.
“We knew it would be our last season, so there were some things in season five that we had put in motion that we wanted to deal with in season six,” Pugliese tells Den of Geek. Gibson adds that, along with the writers, they “tried to trust our instincts” while handling what they knew was going to be the show’s last hurrah. “I mean, the story was set in motion by Francis Underwood killing an injured dog with his bare hands. It’s always been about the nature of pain, and I think to some degree that the story of the series is an exploration of pain and pain thresholds. What can a democracy, and a marriage, withstand in that regard?”
Which means that, more than anything, the final moments of House of Cards are in keeping with the stark outlook on life that Frank described in the first episode. When a neighbor’s dog is struck and left for dead, the then-congressman says “it’s not gonna make it” and suffocates it while discussing the nature of pain. “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering,” he says. “I have no patience for useless things.”
72 episodes later, Claire recreates this moment with Doug, stabbed and slowly dying in her lap. Seeing how useless his suffering his, she places her hand on his mouth and doesn’t let go until he’s gone, much like the dog Frank kills so many years earlier. The thing is, while Frank only stepped in to end the pet’s discomfort from injuries suffered by other parties, his presidential successor is the one who stabbed Doug in the first place. So in a way, House of Cards is bringing things full circle in terms of the Underwoods’ rise to power, but it’s also seeing Claire break away from her husband’s circle in order to tell her own story.
But what will that story be? Will Claire follow through on her threats to launch a nuclear strike against terrorists she knows aren’t actually about to possess a bomb of their own, or will she heed her advisers’ caution and choose otherwise? Will her unborn daughter, named Frances “with an e” by Doug before his demise, live to surpass her parents’ machinations? Or will she simply repeat them?
These and more, are the unanswered questions that House of Cards leaves audiences with. And while it would be entertaining to see what some of their possible answers might be in a spinoff series, it seems Netflix and company have no intention of doing anything of the sort anytime soon. All that’s left to figure out is whether or not the series’ end will make you stronger or just feel useless.