Homeland Season 6 Finale Review: America First

The Homeland Season 6 finale has explosive developments that surprise and, more importantly, genuinely satisfy.

This Homeland finale review contains spoilers.

Homeland Season 6 Episode 12

Carrie stands there, alone on an already very bleak and chilly winter day. Across the National Mall stands Capitol Hill, a building constructed to evoke both Classical and Enlightenment era ideals of democracy, fairness, and open governance. Perhaps it’s the grayness of the dawn, or the fact that it feels like those principles have become meaningless bumper sticker platitudes in an infinitely more complex national situation, but either way the sensation conveyed is one of abject loss.

It’s a provocative image to end Homeland season 6 on. First it obviously reflects the mood of Carrie and the show, as the series’ U.S. government spirals toward a constitutional crisis potentially more severe than any such in our real world (at least for now). And then it is also intentionally reminiscent of the Homeland season 1 pilot, which likewise ended with another long lost male co-star staring from almost the exact same position across the mall on a wintry morn at a rotunda whose glory appeared faded following a decade-long fog of war. It was the beginning of something very special for television then, which makes this the perfect capper for tonight, as Homeland just completed its best year since at least season 2. Perhaps even earlier.

Indeed, this thorough success suggests that the show might even need real world instability and anxiety in the U.S. to feed from, like a vampire bat feasting at the gushing throat of cattle. The actual nightmares and tensions of 2017 have forced showrunner Alex Gansa to rise to the occasion and somehow create a fictional alternative even more preposterous and uncomfortable than our current climate. And it has paid off in dividends with a season that at first glimpse began as wish fulfillment alternative for liberals, yet ended with a new and embittered president escalating her war with her intelligence community to heights never before gleaned.

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Even if we were starting to get a vague glimpse of how the season finale would play out last week, the actual pieces came together tonight in a satisfying and deeply cathartic way, turning suspense into sorrow for a beloved character, and then finally into intangible dread.

That last gnawing aspect has been missing since Nick Brody’s neck broke beneath the jeering crowds of Tehran. And like the man himself, it has been sorely missed.

The actual weakest aspect of the show occurred early but was luckily papered over: the scenario that the finale was built around would have fit comfortably in 24, but is executed with just enough of a deft hand to pass. I still maintain from last week that this potential coup was sloppy and poorly executed from the get-go. It became clear in recent weeks that Dar Adal, in addition to “false flagging” a terrorist attack in Manhattan, had built a fake news propaganda network as intense as the apparent real one Vladimir Putin will probably sic on this country every four years from now on. But even stirring that pot to those levels of vitriol isn’t enough to gain public support for a military takeover.

Apparently, Dar Adal would have agreed since it was revealed this week that his conspiracy had wheels within wheels. As it turns out, he did not approve a boneheaded assassination attempt on the POETUS’ life, and his concern with Alex Jones Brett O’Keefe going after Peter Quinn was in fact because Quinn was being set up to be a patsy in the vein of Lee Harvey Oswald (at least according to conspiracy theorists), and Dar had no idea that this plan was occurring. It seems he simply wanted to keep hammering away at Keane through social media and propaganda, and is mildly upset to learn that an actual assassination attempt is in motion.

Curiouser still, Adal learns of this via torturing a U.S. senator. The show is almost challenging you to be repulsed by Adal’s disinterest in the rule of law, yet to root for him when he is uncovering a further conspiracy being run by a U.S. general.

As for the attempted assassination, it seemed half-assed at best. As there was no bomb in the actual hotel, claiming that the discovery of one led to this evacuation from the Manhattan location seems dubious at best in the doubtless Congressional reports and media scrutiny that would follow. Further, it was only dumb luck on the conspirators’ behalf that Peter Quinn turned up outside of the hotel with Carrie Mathison. If they hadn’t put the pieces together (or not survived the bomb that went off in Queens), framing Quinn as the assassin would also have become a very tall order. And most bizarre of all, there is the fact that the PEOTUS only had one Secret Service agent assigned to her in her vehicle before the decoy went boom.

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In any case, it made for a very satisfying conclusion to the season’s main plot as Delta Force traitors are hunting their president down in a hotel and only Carrie, and eventually Peter Quinn, are there to save her life. Unlike season 5, this year was smart to avoid Carrie becoming a Jack Bauer type of hero, running into danger with a gun blazing. She’s a brilliant analyst at heart, not an action movie star, so her struggling simply to keep her president alive while they scramble in the proverbial dark of an elevator, realizing they’re in a “kill zone” (great name, by the way), only adds to the gnawing suspense.

Peter Quinn also being the one to drive them to safety, forcing Carrie to stay down and remain a human shield for her soon to be commander-in-chief, is a perfect moment of heroism that embraces the full blown melodrama inherent in a situation as outlandish as this. It’s operatic, but it keeps a single toe still firmly tapped into verisimilitude. A military leader is attempting to murder his new boss before anyone knows she’s still alive, and all Quinn has to do is drive her a few hundred yards down the road into the public where they’d be able to see she is still, in fact, breathing. Yet, that simple task asks for Quinn’s full measure, and he’ll give it gladly.

Last year, Peter Quinn’s subplot of just happening to stumble upon a terrorist cell in Berlin felt contrived and awkward, and unfitting for a character sendoff. After all, he’s been on the show since almost the very beginning. But this year, it did feel right. Obviously, this is not to say that vets suffering from PTSD or other tragic injuries don’t have meaningful lives still to live or stories to share. But Quinn’s particular narrative has always been one marred by tragedy and lost opportunities. Almost as heartbreaking as Nick Brody, and every bit as doomed as any potential lover in Carrie’s life, Peter never could find happiness or peace.

After his brain injury, he still wanted to serve—needed to, even. Dying for his president and proving to Carrie he is still worth a damn is all he had left to give the series, and it was a rapid, relatively quiet, and absolutely appropriate goodbye. The suddenness of his death and the understatement of Carrie grasping the words “Peter Quinn” to Keane is an actually momentous tribute to the kind of life Quinn lived—one in the shadows. Keane only learns his name after his death, and like us, she took it to heart. In fact, she took many things to heart.

So yes, the first half of the episode was an intense pressure cooker that made good on the ominous implications of a coup the entire sixth season has been building toward. But fascinatingly, season 6 tips its hand to the fact that next year will be about proving Dar Adal was right. His coup was an evil perversion of our democracy, but so will, it turns out, a President Keane administration be.

There have been moments throughout the later episodes that suggested Keane might actually be a poor president in season 7, yet I did not expect it to go as far or as quickly in that direction as it did by this hour’s end. Initially, “America First” challenges you to disbelieve the possibility simply because it is coming from a conspiracy theorist and known colluding propagandist’s mouth. O’Keefe has about as much credibility as a drunk uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner who is drooling into his mashed potatoes. Or in other words, as much respect as we should give Alex Jones (read: none). But hearing the fact that Keane had her inauguration behind closed doors, apparently without even any cameras, is an immediately disquieting notion. Next, we discover that she expanded the PATRIOT Act. This makes her as imminently disappointing to wistful liberal viewers as President Donald Trump is to Breitbart readers after his recent lurch toward neoconservativism.

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The episode also does a solid job of at least putting this on ambiguous footing since it seems to suggest in the first major scene after the six-week time jump that season 7 will be Homeland’s version of Scandal. President Keane is running the show in the Oval Office, and the only woman she trusts, at least in matters of national security and intelligence, is Her Girl Friday, Carrie Mathison. Carrie is asked to compose lists of the entire intelligence community for whom she is acting as a temporary liaison to. The show is even given a false season 7 narrative that rang particularly false: more Saul vs. Carrie.

Even though Carrie and Saul theoretically should’ve grown closer after being brought back together to untangle a conspiracy against Keane, for some reason Carrie won’t give Saul the time of day and attempts to pick a fight over whether he judged her for the words she did not say at Quinn’s memorial. Carrie is then offered a permanent position in the White House, yet it is all a red herring. While Carrie is mourning the loss of Peter Quinn, and indicating Max will be a major confidant in the new season if he can stay sober for long enough, Keane’s own American version of the Night of Long Knives is commencing in the margins.

First, I would like to credit the quiet and true sendoff to Peter Quinn that occurs in this section of the finale. He might have died much earlier in the hour, but Carrie sits alone in her brownstone, in the very apartment she clearly avoided since Peter’s death, and flips through Quinn’s copy of Great Expectations—the pitch perfect literature classic for a man whose life truly began and ended as a boy on the Agency’s farm, and with the “expectations” placed on him there. Carrie discovers Quinn had a son whom she never knew and now never will. She also finds a picture of herself, giving the rarest of smiles.

In another life, they might have been happy, but she couldn’t let go of her ginger haired ghost until it was too late for Quinn to be anything less than a living one. And now he’ll haunt her too in death. This is the moment that lets Claire Danes do what she has always done so well: pull on the heartstrings and elicit despair with a simple stare. And a tear.

But meanwhile, Dar Adal is having his own pity party with Saul Berenson. While it’s nice to see that Saul remains a good bro to his former colleague, Saul is kidding himself if he thought he could’ve talked Adal out of his schemes. Even if he hadn’t reached the stage of pursuing assassination, Adal still was slow-walking a coup of delegitimization. Sorry, he gets no brownie points from me for suggesting there is something off or un-American about Keane since everything he did this season, right down to freezing the bonbons of a senator, is the definition of treasonous.

Still, Keane turns out to be no David Palmer of 24 political persuasion. Rather, she and Adal were both right to hold the other in contempt since she begins a political witch hunt and house cleaning process that makes the round robin firings in the U.S. State Department look like smooth administrative governance.

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Indeed, Keane has gone off the deep end and appears to be accusing anyone she dislikes in the intelligence community, State Department, and even the Department of Justice as being members of Adal’s conspiracy—a Deep State collusion to destroy her presidency. Careening from a liberal fantasy to a leftist nightmare, she is doing what more than a few actual White House officials might secretly love to do in our world: declare open season on all of the intelligence community. Lock them up, indeed.

The degree of this paranoia and insidiousness is crystallized in who we first glimpse going down, since Saul FaceTimes Carrie long enough for her to see he is being arrested. Keane’s new attorney general might call it detention, but it only looks like a faintly less dangerous version of the Nazis’ “Hummingbird” operation where in one night political opponents and officials they disliked were executed.

The fact that Saul would be one of the people to go down—a man who brought proof of Adal and O’Keefe’s collusion, and first brought awareness of a conspiracy to Keane’s attention via Javadi—suggests Keane’s newfound paranoia is Nixon on steroids, and a version of Trump even more divorced from facts. Carrie attempts to penetrate that bubble by pleading with Keane outside of a locked door to the Oval Office. Earlier in the hour, Keane offered Carrie a full-time position at the White House, but that must’ve simply been something to force her go along with getting as many names for extrajudicial nabbing as possible.

So here we are with the show having a homecoming of sorts with its return to Washington D.C. And now Carrie is standing like her baby daddy before an institution she has bled and suffered to protect, filled with complete disillusionment. The entire world is turned upside down for Carrie Mathison and her viewers, and the war between a new president and the “Deep State” has reached Stalin-esque levels of dysfunction.

The future is uncertain, but the way the show has echoed our headlines and miraculously surpassed their incredulity should be applauded. Even more impressive is the turnaround in storytelling quality. Season 6 not only is a massive improvement over the past several years of Homeland; it is a resuscitation of the paranoia, intrigue, and bitter cynicism that made the show such a gem in the first place. It also proves that there are second acts in American life after all, even if it’s actually on the sixth try.

Where the show goes next, I am not sure, albeit obviously Carrie and likely Max will be taking on the White House from the outside—a White House Carrie helped define by informing and repeatedly saving the president who now resides there. But the future may be as oppressive as Keane’s new, dark color palate for her South Lawn view. I’m sure Carrie and Saul will be popping up in that vista soon enough. When they do, hopefully it’ll be in a season that can capitalize on the goodwill and rejuvenation we just experienced. If they need real-life apprehensions to inform it, I’m sure that the next year will give plenty of fodder to make season 7 the scariest one yet.

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So with season 7 and 8 appearing to likely be the final years for Homeland, the stage is set for it to end on the same queasy adrenaline that made the show such a revelation when it was new.


4.5 out of 5