This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 7 Episode 1
And we thought things seemed dour when Homeland Season 6 began? Last year, Homeland started from an ambiguous place of arguable disappointment following the previous recent seasons, as well as an overall sense of detachment from reality. After all, at first glance at Elizabeth Marvel’s President-Elect Elizabeth Keane more readily resembled the by then thwarted Hillary Clinton than she did the actual President-Elect Donald J. Trump. But what a difference 12 episodes can make. In a single season, the rise of Keane from idealistic politician to embittered chief executive not only brought the show scarily closer to reality than the writers could have even suspected, but also turned her into the most consequential addition to the cast since Brody passed away in season 3.
And after tonight’s episode, there is an eerie, gnawing feeling in most viewers that this is less a fantasy of an executive branch run amok as it is a glimpse into a possible future, one where the President of the United States is at war with her intelligence and law enforcement communities, and on the precipice of a purge blooming into full-tilt fascism.
Hence why the opening image is so evocative. Just several months after last season ended, Carrie Mathison is running on a treadmill in her home as the headlines of the day insinuate a police state is imminent or already commenced, and that the POTUS she saw Peter Quinn give his life for has destroyed the agency she herself turned on—but still loved in her fashion. Now, as a clear metaphor for how many Americans feel of their own reality where a POTUS is actively trying to discredit his law enforcement apparatus before an almost inevitable political confrontation, Carrie can only look on while running in place. But Carrie never stays in one play for all that long, does she?
Indeed, Carrie Mathison’s entire arc in the episode is about slowly unveiling how deep she is rattled by her nation’s slow drift toward autocracy—and how amusing it is that she is treated like she’s off her meds again for giving the good fight. Admittedly, Homeland is closer to the bleak visage of collapse than our world is (for now), but it feels set only two seconds into the future. On the news, journalists that the Keane Administration does not like are being arrested, which is something that the Trump Administration has not done (while the Bush Administration did), and yet it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Carrie has become an anonymous source for a seemingly principled but feckless U.S. Senator Paley played by the always welcome Dylan Baker. It is currently unclear whether Paley will end up being an actual strong ally or someone who will cave to the power of presidential authority, but his cloak and dagger meetings with Carrie in private offices with disgraced FBI agents is fascinating. Carrie’s old friend—whose relationship with our favorite spook predates the series during her years in Iraq—is willing to leak, but the series takes a curiously sympathetic view of leakers. Traditionally speaking, Homeland has always favored a small-c conservative view of the intelligence community: Leave them be and keep nosey public servants like Tracey Letts’ overzealous and arrogant politician from season 3 and 4 out of it.
Now, however, the plight of a leaker to a Congressional committee is treated with genuine sympathy. Of course he has to leak, there is a Constitutional crisis in the making, yet he cannot give his name for it will be the end of his career. Conveniently, however, Carrie points out his career is already in disarray and he is also apparently indirectly responsible for some of the terror inflicted upon the U.S. embassy in Pakistan from season 4. So methinks that he’ll come around eventually.
Yet Carrie’s senatorial ally immediately balks at her humiliation of being shoved to the floor by the leaker and commands her never to contact him again. Good luck with that. This is also mirrored in her home life, as we see Carrie’s niece for the first time in what feels like a half-decade. She now more closely resembles a traditional teenage activist, outraged at Keane’s tyranny. This puts her at odds with her stepfather, as well as Carrie who may soon be looking for a new home after calling him a collaborator. I don’t think Carrie will be kicked out of the house though. Why else reintroduce the concept that she is living with her sister in Maryland if only to have her evicted? I mean, it is a great way to explain why Carrie isn’t too worried about Frannie this season.
But so far the drama around it seems a little contrived. Her sister treats Carrie like she has gone mental again because of her cloak and dagger maneuvering against Keane. Did her sister miss the news that Carrie and her longtime friend Peter Quinn saved Keane’s life in a national news story filled with government conspiracy just a few months ago?! Or that Carrie had security clearance at the White House for a minute that must have been briefer than Scaramucci Time?
Still, it puts the odds against Carrie as she is “doing it alone” again. And I do mean again, because in what is supposed to be the penultimate season of Homeland, Carrie Mathison has used Max to illicitly sneak cameras into a public official’s home and spy on him. Things come full circle when Carrie is watching a man on a monitor, trying to deduce just how exactly this Chief of Staff David Wellington is a traitor… She’s on the scent once more.
On that note, Wellingotn is shaping up to be a much more interesting character than he was last year. Played by the underrated character actor Linus Roachhe, Wellington was previously treated as a Yes Man to Keane as she crept a little closer to being a mini-Fuhrer with her round-up and sweep of political enemies, real and perceived, in the intelligence community. However, this premiere suggests he might have his limits with Keane, which will be useful. Together, Keane and Wellington were able to ensure that the man who masterminded the assassination attempt on her life was given a life in prison. Presumably this should be enough, especially for a woman introduced as a liberal politician.
Yet President Keane is unusually bloodthirsty and ambivalent to decorum. Using the bully pulpit of the White House she demands that the U.S. military execute this man for treason—a feat that would surely be tweeted out in our reality if the current president ever felt so slighted. But Keane considers it a strike of weakness against her that they would not execute the man, so she pressures her Chief of Staff to oversee an assassination attempt on the contemptuous general.
The actual closing scene of murder is effectively told by the writers and director, evoking the kind of 1970s thrillers like Three Days of The Condor and The Conversation, which influenced the series’ best early seasons. Instead of initially revealing to viewers that there is poison on the glove the general’s examiner uses to hold his tongue, it is only inferred after he keels over from a supposed heart attack that viewers are reminded of the poison tipped glove that coated his saliva.
That right there is as insidious as almost anything done to Keane in the previous season, it also suggests what Saul Berenson said in his all-too-brief scene: she is dangerously spiteful and vengeful (sound familiar?). Saul is offered the chance to be on the wrong side of history as a National Security Adviser, but wisely demurs going down in history with the actual collaborators of a corrupt presidential administration. It’s an interesting scenario though of a man in handcuffs being given direct access to the sitting POTUS.
Keane’s later assassination attempt nevertheless raises questions. If she is determined to send out the message of “don’t fuck with us,” how is that going to be conveyed by a “natural death?” Unless of course she is willing to fan the flames of conspiracy theorists. In which case, she is implicitly embracing the level of criminality not (knowingly) seen in the White House since the days of Richard Nixon, the president who notoriously had his most loyal men carry out criminal activities like the one we just saw executed.
Hence why the series is keeping Brett O’Keefe around in season 7. The cross between Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and unintentionally Vladimir Putin (recall he ran the internet troll farm of fake news last year) is suddenly recast as a self-described leader of “the Resistance.” Incidentally, Homeland would in these moments appear to be reconfirming its more traditional small-c conservative politics by forcing viewers uber-eager to see Donald Trump in Elizabeth Keane to find themselves aligned with a self-aggrandizing conspiracy theorist who was in on a conspiracy to overthrow a liberal president-elect. Once upon a time.
And lest we feel sympathy of his dashing from town to town as a wanted fugitive, this Resistance leader is treated with the same contempt now that Homeland had for him then, wrapping his hatred for Keane in a flag of xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, and outright fabricated lies. It’s enough to cause his girlfriend and accomplice to want out—but not before he ropes her back in. There is a suggestion though we may see outright insurrection against Keane when local bumpkin officers help spirit O’Keefe away from the long-reach of Keane’s more loyal FBI arm.
But it’s worth noting that O’Keefe’s girlfriend almost didn’t go with him. At first I assume that given the nature of such narrative writing, it would be a bad choice to leave O’Keefe’s side and she’ll get picked up by the feds for staying behind next week. Yet as she waffled and ultimately took her place by O’Keefe’s side again as he unconvincingly promised to make things better, the same narrative logic suggests that this is the poor choice. Either way, I suspect she will become a source for Carrie Mathison, the FBI, or both, because she is doomed to suffer while standing next to a man who for all his righteous fury was complicit in a conspiracy against an elected official.
Yet we are now in an era on Homeland where it’s unclear whether that is good or bad. In a land where the POTUS is demanding loyalty oaths and threatens to crack the institutions that have served a nation for 240 years, it is unclear where our loyalties should lie other than with Carrie Mathison. That ambiguity builds strongly on the foundation of season 6’s finale and backend episodes. We are now back in the murky waters of the first few seasons of Homeland, where we don’t know who to trust. If Carrie seems mad, it is because she is the only sane person in a land gone crazy.
We know where she’s coming from. And we can’t wait to see where she’s going next… and if it could help warn us along the way.