This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 7 Episode 12
For a show that prides itself on twists and turns, the season finale of Homeland Season 7 almost played out exactly how I imagined last week (with several major caveats in its very final moments). Yet while sometimes being able to see the arc of a path too far ahead can be disappointing, at least so far as television is concerned, it can also on the rare occasion be enjoyable. Even rarer still, it might be downright therapeutic.
And in the rarest of occasions, you have Homeland Season 7, an hour brimming nearly from beginning to end with catharsis and, more importantly, a level of grace that is usually absent in our cable dramas and wholly forgotten in our political discourse. But here we are with a mission completed, a Russian conspiracy exposed, a presidency nonetheless ended, and a Carrie Mathison who has sacrificed the last full measure for her country, even if her heart is still ticking. There were shocks, there were non-surprises, but most of all, there was the satisfaction in a job well done. On and off-screen.
The hour begins right where last week’s thrilling penultimate chase left us hanging: Carrie and Simone Martin have changed places with some not very convincing wigs—but hey Yevgeny was pretty far away when he saw Carrie from a distance—and their fates were thus immediately sealed. As the decoy, Carrie was doomed never to make it out of Russia, at least not on Saul Berenson’s plane. The show has already had too much strained incredulity this season with the spycraft heroics that border on the supernatural (or Jack Bauer-ish). Carrie climbing across the fifth floor of the GRU building was enough 007 antics for her. There is little doubt she would be captured in tonight’s finale, what with the entire Russian intelligence apparatus chasing her brown wig.
Still, there were moments where I dared a faint hope. She was after all able to slip her red scarf on some other poor woman who is about to have a terrible day. So as she disappeared into that closet, why not ditch the brunette wig? At that point, the Russians definitely thought they had Simone Martin, so Carrie had already achieved luring them on a wild goose chase. But I suppose it’s all too in-character for her to not try to save herself and reach the U.S. embassy; not with a lack of confirmation that Saul and company have left the country.
So Carrie does what she always does and overcompensates, sacrificing everything to make sure that she wins, even if she loses. Although to his credit, the nameless American spook who was driving the car with her is also screwed, because he too became a “guest” of the SVR after he crashed his vehicle head-on into Moscow police. Nevertheless, Homeland chooses to focus exclusively on Carrie’s sacrifice, which begins with Yevgeny punching Carrie in the stomach. Honestly, given that she has embarrassed him and burned his entire American operation to cinder, I’m surprised she got away with only that bit of brutality. Then again, his cruelty is only beginning.
In the meantime though, there is still the success of the mission. Saul is able to pass Simone Martin off as part of his team as he is pulling out of talks with the SVR. Also kudos to Saul, and by extension Mandy Patinkin, for making a withdrawal from diplomatic talks while Russia is experiencing a national crisis seem like the most natural thing in the world. “We got called back.” And somehow, his counterpart believes this even though Saul’s team doesn’t stay long enough to pack their suitcases. Sure enough, the SVR general is able to put together from Yevgeny’s call that there’s a good chance Simone Martin is in their car. For the record, that phone call also proved me wrong from last week, as I was still unsure if Yevgeny would kill Simone. Yet tonight he confirmed as much to his superior on the phone. So props to Simone for taking Carrie’s bait.
Be that as it may, his superior really would have been smart, while sprawled out on the hood of Saul’s van, to say that there was a mistake, no one has to get out of the car. But we’ll stay right here until we get a confirmation on something. Luckily, plot machinations won out and he lets Saul drive off to the airport, at least so far as to kick start an international incident. Faced amusingly by the irony that Russian security is fingering one of Saul’s guys as a “murderer,” as opposed to recognizing Simone Martin in the wig, Saul pulls his diplomatic immunity card and triggers an international incident within an international incident. And so the political hands of fate have to make a decision in Washington D.C.
Now President Beau Bridges must prove there is absolutely no vice in his leadership. With confirmation from the banished Keane that Berenson was sent to Russia to retrieve Simone Martin, and learning that even Paley was aware of this fiasco, he had a choice: leave Saul and other Americans out to dry and, like Paley, be complicit in treason in the death of American operatives to secure a final victory over Elizabeth Keane… or let them do their job. I never once doubted that Bridges’ Ralph Warner would make the right call. He carries himself as too much of a boy scout, and Paley already has the whiff of collusion and betrayal on him. As LBJ once said in so many words to George Wallace, “I’m not going to let history lump me in with the likes of you.”
So Bridges, instead of colluding with the Russian ambassador/spy master, chooses to threaten him with expulsion and detention unless Saul is allowed to get on his plane. And then Warner gets to deliver one of the hour’s first of many wish fulfillment moments. Turning to the politician who put party over country, and Russian interests before American ones, he utters, “Get the fuck out of my White House.” Boom.
Saul’s team succeeds at extracting Simone from Moscow, Elizabeth Keane is certain to be reinstated after Simone spills the beans on the record before Congress, and Carrie has a nice long stay in Russian custody where she’ll spend what will feel like lifetimes before seeing her daughter again. This is everything I predicted would happen last week, and I’m okay with that. Because it’s what needed to happen for the epic two-season journey to feel worthwhile and for justice, in the true legal sense, to be reached as well as any storytelling catharsis. But the funny thing is that this all happened in 30 minutes. It was only the first half of an hour-long finale. And what came next is where the shock, and maybe the solitary misstep, is broached.
This begins with the aftermath of Keane regaining her presidency. We are given a moment where Keane is allowed to individually thank, cheer, and genuinely commiserate with Saul’s team. Even though the only one whose name I recall off-hand is Max, the level of work they have done, and the chance to not just meet but genuinely connect with the commander-in-chief, is both revelatory for the characters and healing for the audience. After all, it feels like a lifetime in real-time since we’ve seen a POTUS who actually respects and appreciates her intelligence community, as opposed to demeans and attempts to undermine them in the press and on social media on a near daily basis.
This is also remarkable considering Keane began season 6 as an anti-intelligence dove who showed a real disdain for this community, and yet now she is trying to finally understand them. All except Max, who seems aloof and disinterested, as he does in all things. Actually, we know exactly what holds his interest: the fate of Carrie Mathison. Keane promises to do everything in her power to bring Carrie back, but (for now) it remains a mystery as to what that would look like.
To be sure, Saul tries to cut a deal with the Russian ambassador, who strangely got to keep his head, but apparently Moscow, and presumably Putin, are furious. They will not even entertain the idea of trading Carrie Mathison for months after she made such fools out of them. In turn, I am left to wonder why Keane doesn’t visit Carrie’s daughter and sister’s home? She clearly knows she owes Carrie a debt, perhaps more than anyone else realizes since only Carrie was there when Keane phased her out and refused to even talk to her before terminating her in favor of gestapo-esque purge. Also I would, for once, like to see Maggie back onscreen, just for her to understand the depth of Carrie’s sacrifice and how she prevented a Russian plot to undermine the very republic.
As it is though, we have two interesting scenarios: Keane meets with Warner and then she meets with Paley. In the former’s case, he is used as a narrative vessel to preach common sense. If Keane wants to rebuild her political capital, then returning to Congress to ask for strict sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their interference is a no-brainer. And it shouldn’t have taken someone who is only keeping his job so as to prevent another national crisis to suggest this. Keane makes a jab about Congress being ineffectual, but even in real life our do-nothing legislators passed sanctions against Russia in retaliation for an assault on our democratic process. It’s the easy layup in politics… even though our actual president only begrudgingly signed them into law and then initially attempted to refuse enforcing any of them.
However, it is good politics to take an easy win on this in order to build a bridge to Congress for later. Hence the more compelling scene is Keane meeting with Paley. Because, ah yes, we had our next bit of improbable wish fulfillment when Paley, an elected official who tacitly colluded with Russians and endangered American lives, got hauled off in handcuffs for his complicity. If only. If only. Nevertheless, he gives Keane a real sob story about being a lifelong public servant and only wishing that his wife and children were allowed to keep his pension so they won’t be destitute.
It’s an odd scenario, because I am unaware exactly how far a president’s powers extend in this scenario. Obviously the president has the ability to issue a pardon, but on no planet is Paley going to get a pardon, especially from Elizabeth Keane. But does she have the ability to sign off on whether Paley’s family receives his pension? I am unsure. In any case, Elizabeth Marvel is fabulously stone-faced and vulture-eyed, enjoying watching her prey squirm. And Dylan Baker, in turn, does a fine job at last minute humanizing his slimy useful idiot, tears and all. But all Keane has for this man is spit to mingle with the tears on his cheeks.
This scene provides at least one pretext for Keane’s subsequent resignation. After she savored the humiliation and despair of her political foe, where she could not bring herself to even imagine his children’s plight, all she left wwith was pleasure in watching saliva drip down the once ever so proud man’s face. Afterward she drives by the Jefferson and Washington memorials and would seemingly be questioning the lack of presidential character, or even basic decency, that would allow her to do that to Paleey.
It thus mayhaps leads to a fine sentiment as she reveals to the nation that she is all too aware of the fractured and ugly state of discourse in this country, as well as the role she helped in creating it. She even admits that she overreached in her anger by arresting all those CIA and NSA operatives at the end of season 6. Apparently both viewers in the fictional America and a real one are asked to consider Keane’s explanations as sincere, and decide whether it’s enough to forgive her for her failings.
I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I do believe that when the season 6 finale was written, Alex Gansa had planned to turn her from being a parable for Hillary Clinton into being a parable for Donald Trump. Her sense of entitlement and extralegal rule-bending was meant to horrify us. However, in the year since that episode was written, creative influences changed and interests turned to fully exploring the Russia of it all. As such, we are left with two wildly different interpretations of Elizabeth and must, on faith of what the series gives us to go on, assume that the one that began season 6 and ended season 7 is the real thing who had a momentary lapse in incredibly poor judgement.
That may be, but even so I cannot wrap my head around her choice to resign the presidency. In essence this is what Russia wanted to happen. While she is not doing it due to a political conspiracy, it looks visibly weak or as if she’s covering something up in any real world scenario. This is because presidents don’t resign unless they absolutely have to. The kind of character (and ego) that is attracted to the Oval Office cannot grasp doing such a thing and has an inability to accept the indignation of it and history’s opaque judgement. Keane has a rare opportunity to relaunch her presidency and even relative national support since between an assassination attempt and a Russian plot against her, she looks like a survivor who has had international forces literally conspiring against her.
Yet she throws this all away so people might start being nicer to each other? I understand this is Homeland writers writing a literal paean to the people, delivered beautifully by Elizabeth Marvel, but I wouldn’t buy it in real life, and I don’t buy it in the show either. I suspect behind the scenes and off-camera, this is part of an even bigger, or some would say nobler, sacrifice. When she met Saul’s team she told them she’d do whatever is in her power to bring Carrie Mathison home. And given that Carrie saved her life just four or five months ago and has now laid down on a grenade for her, I believe her.
Is there a chance that she established this as part of a trade to get Carrie back? She’ll relinquish the presidency to save the life of the woman she owes too much as it is? Perhaps I’m just searching for answers where none exist, but I cannot rationalize a president stepping down from power after 100 days in order to suggest a lesson about good civics.
And if that is the case, Keane might have buyer’s remorse given how Carrie returns. Because while all these shenanigans are going down in D.C., Carrie is given a slow descent into Hell in Moscow. It begins pleasantly enough, where she is allowed to read books and be treated nicely by a jailor that was obviously handpicked to prey on her emotions. Yevgeny confirms as much when he mentions the nice warden while implicitly threatening torture; he wants Carrie to betray her country on-camera and claim the Simone Martin scandal is a hoax.
Carrie is right to decline, obviously, but I am surprised that Yevgeny did not take a more direct approach in asking for her cooperation. Russians are notorious in their avoidance of the Geneva Convention when it comes to “interviewing” suspected spies and traitors. And Carrie has made a fool of Yevgeny personally, as well as the whole of the SVR. We’d imagine her interviews after psychological warfare failed would appear closer to Red Sparrow than what we ended up with.
Yet while conceding that avoidance of barbarism, what Yevgeny does to Carrie is sickeningly believable in the long-run and puts where season 8 will go completely up in the air. He threatens to deny her the medication she needs for her bipolar disorder if she doesn’t betray her country, even if it’d be only under duress. And sure enough, the lusty jailor who is obviously being watched isn’t slipping her medication; it’s just a sugar pill. Carrie is doomed if she doesn’t talk, and we’ve known Carrie for too long to think she’d give up America, even if it never really cared about her. She’s been delivered into mental illness hell before while chasing the bad guys, so this is her final Stations of the Cross. A grim and uncompromising one.
At the end of the episode, Saul is able to trade for Carrie seven months after she was taken. Given the relatively brief time between her capture and the trade, I feel like some other compromise had to be met. But maybe the SVR just knew they already broke Carrie and were giving back what, they assumed, was an empty shell?
It doesn’t look like too much more on this bridge of spies. Saul stands by the American ambassador to Russia, finally wearing his Papa Bear face for the first time in non-Frannie related matters since season 4. He was the one who roped Carrie into this, begging for her to come with him to Russia. It’d only be for three days. And then he signed off on her gonzo plan to get Simone Martin out of Russia in an order to save America, and Carrie’s conscience from having been a “useful idiot.”
Well, it was mission accomplished, yet it felt nothing like that as Saul watched his ward, his protégé, and perhaps his best friend run, not walk, across that bridge spooked and frazzled. One look into her eyes said everything: Carrie didn’t recognize Saul and has spent months, more than half a year, sliding into the unchecked abyss.
I don’t think Carrie is gone, but the Carrie we know and root for is at the very least on a long, long sabbatical. In fact, I don’t think we’ll see her again. At this point, season 8 may very well be about saving Carrie from her own demons. She’s given everything to country and has lost everything as a result. Or at least the capacity to see beyond her own shadows. I hope season 8 will have a happy ending for Carrie. I really do. Yet it is hard to imagine what that could possibly be.
For now, Saul owes her plenty, as does Keane. And viewers do too, as she brought about a kind of catharsis for Russian conspiracies that we’ll likely not know in real life. As such her sacrifice has resulted in a sterling season finale. It’s not perfect, and I’m going to have to remove a star for the otherwise inexplicable resignation of Elizabeth Keane from the White House. This, however, does not stop me from recognizing what a well-engineered and ultimately eye-opening ride the last two seasons have been. In the process, they have put Homeland back near the top of cable dramas, where it belongs, on the eve of its final season. And as we look to the future, for better or worse we’re like Carrie: all in.
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