This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 7 Episode 2
When last week pinned the seeming fate of the republic on Carrie Mathison’s shoulders, I for one did not see that turn season 7 would take in its second episode. Carrie—already being dubiously questioned as “crazy”—ended up on one of the most perverse and unexpected narrative tangents this side of Stranger Things Season 2: While trying to prove that the White House Chief of Staff was in on the covert murder of the lead conspirator against President Keane, Carrie wound up getting molested and almost raped by an internet troll who she then beat within an inch of his worthless life.
Given the state of headlines these days, it certainly was a sequence that aptly reflects our current “homeland,” but I’m torn on what it means in the context of the show. Beyond providing Claire Danes with a properly epic sequence in which she roars, “I’m CIA, motherfucker,” the story at least has a certain narrative cleverness to it. The odious situation of getting slapped with Malware is greatly intensified when you’re a spook who is illegally spying on a government official. Instead of having to get a new computer, she has to either pay a blackmailer or risk having her illegal activities leaked onto the internet.
As a conceit, this is a sadistic but cunning twist to throw into the familiar “Carrie watches someone over a computer monitor.” It is another thing though to spend much of the sophomore episode with Carrie being blackmailed into strip-teasing a vile mouth-breather who undoubtedly projects a little too much when he keeps calling Max “the loser.” He is even too dumb to cross reference who this person is, as she would be in national headlines and he has all her information. If he had, he might’ve been able to consider other reasons why she was spying on the Chief of Staff—although Carrie’s excuse gave some illumination on how David Wellington is clearly a stand-in for Elliot Spitzer, which is a nice satirical touch to throw into his backstory.
So we are treated to a scene of Carrie fooling the fool into a situation where he thinks he has all the power as he is wrapping his rapey hands around Carrie’s shoulders—and she then unleashes the fury of the #MeToo movement into the fiercest ass-kicking we’ve seen her ever give. Carrie was never Jack Bauer (thank God), but every viewer knew she could take this dweeb before the scene occurred, and when it did, it admittedly was a cathartic breakdown of how a lot of women are probably feeling about the culture these days.
Then again, the Emmy winning Homeland is as certain a piece of furniture in that landscape as anything, and it is putting attempted coerced sex and assault into its narrative. While done in a somewhat thoughtful manner, The Handmaid’s Tale, this show is not. Be that as it may, Danes is a powerhouse actor and she makes both Carrie’s humiliating subjugation and then subsequent revenge a thing of awe. Also, at the very, very least, it is an important reminder to Carrie and viewers alike: 4Chan is the worst. Like, never go there.
It also was a respite from the way too abused note of her doubting sister and brother-in-law. Granted, Carrie is abusing their hospitality to an absurd degree. And the Brodys thought her presence was intrusive? Nevertheless, her sister is right “we’ve been here before.” And Carrie turned out to be vindicated when everyone, including family, thought she was crazy to obsess over the war hero who really was actually a traitor (and then something else). And her sister apparently is okay with telling a shrink that Carrie just saw a good friend die, yet fails to mention that she and the good friend were saving the life of the president. So when Carrie says she is worried about the fate of the country… why is no one in her personal life listening to her again?
At the very least Keane and Wellington are being smarter about how they’re implementing the systematic erosion of our institutions this week. Instead of having a blanket “purge” of civil servants in the intelligence community—or Tweeting derisive things about your own law enforcement bureau while you’re on the toilet—Keane and her right-hand man see the easy political opportunity that comes in releasing “the 200” and making one of their most notable political prisoners, Saul Berenson, a national security advisor.
So the obvious question is whether or not it is plausible for Saul to agree to be Keane’s photo opportunity? Yes and no. I think it was prudent writing to have Saul refuse the position unless Keane released all 200 prisoners in her asinine sweep. It shows Saul got something big out of agreeing to join the administration. Still, he had it so clearly right last week. To work with these people is akin to appeasing any other despot out to devour more power. While no serious journalist or lawyer would openly state without evidence that the president murdered a general in the dark (we’ll get to O’Keefe momentarily), it is too blatantly suspicious to be treated simply as a coincidence. And as a longtime CIA company man, Saul knows better than to believe in coincidences.
Even if he is giving Keane the benefit of the doubt, the possibility that she had an enemy murdered should cause his blood to run cold. And any doubt on whether he can “steer” this administration to be more presidential should instantly go out the window when Wellington reveals they want a National Security Advisor to personally hunt down O’Keefe.
Legally speaking, Keane is right to not pardon or overlook O’Keefe, he was part of a systematic effort to undermine our government institutions and was complicit in an illegal conspiracy, even if he did not know about the assassination attempt. But the way she will use Saul to bring him to justice is the first red flag that shows there is no way this chief executive can be normalized or softened. She is who she is, and that is apparently someone who is vindictive and believing in that she is above the law. Saul should know this. After all, she threw him in prison without cause.
In that vein, her threat to Sen. Dylan Baker was chilling. She and Wellington suggested typical partisan language of “going to war” and destroying him “next November” if he doesn’t shut down his committee. And to be fair, he apparently isn’t above nasty politics, having used the same kind of toxic language about how Arizonians would treat Keane that many a conservative politician indulged about President Barack Obama. She wouldn’t be “safe” in their state. Hahaha. But unlike Obama, she is an actual despot in the making who is using the levers of her office to overstep her boundaries—like asking a U.S. Senator to stop his investigation.
The look of contempt Baker has for her doing that is fitting, but methinks he is none too aware of what a threat from Keane really means. She and Wellington have already murdered once, and if his committee starts digging up real dirt… well accidents happen in D.C. Then again, given he is a member of the opposition party, his “elimination” would not impede an investigation. But hey, some presidents fire FBI directors to save their own skin too, even though any reasonable adviser would warn that is a horrible idea.
Meanwhile Homeland’s parallel universe continues to echo and stray from our reality in fascinating ways. For instance, the FBI is also under siege in Homeland’s world, but this time it is from a group of Americans who don’t feel like their mandate is threatened—they’re angry at who has it in the White House. And honestly, they should be. As awful as O’Keefe is, his conspiracy theories at the beginning of the episode are on-point. Wellington found a ludicrous way to murder a general who the President of the United States demanded be executed by the military. O’Keefe is also right that he is trapped “on the fringe” when he is forced to hide among America’s heartland.
Obviously the people who idolize O’Keefe in this subplot are meant to be stand-ins for a certain type of voter, but some of their concerns are entirely justified. The Democratic president on this series is a disgrace to her office. Yet they also are talking about “the next” Civil War, and use Keane’s face as target practice when they go outside to fire their overcompensating guns. I’m sure that’s happened to the posters of many Democratic presidents over the years in real life. Language like “war” and “rebel” (in either inflection) are very, very dangerous. And obviously the worst possible outcome will occur on Homeland. Rednecks versus the FBI, and gun nuts tattooing the words “rebel” beneath images of Rush Limbaugh/Alex Jones stand-ins is a tinderbox waiting for a match. One shudders at the thought of Saul possibly lighting it next week.
Also credit must be given to Jake Weber as O’Keefe. Originally a small guest spot, Homeland has made him a full-fledged character with his own subplot. Wisely so because he remains terrific at channeling the hypocrisy and faux-outrage of rightwing radio without it feeling like a gag or satire. There is something scary to his flights of fancy, especially as it is made explicit this week that he is aware that so much of it is crap when he calls his most loyal fans “the fringe” (or the fact he can’t fire a gun without knocking himself on his ass). Yet his conspiracy theory nonsense is true this time. The murky ambiguity of this where the phony opportunist is right, and the wrongfully targeted president is nonetheless a wannabe fascist is a bizarre fun house mirror of our times. It is an entirely unrelated fiction, but there is a cold truthfulness to its bleak vision.
Like Carrie on a 4Chan board, we can’t pull our eyes away, even if we’d want to.