This Homeland review contains major spoilers.
Homeland Season 7 Episode 5
Russia, Russia, Russia. It seems that whatever timeline you exist in, that’s what we’re always destined to obsess about. Whether the 2016 election fell for a fictional TV creation or if it elected Elizabeth Keane to the highest office in the land, it seems Homeland suggests all roads lead back to Rome… by way of Moscow.
That is the big takeaway from tonight’s hour, with Saul beginning to sound the alarm about Ruskie attempts to destabilize the U.S., and then David Wellington’s French girlfriend turning out to be perhaps not so French after all. It is a lot to chew on, but when both narratives were (mostly) firing on all cylinders tonight, the result was a taut hour that continues to build on the momentum created by season 6. It appears that as our own real world becomes more uncertain, inspiration somehow finds its way into Showtime writing rooms.
Hence, how two somewhat disparate plots converged with sudden clarity at the end of “Active Measures.” The more compelling component of this being of course how Elizabeth Keane and company react to having their very own mini-Waco in her First Hundred Days. Granted most viewers know it’s the result of the bellicose cowardice of Brett O’Keefe, but a president can’t really blame a tiny man who was on the side taking fire from the FBI. Saul at least gives O’Keefe one last good shaming though before his inevitable court date return later in the season.
In the meantime, everyone is focused on stopping Virginia from rioting over the 14 dead separatists—three of whom were only children. Last week I dreaded what we would find once the smoke cleared, but with all those kids running around while bullets flew, there is little surprise about the aftermath. Now we are in the surreal situation where it is an angry crowd of white protestors who are on the verge of being what law enforcement and the media would deem “rioters.” The irony is not lost on the series that with the shoe on the other political foot, things could turn into utter chaos in Richmond… which is helpfully remembered as the capital of the Confederacy in tonight’s episode.
So Keane has the fairly ludicrous idea of enlisting the service of the widow of the FBI agent who shot (but did not kill) a teenage boy and his dog, and both commanding and begging her to attend the lily white Virginian memorial. At first this seemed like a pretty asinine play to my eyes—an attempt to almost shame her political dissidents when simply attending two memorials would have been an appropriate response for the POTUS. However, she confronts the widow, who is noticeably a woman of color, and stresses that only by attempting to extend an olive branch could they defuse the powder keg of animosity in Richmond.
It’s a bold request, especially because she had no way of knowing that there was a woman like Mary Elkins at the service. We understand from last week that Mary came to despise the falsity of Brett O’Keefe while her husband chased those fantasies into his grave. Yet if Mary had not been there, Keane’s gamble of sending in an FBI widow to a conservative “martyrs” funeral could have been the exact match she was hoping to avoid. Yet the woman whose son was first shot, and who lost her husband and undoubtedly friends and neighbors, is also the one who made the widows feel welcome inside the church.
The political optics of it, and how it prevented this turning into a disaster, was so dramatically satisfying and urgent that it is easy to see why Keane and Wellington ignored Saul, for now, about the telltale signs of Russian interference in the false reporting of the Elkins kid dying unattended in the hospital. Last week I just assumed the photographer was a conservative media pot-stirrer, but it didn’t cross my mind that Homeland was going to be pirouetting back into the land of Tchaikovsky. Saul even pays a visit to a Russian frenemy who was once our foe in season 5 (notably Homeland’s worst year), yet who is now giving Saul counsel on Russian attempts to destabilize foreign powers.
Saul tells Keane that the Russian menace is real, and that the fake news created around Elkins is uncannily similar to misinformation spread by Russian state media about Ukrainian officials in the run-up to Putin’s land-grab. Keane and Wellington seem open to considering it but dismiss addressing such problems for the time being. Initially, this caused me to ponder whether Homeland is going to pivot to the most salacious of real-world speculation and suggest that Keane is a Russian puppet.
No, it does not fit her character at all. Besides the lies created out of Virginia were positioned against her and the FBI. Rather the Russians are just trying to spread insecurity in the U.S. So why is Keane so dismissive? Presumably this might be the show’s indictment of the Obama administration and political establishment in 2016, who were aware of Russian meddling in our elections and still had a muted, or certainly ineffective, response to the brewing crisis. Keane is so focused on preventing law enforcement from being forced to open fire on an angry crowd that she doesn’t have time to think about Russia. Saul will be the voice of a brave intelligence community falling on the deaf ears of a distracted, liberal government.
Assuming of course Wellington isn’t a mole.
Indeed, in the other storyline of the night, it’s revealed that his secret liaison partner not only delivered $50,000 in payoffs to a prison guard, but that she might be in deeper than even Wellington suspects. Personally, I think Wellington is an unwitting asset, an obliviously helpful source of information who coos about how hard his day is as Chief of Staff to a girlfriend who has more than just a personal interest in the situation. (But who is developing quite a slew of opportunities to blackmail him.)
The insidiousness of this becomes apparent, because much of the episode is about Carrie, Dante, and Max assembling an A-team of off-the-books spies to look into the comings-and-goings of Wellington’s mistress. There is a lot of shorthand used to introduce these blokes, because Homeland has so giddily killed off Carrie’s professional support system over the last seven seasons, that Max and Saul are all who’s left, and for whatever reason the series enjoys keeping Carrie and Saul fairly separated these days.
So we are introduced to a new amiable crew, who I am still learning the names of. There is the hot head, and the cool customer, but the important ones appear to remain Carrie, Dante, and Max. Dante even calls the operation for a few crucial minutes after the rest of the team tries to terrorize and blackmail Simone, claiming they are aware she delivered $50,000 to a prison guard the day before a three-star general wound up dead while in custody. They then demand $100,000 from her.
Methinks asking for money she clearly does not have is a Carrie Mathison touch, who is probably still sore from being almost blackmailed for $20,000 a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, after they cut Simone free with incentive to go running to Wellington in hopes of her spilling the beans about their plan, what they instead wind up with is her “losing” one bug, and then forgetting another when Carrie drops one in her purse at a bar, and Simone then leaves that accessory in an Uber.
Once is bad luck, but after two bugs are disposed of, I was already suspicious that Simone had more spycraft cunning than she lets on—or than what Carrie was still rather oddly assuming. And sure enough, when she gets back to Wellington’s home, instead of revealing she was tied to a chair, beaten, and threatened with blackmail, she acts like nothing is wrong and then proceeds to make casual love to the White House Chief of Staff.
Simone must be somehow related to the actual Russians on the show—why else have Saul suspicious of his informant’s new paramour, Kira?—and as such, this goes a lot further than just some fake news of a kid in a hospital bed.
The wheels are turning, and when this season is over, it’s anyone’s guess how much the country’s executive branch will be crushed under its weight. Amusingly, the show is also blurring our loyalties further. Keane’s actions at the end of season 6 and at the beginning of this year truly were tyrannical, and it is only a matter of time before she loses her grip on the center again. Especially if Dante provides enough intel for Sen. Dylan Baker to haul Wellington before a congressional panel with pointed questions of espionage and murder. But Keane and Wellington are still Americans, and the threat of a Russian influence makes viewers’ allegiances a blur. So imagine what that is doing to Carrie, who can’t keep track of how many uppers or downers she’s taking?
That uncomfortable ambiguity, which is only continuing to frost over, is making season 7 one of Homeland’s very best vintages. And as we are nearing the halfway point, it remains an open mystery about what will happen when someone finally begins to pull its cork in the next few weeks.