Part 2: Presidential Politics on Homeland
When one discusses politics in Homeland, one can’t help but notice the clear demarcations between it and 24. After the first season, every subsequent day on 24 made the focus on the White House as critical as what was happening to Jack Bauer. This was often a great strength of the series (David Palmer was one of the greatest President in TV history and the storyline involving Charles Logan helped make Season arguably the series best one) but it could also be a great weakness. When the 25th amendment was invoked in Day 2, it was a powerful moment. When it came up again under different circumstances in Day 6, it really seemed like the series was running on fumes.
For most of Homeland’s run, however, the Presidency remained unknown. In fact, we never actually saw a President until Season 6. Before we go into detail there, however, it’s worth looking at the first two seasons.
The major terrorist plot at the center of Season 1 involved Brody and Tom Walker, both of whom had been turned by Abu Nazir, to coordinate an attack that would kill much of the Washington hierarchy, including Vice-President Walden, who was about to launch a run for the White House. Walden had been head of the CIA several years earlier, and had unleashed a drone attack that killed dozens of civilians, including Nazir’s youngest son which would result in an escalation on Nazir’s attacks and cement Brody’s decision to become a terrorist. When Brody faltered at the last moment — implored by the words of his daughter — he tried to use the fact that he now had the ear of the future President as a task going forward. Had this actually played out, I believe the series could have permanently been recognized as one of the greatest in history. Instead, much of the political intrigue led to some truly huge blunders.
Rather than focus on Brody and Walden’s relationship, Gordon and company spent much of Season 2 dealing with the relation between Dana and the Vice President’s son, apparently not having learned the lessons of Kim Bauer in 24. Even this would have been excusable had the storyline gone anywhere. But after seeming to reach a critical moment, the writers dumped the story in the middle of the season. Worse, they carried with a storyline where Brody was called upon to give the code to the Vice President’s pacemaker so that Nazir could hack it and murder the man — which still didn’t seem to be his endgame. Perhaps because the entire storyline was so messy, the writers chose to abandon American politics entirely for the next three seasons. This may have helped immensely because when they dove into it during Season 6, they came in guns blazing.
Throughout most of Season 6, it was shown that Carrie was an unofficial advisor to then President-Elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel, doing superb work). Throughout the season, public and private attempts of both the army and the intelligence agencies were done to undermine the President, including a coordinated effort by right-wing talk show Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber) to public undercut her and to hack servers to artificially build a following. By the end of the season, as I mentioned in the previous article, it was clear the agency was planning a coup and assassinated much of the President’s inner circle, including her chief of staff.
Even after the coup was thwarted, O’Keefe continued to act as though the people were the offended party. Several military and intelligence official were imprisoned, but Carrie was still trying to play peacemaker with those that were still standing. Then in the last minutes of the final, 200 intelligence personnel were arrested and held without trial. The last minutes of Season 6 showed Carrie shouting to Keane through a closed door, while she sat in the Oval Office, pokerfaced.
Season 7 began with Carrie back in D.C., trying to undermine the woman she spent all of Season 6 trying to save. The President seemed to be on the verge of becoming the monster the intelligence agency had painted her as, barely taking advice from new Chief of Staff David Wellington (Linus Roache). Yet part of us still sympathized with her. When Wellington tried to explain the military’s code to her, she blasted out: “The last time they tried to overthrow the government was never!” Wellington spent the early episodes trying to make things smoother, arranging for ‘the 200’ to be released and Saul became her National Security Adviser. But while all of this was going on, there was a new threat: the Russians, embodied by Gromov (Costa Ronin), who spent all of Season 7 manipulating people to undermine Keane’s presidency.
And the way it was done more than illustrates just how partisan politics have made our democratic society as susceptible as it is. Carrie spent much of Season 7, trying to convince Senator Sam Paley (Dylan Baker) that Keane was the enemy. When the depth of the Russian plot was reveal, we learned that Paley was part of it — under the name ‘Useful Idiot’. And even learning the true depths of the plot, Paley spent much of the second half of the season, doing exactly what the Russians would’ve wanted. Setting up a plan to impeach the President, and trying to convince the Vice President (Beau Bridges) to assume command from a leader he just didn’t trust. (Whether this is a message about sexism or partisan politics was never made clear; it’s worth noting that even when the climatic mission to Russia was going on; Paley was urging the Vice President not to back it up.)
And perhaps it is clear that this happened during the final moments of the seventh season, appropriately titled: “Paean to the People.” Keane has been restored to the Presidency, and is about to give a speech about sanctions on Russia. Then she tells Wellington that she’s ‘just going to wing it.” In a speech that should’ve put Marvel at the front of the Emmy speech, she spoke passionately, not about the crisis and threat, but ‘how easy it is. Right now, it seems democracy dies when we’re not looking… Right now, half of you don’t believe a word, I say. Effective midnight tonight, I shall resign the Presidency of the United States. Some will say I’m doing this because I’m weak. I’m not. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. Some will say it’s because I’m a woman. Well, if it takes a woman to shock the system, then I’ll do it. A new president takes office tonight. Pray for him.”
But if there has been a consistency to Homeland the last few years, it’s just how fragile the body politic is. President Warner (Beau Bridges), in an effort to try and restore unity, reached across the aisle and picked a Republican to serve as his Vice President. Unfortunately Hayes was an ambitious politician utterly unprepared for higher office, wanting greater responsibility, but unable to handle it. We still don’t know how the final season will end, but one can’t help but think of Saul’s haunting words to Carrie late this season: ‘The truth isn’t much good if no one will listen.” One can only hope those words won’t serve as a death knell for Homeland’s America — or our own.