Television After 9/11: An Ongoing Series
Homeland Concluded: The Last Three Seasons and How It Mirrored — And Predicted- American Politics
For the most part during the first half of the series Homeland had dealt with terrorism while mostly not dealing with Presidential politics. However in the final three seasons the show began to look directly into this world in ways that may have seemed fictional but now smack of prescience.
In Season 6 Carrie is living in New York running a charity that helps those unfairly targeted by the government. She is also caring for Peter Quinn — who in what was by far the biggest shock of Season 6 was still alive. Rupert Friend’s performance in Season 6 was one of the greatest ones in the entire series. He’s clearly a shell of his former self, brain damaged and not at all grateful for Carrie saving his life. He’s a step behind everybody else and he knows it.
Carrie is also serving as an unofficial aid to the President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) the first woman president who lost her son to Iraq. Her views on retracting troops in the Middle greatly trouble the men in intelligence like Dar Adal, who says in the first episode: “She’s a menace.” I don’t think anybody could have foreseen what came next.
Gradually as Season 6 unfolded, it becomes clear that the military and intelligence community — in conjunction with conservative media, voiced by Brent O’Keefe (Jake Weber) are trying to undermine the President with the purpose of removing her from office. The further along the season progresses — and this was written in 2016 — it’s kind of stunning how on point the writers would be on future events. The intelligence community is manipulating social media to make it look like American disapproves far more than it does; the right-wing media is increasingly vituperative of everything Keane does, and loud and increasingly violent crowds assemble around the hotel where Keane is living prior to the inauguration.
Throughout the season Quinn plays a key role — Dar abducts him in order to keep him safe without knowledge Quinn has been marked for assassination. He uses resourceful means to escape and get back to Carrie and finds out that an assassination team has been dispatched to New York. The final episode is arguably the most shattering of the entire series — Dar, who was never behind the idea of assassination, warns Carrie of what is happening moments before the President’s immediate entourage is blown up. Quinn and Carrie help get the President to a vehicle ahead of a gauntlet. Then knowing full what is awaiting Quinn says: “Hold on” and drives Carrie and Keane to safety while taking seven bullets to the chest. In the aftermath, Keane says: “That man just saved our lives. What was his name?” Still in shock, Carrie says simply: “Peter Quinn.”
The denouement to the episode is even more shocking than the climax. Carrie has a meeting with intelligence about a series of high-profile arrests and tries to assure them things will be normal. Saul visits Adal in prison and asks him why he participated. “I don’t know,” he says. “There just seems to be something dangerous about her.” Then at home, Carrie receives a call from Saul — who is in the process of being arrested himself along with 200 other high ranking intelligence officers. Carrie runs to the White House and knocks on the door to the Oval Office. We freeze on Keane’s face utterly immobile.
Season 7 begin three months later, and both the country and Carrie are in utter upheaval. Carrie is now living back in DC with her sister and her mental condition, which has been stable the last few seasons, has worsened. The medication she takes for her bipolar condition is no longer effective which makes her wonder whether her own stability makes her the right person to handle being an insider to a key Senator Intelligence Committee (memorably portrayed by Dylan Baker)
Keane herself seems to be spinning out. Angry at the lack of justice by the military, her new chief of staff David Wellington (Linus Roache in one of his best roles) is trying to help guide her presidency back from the brink. He arranges the release of ‘the 200’ and has Saul named National Security Adviser. No sooner does Saul take the office than he has to deal with a domestic crisis — Brent O’Keefe has been in flight and is hiding out in rural Virginia. (In one of the better digs at right wing media, Keefe is basically all talk and no action: he has to be shown how to shoot a gun.) The standoff ends in a shootout that leaves many dead and eventually Saul comes to realize that this is a maneuver by the Russians particularly by a man named Gromov (Costa Ronin)
Much of the last two seasons — Season 7 in particular — deals primarily with the role of Russia in its desire to undermine America and how little work it really has to do in that effect. It is clear that the new guard has no patience for any of the old Cold War rules that so many believed in, and as the series makes clear over and over, the Russians are not entirely wrong for being so bitter at us for not only destroying their way of life but for the propaganda we put out that we were the good guys. It points out just how easy is to manipulate not just social media but so many of the Americans in the political system. In the middle of Season 7 Sam Paley (Baker) learns of the Russian plot and that he is a part of it, coded as a ‘Useful Idiot’ Not only does he not back away from his challenges to Keane, when the Vice President (Beau Bridges) ends up taking power in part because of his manipulations, he goes out of his way to try and undermine the mission against Russia, purely out of his own spite for a President he does not like. It’s hard to look at the actions of Paley now and not see it mirrored in far too many elected official these days.
The seventh season ends with Carrie managing to extract the Russian mole responsible for so much of the plot but at the cost of her own freedom. This is far from the biggest shock of the episode though. In the final minutes Keane makes one of the most profound and shocking speeches of the entire series in which she deplores the fall of democracy around the world as well as her own:
“Right now, half of you don’t believe a word I say. At midnight tonight, I shall resign the office of the Presidency. 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.” Marvel should have earned an Emmy nomination for this episode just as Friend should’ve gotten one for the previous season.
The final minute of the episode involves Carrie finally being released back to Saul after months in Russian custody. She has been off her meds for months and seems a shell of her former self. No one trusts her any more, which will be critical in the final season.
In Season 8, the series dealt with the possibility of peace in Afghanistan. Saul, still acting as National Security Adviser, now finds himself negotiating with the Pakistani leader who was responsible for so much chaos and death in Season 4 and trying to find the head of the Taliban — the same man who held Saul prisoner for days that season. Strangely enough and perhaps combined with the weariness of war, the Taliban leader is willing to listen to reason and because of their time together Saul now feels he can talk to him.
Carrie ends up back in Afghanistan trying to help Saul because of her prior relationship with his second in command. However she seems to have no clear memory of the months in captivity and is now viewed with complete distrust from everybody except Saul. This doesn’t improve one bit when Gromov shows up in Kabul and claims to have a prior relationship with Carrie.
There’s a lot going on in Season 8 — the central action deals with the Presidents of Afghanistan and the United States helicopter going down after mentioning peace talks — but what may be the biggest takeaway from the series is that America would much rather have war than make peace. Before his death, we learn that the new President has reached across the aisle for a Vice President who may have eyes for his job. When the Vice President sees the President make his declaration of peace, rather than support him, he thinks it simply something he’s trying to do for reelection. When Hayes becomes President, it is obviously from beginning to end he is unfit for the job and is willing to take advice from absolutely the worst people. These include the new President of Afghanistan, who flatters him despite having been a Taliban supporter and John Zabel, an adviser from a Republican administration. (He’s played by Hugh Darcy, Claire Danes’ real-life husband. Ironically, they’re never once in the same scene). Zabel is clearly one of the architects of the Iraq war and is constantly urging force over any ideas Wellington or Saul may have. The possibility that this peace could lead to a full blown nuclear conflict doesn’t bother him.
Perhaps the clearest statement of how Gordon’s America views foreign policy comes in the final episode. Saul comes to Zabel and tells him the truth — there was no grand conspiracy by the Taliban to bring down the helicopter; it was just a faulty turbine. Zabel is momentarily perplexed, and asks for proof. Saul doesn’t have any, but you get the feeling even if he did Zabel would try to work around it. Saul finally says: “Do you want to be responsible for starting another war in the Middle East under false pretenses?” Zabel gives a mini-justification, which he closes by saying: “And it was worth it to take out Saddam.”
In the world of Homeland, the machines of war and the military are all that matter to America. They have driven everybody actions for eight seasons. Carrie even acknowledges as much in the middle of Season 8 when while traveling with Gromov she finds herself in the wreckage of the village she accidentally destroyed back in Season 4. She asks if this is a joke, and Gromov tells the truth: that he had no idea — that going back to the sites of America’s greatest errors is how Russia — and practically everyone else — drives recruiting. Carrie finally admits something she’s been hiding for years that while she initially considered quitting, she did what she always did in the company ;she doubled down and focused on ‘fixing’ the problem. This is how Gordon sees the War on Terror: never admitting mistakes, always trying to clean up a mess you’ve already made by making it worse.
When I saw the final episode of Homeland I was initially unsatisfied by how Gordon and Gansa had wrapped him things up. In retrospect, I actually think they did a far better job than I was willing to admit at the time. Carrie has spent the entire run of the series doing everything she can to change America — using the system, fighting from outside, trying to fix it from within. And every aspect of it demonstrates that it doesn’t want to change, that the old ways of doing things are the only way to do anything. Even Saul, for all his wisdom, is part of this system. The series calls back to Brody’s tape in which he says: “I love my country and swore to protect it from enemies foreign and domestic.” And we’ve known almost since Season 1 just how many people within the system are damaging America abroad.
So in that sense the final flashforward where Carrie has spent the last year and a half abroad in Russia basically giving up all of the flaws in America’s intelligence system — which as the world knows too well are too far reaching and vastly unsupervised — to the public, it does seems like the end to Carrie Matheson’s arc. This is probably the only way she can truly protect the country she took an oath to defend. And as we learn in the final minutes — when she reveals that she has taken the place of Saul’s previous asset in Russia, the one she needed to expose in order to stop war from breaking out — that she has not given on trying to help her country from without as well. The dedication to the book she has written reads: “For my daughter, in the hope that some day she understands.” Based on her actions both covert and overt, the writers clearly think that Carrie is in the end someone we can be proud of.