Homeland s7 ep 12

The first part of this season-ender is largely given over to Operation Exfiltrate Simone. Saul and the team have a plane on the runway in Moscow to which they need to transport Simone-dressed-as-Carrie, while Carrie-dressed-as-Simone runs interference, hoping that she can distract Gromov and his heavies for long enough to allow Saul to get out.

It’s a very well-executed version of a fairly standard plot: as Saul’s van is held by airport security we cut between that and Carrie, being chased by Gromov, ultimately hiding in a railway station. Saul phones Acting President Warner for assistance, which gives us the defining moment of the episode – Senator Paley is in the Oval with Warner, and reminds him that if Simone gets out she will be able to confirm that Keane was right all along, leading to her reinstatement. Warner gives this no more than momentary thought, and intervenes to secure the release of Saul’s party. “Get the fuck”, he snaps at Paley, “out of my White House”, a more profane version of a memorable line in The West Wing pilot. And so Saul’s plane is wheels-up just as Carrie is captured.

Three days later, Simone gives her evidence to a congressional committee, confirming that Russia was indeed trying to destabilise American democracy. Paley has been arrested, and his chief of staff Janet is co-operating with the investigation into him, confirming just how nasty a piece of work she is. I wonder if we’ll see her again? I shouldn’t be surprised. And President Keane is sworn in again. Which is… sort of a happy ending. 

But there are still quite a few loose ends. Carrie is in custody in Russia, and Gromov asks her to provide a recorded statement to camera about how this is all a CIA plot. Carrie of course refuses, and Gromov tells her that her meds will be withheld until she co-operates. Saul is trying to negotiate her release through a prisoner swap, but not getting anywhere. Then Keane gives an unscripted televised address to the nation, in which she indicates that she will be tendering her resignation: the country is divided, and she can’t rule in a situation in which around half the population thinks she’s lying every time she opens her mouth. Wellington at first looks appalled, but then clearly understands. Maybe he thinks he can now get a little more “me-time” with Keane?

And in the final scene, we jump forward seven months: the prisoner exchange has finally been orchestrated, and Saul waits for Carrie at the Estonian/Russian border. However, Carrie shows every sign of having been deprived of her meds: she can barely stand, and doesn’t seem to recognise Saul. It’s a chilly end to what has been, all things considered, a very good season: Homeland’s most vociferous critics tend to be people who haven’t watched it for years, but those of us who are still on board know that the quality has remained high. It seems that the next season will be the last, and there appears to be a possibility that it will be set in Israel. Should be easy enough to avoid controversy, then.

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Homeland s7 ep 11

This is the sort of episode which justifies Homeland’s continued existence. Senator Paley visits Dar Adal, making a welcome return to the show. Dar, who is perhaps the greatest living exponent of knowing how many beans make five, is able to take a quick look at the flight manifest for Saul’s trip to Russia and deduce that it’s a covert operation of some sort. Paley’s increasingly slippery chief of staff, Janet, finds out that Simone is still alive, and that Saul is planning to snatch her. Paley is torn between doing the right thing (keeping quiet) and doing the politically expedient thing (telling the Russians, so that the mission fails and Keane falls); Janet has no such reservations.

In Moscow, meantime, Saul and Carrie are having a diplomatic sit-down with some heavyweight Russian spooks. Saul insists that Gromov attend, with the intention of leaving Simone on her own at the dacha where she’s living. When Operation Get Simone starts, though, Carrie’s team is ambushed, suggesting that someone was tipped off, and Simone is moved to another building. Saul wants to go home, but Carrie insists that they have another go, this time by exploiting divisions in the Russian negotiating group. It sounds like the longest of long shots, and it kind of is; because, in fact, instead of bothering with all that hard work, they discover that one of the Russians, Yakushin, has millions of dollars salted away in American bank accounts, and instead use that to exert pressure on him. Yakushin’s accounts are emptied, and he’s told that he’ll get his money back if the Americans get Simone.

And, in a thrilling sequence, Carrie does just that: while she’s clambering along a window ledge to get to the room in the GRU HQ where Simone is hiding, Yakushin’s men are creating absolute mayhem outside. Carrie successfully persuades Simone to come with her, suggesting that the Russians will now regard her as a liability.

But even if Saul and Carrie successfully smuggle Simone back to America, the landscape there has changed: the Supreme Court has ruled that Keane’s dismissal of some Cabinet members was unlawful, giving VP Beau Bridges his mandate to invoke the 25th Amendment. So he walks into the Oval and relieves Keane of her duties. I have no idea what will happen next week, or even what a happy ending might look like, but this was terrific.

Homeland s7 ep 10

Following Dante’s death, Saul has a new plan: exfiltrate Simone or Yevgeny from Russia, using Carrie’s black ops team to do it, thus providing actual evidence of Russian involvement. However, Carrie herself is in hospital having ECT, after her breakdown in the last episode, which is one reason why she is unable to go to Russia with the team; the other is that she’s about to go into court to fight for custody of Franny, and claims to realise that she’ll need to give her job up if she wants to win.

Meantime, Dante’s death has changed Senator Paley’s mind about Russian involvement – either that or he’s actively working for Russia – and he’s on manoeuvres again, working with some of the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment. However, this can only be done with the signature of Vice-President Warner (a shifty, ambitious Beau Bridges). Chief of Staff Wellington thinks he’s convinced Warner to stick with POTUS, but Warner then meets Paley and is then uncontactable. Fearing the worst, Keane decides to sack some of her Cabinet to ensure that they can’t vote against her. Wellington counsels against it – it will, he says, produce precisely the sort of constitutional instability Russia wants – but she remains determined, even after Warner tells her that if she rescinds the sackings he will continue to support her. But Keane doesn’t like being told what to do, and frankly doesn’t trust Warner anyway, so makes it clear that she’s going to proceed. Whereupon Warner tells her that, in that case, he’s on Team 25th Amendment.

As is generally the case with Homeland, this is all expertly done. But quite a lot of the episode is given over to the custody battle for Franny; it’s reasonably good this week, although I have to say I still prefer the parts of the show which aren’t about Carrie’s mental health or Franny’s living arrangements. Anyway, Carrie reaches a new low: her henchman Anson suggests that the best way of approaching the custody hearing might be to do some oppo research on her sister and brother-in-law, and Carrie agrees, up to and including agreeing to Anson breaking into Maggie’s house to steal the medical records which would demonstrate that Maggie has illegally prescribed medication for Carrie in the past.

Fortunately, as Carrie sits in court listening to a procession of disinterested witnesses laying out, in detail, exactly why she’s not best placed to have custody of Franny, she finally seems to get it, and agrees not to contest Maggie’s custody application. Which means, happily, that she is now free to go back into the field with her band of brothers and snatch Simone, whose whereabouts have now been established. Another slow-burner of an episode, but it gets us to where we need to be for the final two parts.

Homeland s7 ep 9

With three episodes remaining in the season after this one, most of ‘Useful Idiot’ felt like a pause for breath before the action starts again. Simone, having escaped with Yevgeny, has gone to ground. Dante recovers, just about, from being poisoned, and Carrie convinces him that the Russians were responsible. So he provides details of a sort of Twitter Bat-signal which can be used by members of Yevgeny’s network to alert each other. In order for Saul and his team of experts to use this to find out who is part of the network they’ll need to back-door into Twitter’s servers and the personal accounts of users, which is unethical at best and illegal at worst, but President Keane is all, what the hell, and gives the go-ahead, thus continuing her transformation into the sort of President she ran against during the election. Wellington and Saul, meantime, read Paley in to what has been going on; it takes a bit of work, but eventually he realises that he’s been used by the Russians. One would like to think that a few real-life politicians watched with a shudder of recognition; but probably not.

Yevgeny, meantime, has discovered that Dante is in hospital, where he is being very securely guarded. You certainly couldn’t get in to his room just by swiping someone’s security pass… oh. He tells Dante that he was poisoned by Carrie rather than by the Russians; Dante phones Carrie to confirm this, also alerting her to Yevgeny’s presence in the hospital. This call comes at an inopportune time, to say the least: Carrie’s gone to Franny’s school to pick her up, in order to get ahead of Maggie’s application for full custody. But then, in order to deal with the unfolding emergency that Dante tells her about, she hands Franny back to the somewhat startled teacher and heads over to the hospital. I wonder again whether the show is inviting us to judge Carrie more harshly than we would a single father in the same circumstances; it remains the case, though, that Carrie is a terrible mom. 

Anyway, while Yevgeny is suffocating Dante to death with a pillow, Carrie drives away from the school but almost knocks Franny over, and this seems to spark a full-blown breakdown, with added bonus hallucinations involving the deaths of Quinn, Brody, and Aayan. It’s not her first Brody/Aayan hallucination either, and it’s actually quite chilling. In general, though, it’s an episode which rarely stirs itself into anything more than adequacy.

Homeland s7 ep 8

Following the raid at the end of the last episode Dante is in custody at Saul’s secret centre of operations. Carrie invites herself, quickly inspects Saul’s disappointingly monochrome Conspiracy Wall, and demands that she be the one to interrogate Dante, for no good reason that I can see; but Saul, although he is frank about not trusting Carrie, acquiesces. She gets nowhere, and Dante demands an attorney.

Meantime President Keane is visited by Senator Paley and a bipartisan group from his committee. Paley tells her that her Chief of Staff is about to be implicated in the murder of McClendon before his committee, and that she should resign. She declines to do so, although not before asking the visitors whether they seriously think her capable of demanding McClendon’s assassination, to which she doesn’t get the answer for which she was hoping. Following the meeting she goes into conclave with Wellington, who this week isn’t bothering her with love notes disguised as resignation letters; instead, he agrees to put pressure on the Russians to stop Simone from testifying, telling the Russian ambassador that America would regard it as a hostile act if she does. Russia takes this seriously, and Yevgeny is despatched in Simone’s general direction.

At the same time, though, Saul and Carrie come up with a risky but effective strategy: they send in a pretend attorney to poison Dante in the same manner as McClendon, and while he’s lying on the ground gasping for breath he implicates himself and Simone in McClendon’s death, which gives Saul enough to get a warrant to arrest and interview Simone. But Yevgeny gets there first, and although I was expecting Simone to be killed she is instead kissed, and the two of them disappear. Which means that Dante is now the only person in custody who can connect McClendon and the Russians; but he’s in the ER, because his heart stopped as a result of the poison. 

This is all taut, thrilling stuff. But we also need to deal with Franny. At the start of the episode she’s still visibly traumatised by the events of the night before, when she was in a strange house and the doors were kicked down by Saul and his security forces. Carrie’s response is to send her off to school, where she spends all day crying and has to be rescued by Maggie. At this point I was recalling the events of last season, when Franny was actually taken away from Carrie; sure enough, Maggie observes that Carrie’s treatment of her daughter effectively amounts to child abuse, and that if she doesn’t check herself into hospital Maggie will initiate custody proceedings. Carrie’s response to this is predictably unrepentant. It’s possible, I suppose, that Homeland is making a point about how the way in which women are more likely to get landed with caring responsibilities, which in turn makes it more challenging to handle demanding jobs. But on the other hand (a) we can’t really point the finger at Franny’s father here, being as he’s dead; and (b) Carrie really is a terrible mother. Leaving this storyline aside, though, this was an excellent episode.

Homeland s7 ep 7

In what has, so far, been an otherwise startlingly good season of Homeland, there’s a problem this week: Carrie’s daughter Franny. It may be, of course, that having decided a few seasons ago that Carrie and Brody would procreate, the writers are kinda stuck; they can’t kill Franny off, because that’s just too much to heap on one character who’s already had a lot of grief in her life. So Franny’s there, getting in the way, both of Carrie and of the show.

Which is a shame, because otherwise this was an excellent episode, largely because Saul takes charge. To start with he drops in on David Wellington, to inform him that Simone is a Russian operative, and is going to name him as the person behind the assassination of McClendon. Wellington – plausibly – denies knowledge, then goes to ground for much of the episode, emerging only to pen a resignation letter to President Keene. Which is intriguing in itself: there’s a brief intimation of his decision to resign, and then three pages of justification during which he seems to minimise his relationship with Simone. So, presumably, either Keene and Wellington are in, or have been in, a relationship; or the Chief of Staff has romantic feelings for his President? He wants to, uh, serve at the pleasure? Anyway, Keene declines to accept his resignation, and presumably we’ll find out about the rest of it in good time.

Next on Saul’s to-do list is Max: Saul is aware of the search of Dante’s apartment, and arrives at Max’s place with a few heavies, the better to corral Max into Saul’s off-the-books task force of Russian specialists, where Max is to interrogate the material he picked up at Dante’s, and report only to Saul, not Carrie. He finds some evidence that Dante and Simone were, on five occasions, in the same European cities at the same time, but it isn’t quite enough to persuade a Federal judge to grant a writ of mandamus, requiring Simone to submit to questioning before she goes to Senator Paley’s committee hearing.

And meantime Carrie and Dante are investigating each other: she goes to speak to his ex-wife, which yields the nugget of information that he was hugely resentful of a “CIA station chief” in Kabul who launched a drone strike on a wedding but got promoted anyway. Dante, meantime, is at Carrie’s sister’s house, where he discovers some of the paperwork Carrie has assembled on him. So when they meet later, the atmosphere is tense, but – what the hell? – they get to some hate-sex anyway, whereupon Saul and his heavies knock the door down and drag Dante away. All of which could have been done without Franny.

Homeland s7 ep 6

Carrie is carrying on her surveillance of Simone and Wellington; inconveniently, Simone hasn’t mentioned the McClendon business to Wellington at all, which makes Carrie rethink her approach – what if, in fact, Wellington wasn’t behind the assassination of McClendon? Meantime, though, Senator Paley, whose aide Janet has been getting information from Carrie, has subpoenaed Simone to attend at a proffer session, at which Simone hints that she was acting under the instructions of a senior male White House official, whose name might or might not rhyme with Skellington. Carrie knows this to be, in all probability, a lie; the problem is that she can’t tell anyone of relevance – Dante, Janet, or Paley – why she knows it’s a lie, because that would mean admitting to her incredibly illegal surveillance operation. Dante, in fact, tells her that she needs to go back on her meds.

There is, in short, only one person that Carrie can reach out to. Saul – for it is he – is also having a busy week: he contacts an old friend, Sandy, a former spook who is now an academic, and sets up a sort of unauthorised ops room to look into what Ivan Krupin, Yevgeny Gromov, and Russia might have to do with the disinformation campaign against the Keane administration. Ivan, meantime, confirms for the viewer’s benefit that he’s still part of the Russian spy network, breaking protocol in order to get in touch with Gromov and warn him to stop.

So Carrie and Saul sit down together – always a Homeland highlight – and Carrie fesses up about the surveillance. Saul, however, patiently joins the dots for her: accepting that Wellington isn’t behind the McClendon killing, who could it be? Who’s trying to fit him up? Who came back into Carrie’s life telling her about Simone’s activities…? Ah yes. Dante. Carrie gets her team together for a night out, at which she manages to get into Dante’s house by holding out the likelihood that he might be able to get into her pants. But she’s drugged him, and once he’s comatose the rest of the team turn up to investigate his life, while – in another location – Gromov is dealing with the Ivan problem by strapping him into a bag and throwing him into a river. It’s another very strong episode, revolving around a series of sharply-written two-handed conversations; Homeland is exiting from the first half of the season in remarkably good shape.