Public Service Announcement 9 of 2018: Homeland

The argument against season 7 of Homeland (and seasons 2-6 as well), generally from people who don’t watch it any more, runs as follows: it should have finished after one season with the death of Brody, which would have left it standing as a unique, brilliant, and imaginative one-off drama. It’s never been as good since. It’s all about the money now.

And the argument in favour: well, it’s difficult to quibble with much of that. But we are where we are; successful TV shows are always all about the money, and they generally don’t stop while they’re still making bank; we should instead discuss whether it’s any good, rather than worrying about whether it should exist at all.

On balance I’m in the latter camp. Homeland, it’s true, has never quite hit the heights of its first season, and is unlikely to ever again. Evaluated on its own terms, though, for what it is, rather than what it isn’t: it’s not bad at all. Inconsistent for sure; but capable of being an intelligent and well-made drama, which in recent seasons has shown a welcome willingness to grapple with hot-button topics – for example, terrorism in Europe in season 5, and an alt-right fake news factory in season 6. On the other hand, the treatment of Quinn last time around was frankly bizarre: why bring him back from almost certain death just to make him suffer, then kill him anyway? (And getting rid of Astrid as well was a grievous error, assuming that the actor didn’t want out.)

This time round, at least to start with, Carrie will be dealing with the consequences of the events of the last season, in which President Keane somewhat brutally cleaned house and restricted civil liberties. Although given that she’d barely survived a right-wing coup attempt led by Dar Adal, one can see why she might have wanted to tighten her grip a little. Looking forward to this. Weekly reviews as ever (tonight, Channel 4, 9pm).



Homeland s6 ep 12

Spoilers. It’s the last episode.

Homeland doesn’t always manage to stick the season-ending landing, but as these things go I thought this was a pretty good finale. Dar is going down fighting: he has a Senator, in his underwear, imprisoned in the freezer room of a restaurant, and he’s trying to find out from him what the conspirators are planning, with specific reference to Quinn. I must say that I’m not entirely convinced that the Prince of Darkness would put his evident affection for Quinn ahead of his messianic belief that President-elect Keane needs to be stopped, but there it is. Anyway, while Carrie and Quinn are with Keane at her hotel, overseeing an evacuation because there might be a bomb in the building, Dar discovers that the plan is to flush Keane out and assassinate her as she leaves. He tells Carrie just in time for her to stop Keane exiting the building, and thus saving her life, as a bomb goes off outside.

And then it’s Peter Quinn’s last stand: he bundles Carrie and PEOTUS into a 4X4, and drives them to safety through a hail of bullets from the would-be assassins. But in the process he’s shot, and – finally – dies. Which is irritating. Last week I said that – having survived sarin, stroke, and explosion – he was probably immortal for the show’s purposes. I was very wrong. But it hardly seems worth keeping him alive for this, and I’m now even more of the view that he should have been allowed to die at the end of season 5. Farewell, Quinn.

We then jump forwards six months. According to O’Keeffe, President Keane has extended the reach of the PATRIOT Act. And she was inaugurated behind closed doors. Given the events of episodes 1-11 I can see the need for her to be circumspect, but presumably a camera crew could have been allowed in? Still, O’Keeffe can piss off. Dar is in prison, not before time, and on being visited by Saul, Dar confides that he still thinks there’s something “un-American” about Keane.

My guess is that what then happens is to be interpreted as corroborative of Dar’s position, as the episode – and the season – ends on a disquieting note. Carrie has been working as Keane’s liaison to the intelligence community, and in that capacity reassures senior officials that, although Keane hasn’t been granting them much direct access, their jobs aren’t in any danger. Keane then offers her a permanent position in the West Wing and, while she weighs her options, she gets FaceTimed by Saul, who is being arrested. She then discovers that he’s far from the only person in the intelligence agencies to get arrested and, when she tries to protest directly to Keane, she’s blocked by new Chief of Staff David Wellington (Linus Roache).

The show, I think, is inviting us to regard this as sinister, and maybe it is. The thing is, though, does Keane not have a… point? There has just been an attempt to mount what would have effectively have been a coup d’état, involving significant numbers of Agency officials allying themselves with an alt-right bloviator and his lie factory, and using bombs and bullets along the way. Not to mention everything that’s happened in seasons 1-5. Time, I’d say, to clean house. And if one or two innocents get swept up: well, can’t make an omelette.

The final shot – Carrie staring at the Capitol – is presumably a deliberate callback to Brody’s similar scene at the end of the pilot. I can’t imagine that Carrie is going to go full terrorist on us, but at this point it’s quite possible to imagine her working in Keane’s White House, or campaigning in opposition to it. However, having once again enjoyed this admittedly patchy but ultimately compelling season, I’ll once again be on board to find out.

Homeland s6 ep 11

Now that Quinn has found Sekou’s original van, providing evidence that he was framed, Carrie wants to call it in to the Solicitor General. Quinn doesn’t, though, because he wants to offer some extra-judicial justice to the guy who shot Astrid. “You owe me!” Quinn shouts at Carrie. “Because you made me this way!” He does have a point, in fairness. So when he tells Carrie that he’s going out, following the men from the house when they leave, Carrie takes the opportunity to have a look round for herself. It’s entirely possible, given what then happens, that Quinn was getting Carrie to repay her debt by using her as bait: Astrid’s killer is still in the house, and he’s about to strangle Carrie, but Quinn comes bursting in, shoots the man, then batters him to death, of which we are not spared the details. Still, he deserved it.

Meantime, Saul is once again trusted by President-elect Keane, and takes the opportunity to show her the evidence that Dar Adal is linked to alt-right wing nut O’Keeffe. Keane is invited onto O’Keeffe’s talk show, and her advisers are inclined to tell her not to go. Saul, however, knows what’s going on, and although he’s as much of a practitioner of two-fisted realpolitik as anyone on the show he has never quite lost sight of the moral dimension of what he does: he observes that there’s a disinformation campaign, and there are protestors with “boots on the ground”. This is the sort of thing the US does in other countries to delegitimise governments, and “it does not end well”, he notes drily, “for the elected regime”. I’m more than ever convinced that the Homeland writers were expecting a Clinton victory and a subsequent right-wing campaign to destabilise her, similar to the one before the election which (successfully) made such a big deal out of a bit of ill-advised email handling. Anyway, PEOTUS goes on O’Keeffe’s show, and does a reasonably good job, but what can you say to these people? In real life, I mean, as well as on Homeland. Seriously?

Max is still being held at O”Keeffe’s alt-right fake news factory, and thinks he’s escaped, but he’s recaptured and taken to meet Dar, whose motives are now becoming opaque again: Dar caught sight of O’Keeffe’s next project, something about Quinn, and Max digs around until he finds it. It’s a blog, purportedly written by Quinn, in which he’s set up as an anti-Keane fanatic. This ties in with what Quinn – now offered immunity for using the terrorist as a punchbag – and Carrie have found at the house, where it looks as if an attack on the East Coast is planned. Putting two and two together, I’m guessing that Keane is to be assassinated with Quinn as patsy. But as Carrie tries to call Keane’s chief of staff – the underused Hill Harper –  to warn him, the house blows up. Quinn survives, mind you, and given what he’s already been through I think we can now peg him as being essentially immortal. It’s another excellent episode, although it depressed the hell out of me.

Homeland s6 ep 10

Last week I speculated that Homeland might have relocated its mojo. On the basis of this outstanding episode it very much has. Quinn is trying to locate Dar’s hitman, and ends up in a diner which is, I think, close to an army base at which he used to be stationed. He recognises one of the waitresses – who knows him as “Johnny” – and they share an awkward yet oddly tender scene, which is beautifully written and played, notable as much for what was left out as for what was said. (The scene later in the episode with Saul and his wife falls into the same category.) He then goes to a nearby house which he seems to know – memories of shared bro’ing with fellow soldiers – and finds a van with the same Medina Medley livery as the one which had the bomb.

Meantime, Dar Adal has bounced back from getting pistol-whipped by Quinn: he’s keeping Carrie onside by manipulating CPS and impliedly threatening that she won’t get Franny returned to her, as a result of which Carrie declines to provide a deposition implicating him. And he effectively declares war on President-elect Keane to her face, ostensibly because he’s ideologically opposed to her and he knows better than she does how to keep the country safe. Now, it’s easy enough for liberal elitists such as me to be horrified by this very concept; but, on the other hand, it isn’t difficult these days to, uh, hypothesise a situation in which the President doesn’t have the faintest idea what he should be doing, and what should a responsible public servant do then? Resign, I suppose, which is the last thing Dar is going to do. PEOTUS is furious: “In the future, in case you’re wondering, this moment right now is when I decided to put your ass in jail”, she snarls at Dar, which I assume to be a deliberate homage to President Bartlet’s “In the future, if you’re wondering: “Crime. Boy, I don’t know,” is when I decided to kick your ass”.

And then all three parts of the plot come together very neatly, if a little implausibly. Dar has pushed the button on his fake news factory, and the bogus story about PEOTUS’s son’s cowardice has gone viral, so Dar heads over to the factory, where Max – still undercover – manages to film him talking to O’Keeffe, who is running the show. Max is caught, though, and given what happened a few episodes ago to Conlin I’m not optimistic for him. Saul doesn’t know, for now, that Carrie isn’t dropping him in it, and has started making plans to leave the country, but after his meeting with his estranged wife he has a change of heart and heads to Carrie’s apartment to speak to her. She’s not in, but while he’s there – as well as finding her Conspiracy Wall –  he hears an email arriving on her laptop and has a look: before being captured Max managed to send the video of Dar and O’Keeffe. It’s a smoking gun. And the reason that Carrie isn’t home is because a go-between has taken her to see Quinn, now staking out the house where he found the Medina Medley van. It’s probably as good an episode as Homeland has managed all season.

Homeland s6 ep 9

It’s taken a while – and sometimes it does with Homeland – but this might have been the point at which this season finally locked into place. For much of its running time, it’s the Dar Adal show: to start with, he’s dining with Javadi in the latter’s hotel room. Javadi, of course, betrayed Saul and joined Team Dar last week, which he clearly thought was a good idea. And maybe it was, but not for Javadi; Dar is aware that Israel would love to interrogate Javadi, and he has invited some mean looking Mossad men along to perform an extraordinary rendition. Javadi has the nous to call Carrie behind his back, and she patches Saul through, so the two of them can at least enjoy a moment of schadenfreude before trying to trace him. Dar, meantime, more or less struts into a briefing with PEOTUS, who has entirely bought what he’s selling, up to the point of asking for his recommendations to be Secretary of State.

Dar 2, Saul 0. But Saul’s not finished: he and Carrie get to PEOTUS again, this time armed with evidence of Dar’s perfidy, and swing her back to their side, although not without a certain weariness: were I her, I’d be banishing all of them. She’s about to be President, for God’s sake. She’s got shit to do, and arbitrating between the éminences grises of the CIA isn’t on that list. They agree to let Dar continue in the belief that he still has Keane’s ear.

But at the next Dar/PEOTUS meeting she overplays her hand: she’s just a little too friendly, a little too bright, and Dar knows he’s been rumbled: he leaves without sharing his suggested nominations for Secretary of State, and when Keane speaks to her candidate for Attorney General he’s of the view that there isn’t enough to prosecute Dar; unless, that is, Carrie is prepared to testify that Dar helped cover up season 5’s infiltration of the Berlin station by a Russian mole, which Carrie is reluctant to do as that would end Saul’s career.

So Dar’s still on top, just about. Until he gets home, where Quinn is waiting for him in order to crack him on the head, although not until Dar has told Quinn that he loves him. (Not coincidentally, something Quinn was unable to say to Astrid last week.) I’m still not convinced about the Quinn arc this season – this week he seems to have recovered enough of his mobility and skills to drive for hours, blow up a car, steal a sackful of guns, break into a high-ranking CIA agent’s apartment, and bug his phone. And the rest of the episode – Carrie and Franny, and Max going undercover at the alt-right fake news generator – felt superfluous. But, overall, this was as vital as Homeland has been for weeks.

Homeland s6 ep 8

Carrie is distraught about Franny being taken into foster care, although from what we see of Franny, no longer having to cower in a cellar while the strange man who lives in the basement shoots people outside her apartment, she’s doing just fine. Anyway, Saul needs Carrie to focus: he wants her to help arrange a face-to-face between Javadi and the President-elect. The meeting duly takes place, but Javadi performs an unexpected about-face and tells Keane that Iran is indeed breaching the nuclear deal, thus burning Saul and Carrie’s credibility in one go. Javadi, it turns out, has assessed the state of the market and decided to invest heavily in shares in Dar Adal. The Prince of Darkness himself, meantime, is covering as many bases as possible, this week hanging out with an alt-right wingnut who is determined to convince the world that PEOTUS’s dead war hero son was, in fact, an unprincipled coward.

This part of the episode is good enough. The way in which Astrid is treated, though, isn’t easily forgiveable. She and Quinn are at the supermarket, and he thinks he sees her speaking to Carrie’s neighbour, thus suggesting that Astrid is part of the conspiracy against him. Back at the lodge he confronts her about it, and when she denies it he punches her in the stomach and storms out, although not before claiming that they were never friends and that they just slept together because they needed company. When he comes back – having laid out a complete stranger – she eventually squeezes a grudging apology out of him, then waits expectantly for him to say that he loves her, or something. He doesn’t; or, at any rate, he doesn’t have time to, because Carrie’s neighbour starts shooting at them. Astrid goes for the gun she keeps in the car, only to find that Quinn removed the bullets from it earlier, and she’s killed (I think). It’s a pretty shameful way to treat, and a miserable ending for, a strong female character, who was one of the best things in the show. And, once again, I have to wonder whether getting rid of Quinn at the end of the last season might have been preferable.

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I quite often like the episodes of Homeland which move at a measured pace, but ‘Imminent Risk’ tipped over into sluggish and unsatisfactory. I’m also far from convinced that this week’s Carrie storyline is the best decision the writers have ever made: she receives a call from Franny’s daycare to advise that a child protective service officer is there, asking questions about Franny’s wellbeing. When she gets there, she discovers that Franny has already been removed to a safe place, and is asked some uncomfortable questions about just how safe Franny is in her house. This leads to a court case at which the CPS officer argues that Franny should be kept in foster care for the time being.

Now, as I said last week, using Quinn as your babysitter, even in an emergency, is spectacularly misjudged, and when the CPS officer forensically lays out the case against Carrie as parent – Quinn, terrified nanny, sleeping in Franny’s room with a gun, evidence of paranoia – it’s clear that she has a point. (A point which, did the judge but know it, Carrie will reinforce later on by drunk-calling the President-elect asking her to intervene and get her daughter back.) But it’s not the best use to make use of Carrie as a character, not by a long way, and it’s a storyline which really doesn’t feel as if it’s getting us anywhere. The CPS officer, incidentally, is played beautifully – deadpan and understated, with the tiniest dash of irony – by Marin Hinkle, an actor I like a lot. (And by “like”, yes, I do mean “like”.)

It turns out, of course, that Dar Adal was the person who reported Carrie to CPS: I say “of course” because Dar Adal now seems to be essentially running a shadow administration. He’s determined to stop Saul from talking to his contact Javadi, now in New York, so he has Saul detained to be debriefed on his trip to the West Bank. Javadi, meantime, is captured and briefly tortured by members of the Iranian delegation, having been tipped off about his connection to Saul by someone in the CIA. Wonder who? But Javadi’s freed, and manages to meet with Saul, who agrees to take him to PEOTUS to tell her in person that Iran isn’t making nukes in North Korea.

And the Quinn/Astrid storyline is a waste of them both. Astrid has removed Quinn from the psychiatric hospital and taken him to a lakeside house as part of a deal with Dar – yes, him again – to keep him out of the pubic eye. Quinn escapes; Astrid catches him. Then Dar himself turns up and has an odd conversation with Quinn in which – or did I imagine it? – it’s heavily implied that there was, at one point, an exploitatively sexual element to their relationship. Then, just to make sure that Quinn, too, has turned against Carrie, Dar tells Quinn that his stroke was caused by Carrie ordering that he be brought out of his Berlin coma. A good week for President Adal; not so much for the rest of us.