It’s been a long time since anyone could say with a straight face that Homeland held a mirror up to our current geopolitical situation, unless we’re talking about a funhouse mirror with a few cracks in it. A season premiere presents the opportunity for a reset; a convenient time-jump can allow the creative team to clear the decks of elements that aren’t working and pursue fresh inspiration. None of that applies to “Enemy Of The State,” such a direct continuation of existing storylines that it might as well be episode 13 of the sixth season.
There is a time-jump, yes, but only a couple of months have passed since the events of “America First.” No longer working for the White House, Carrie Matheson has remained in Washington, DC, now living with her sister Maggie and her family. Carrie’s brother-in-law is a blowhard working for the Treasury Department as a scab replacement now that 200 federal employees have been locked up for alleged involvement in the assassination attempt on President Keane. Her niece Josie is a 16-year-old budding activist participating in “Free the 200" rallies. And her daughter Franny is the same plot device she’s always been, ready to be put in potential harm’s way whenever needed to goose the suspense.
As the episode’s opening shots of a wild-eyed Carrie rage-exercising to a furious jazz crescendo suggest, she’s still dealing with feelings of guilt and betrayal after being used by the Keane administration. While she tells Maggie she has a job interview at the Brookings Institute, that’s just a cover for Carrie doing what she does best: spy shit! Before long she’s digging a duffel bag full of guns and burners out of a box of forgotten clothing; conducting a clandestine meeting with a high-ranking politician in a restaurant kitchen; checking into one hotel and then slipping out the back to another, even more opulent one to throw off any tails; and most importantly, putting on a foolproof wig disguise. (Okay, so she could learn a thing or two from The Americans on that score.) She may be out of a job, but one way or another, Carrie Matheson is going to save the world again.
As longtime Homeland viewers can attest, however, no matter how many times Carrie has done so in the past, each new season finds her back at square one, trying to prove she’s not crazy and that the conspiracy she’s uncovered is for real. (In that sense, at least, season seven does qualify as a reset.) She has an inside source, Dante Allen (Morgan Spector), an old colleague now on the team interrogating the 200 prisoners. She overreaches in her efforts to get the reluctant Dante on the record with Senator Paley (Dylan Baker), who is leading the committee investigating President Keane, and the forced meeting ends badly. It’s not going well at home either, as Carrie has enlisted her niece into her mission much to the dismay of Maggie and her husband. (And this is definitely not the end of that, given that Josie witnesses Carrie helping a man out of her car trunk.)
So Carrie is still Carrie, and Claire Danes’ performance is still the grounding element in this increasingly convoluted world. President Keane, who displayed at least a little moral complexity when introduced in season six, has completed her heel turn. In a bid for relevance, the writers have infused her with as many Trumpian characteristics as an anti-war mother of a soldier killed in combat can bear. As her weaselly chief of staff David Wellington tells her, she’s now viewed as thuggish and authoritarian, and urging the jury at General McClendon’s sentencing hearing to impose the death penalty does her no favors in that regard. Wellington tries to do some PR damage control by getting Saul on board as the National Security Advisor, but even the prospect of being sprung from federal prison isn’t enough to coax the bearded one into swallowing that bitter pill, especially since Wellington won’t agree to have the rest of the detainees released.
One character who could easily have been dispatched between seasons is Brett O’Keefe, the alt-Right Alex Jones analogue who conspired against Keane last season. He’s now on the run, doing his internet broadcast in catch-as-catch-can fashion wherever he and his producer/lover can find a friendly face. Although Jake Weber makes O’Keefe a visceral presence with his stained pits and greasy appetite—you can practically smell Weber’s performance—the character’s continued presence is potentially troubling. Here’s how confused the Homeland universe is at this point: O’Keefe now represents the Resistance against Keane, and his rescue by the local police before he can be apprehended by federal marshals lends his character an aura of righteousness that is just not good at all. We’ll see where this is going, but any kind of hero narrative for O’Keefe is going to be problematic, to say the least.
By the end, some semblance of normalcy is restored, at least by Homeland standards. In a throwback to the first season, Carrie is once again staring at a monitor, watching illegal surveillance footage courtesy of old friend Max. The man she’s spying on, Wellington, may prove to be an ally, especially after Keane arranges for the death of General McClendon via a guard with a poisoned rubber glove. Homeland may be closer to a cartoon than ever, but more often than not, it’s still a compulsively watchable unreality.
- Hi! I’m your new weekly Homeland correspondent Scott Von Doviak. You may know me from such shows as The Flash or House Of Cards, but I feel my best work for TV Club was covering all three seasons of Under The Dome. As you know from his review of the sixth season finale, our recapper-in-exile Joshua Alston has abdicated his post. While I cannot share the details of his current secret mission, rest assured he is doing his part to keep us all safe.
- Robert Knepper, who portrayed the late General McClendon, has been at the center of some of the ugliest sexual assault allegations to arise since the Harvey Weinstein firestorm. This episode was surely in the can before any of that surfaced, but it turns out to be a serendipitous creative choice that his storyline ends here.
- Speaking of McClendon’s death, I’m guessing the cover story will be that he had a suicide capsule hidden in a tooth, or something along those lines.
- “I’ve seen the medical records” is such a dead-on Alex Jones line, and Weber nails the delivery.