“Homeland’s” sixth season finale took a momentous turn for a beloved character.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen the April 9 episode, “America First.”
As Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison grapples with the new world order in President Elizabeth Keane’s Washington, her longtime compatriot Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) went out in a heroic blaze of glory, rescuing Keane from the convoluted, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham)-orchestrated conspiracy that drove the season.
“Do what I say,” Quinn tells Carrie in his last words. She does. He drives the President’s black SUV through a hail of bullets to get Carrie and Keane to safety on a Midtown side street. Ever the highly trained special ops pro, he manages to ease the vehicle over to a gentle bump into a parked car before expiring in the driver’s seat.
By the end of “America First,” Quinn was dead, Dar was in jail, Saul had been arrested, Max was hung over, Franny was still in foster care and Keane appeared to have morphed into something of a cross between a Manchurian candidate and a Stepford wife.
Carrie in the final minutes realizes that she’s been played by a paranoid President to help facilitate a witch hunt and purge of the national security establishment. Just when Carrie thought she finally had some respect from the power structure in Washington, she gets hustled out by security.
This last twist is an appropriate ending to a season that mined the drama of our national mood of disunity and distrust. The influence of fake news and the covert agenda of the “deep state” is a source of mental anguish for the left and the right. More than ever, politics is conducted in echo chambers that we construct for ourselves via self-selected news and information feeds. This makes the other side seem like the screaming banshees that freaked out Keane.
Before Keane is rattled to the core by the assassination attempt, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) tells her that she is seen as a threat in a divided nation because of her independent streak and willingness to up-end the status quo. “You’re a bad dream,” he says. “You’re not controlled from within.” She admits to him she may not be “sure” about her ability to lead in such a fractured and dysfunctional political environment.
By the end of the hour, we are left to believe that Keane’s traumas this season have led her to be willingly co-opted by a new group of handlers. The arrests of Saul and other CIA vets are part of a Stalin-esque purge — the exact conditions that Carrie, in her role as White House “liaison” to the intelligence community — swore would never happen. “This has nothing to do with the conspiracy — this is payback pure and simple,” Carrie tells the new White House guy, David Wellington, who has Keane’s ear. What’s the use of White House clearance if Carrie can’t keep Saul from getting arrested?
There were moments that pushed the credibility envelope in the finale in service of the plot. Could Adal really kidnap a U.S. Senator and persuade the maitre’d of a swanky restaurant to stash him, naked and shivering, in the deep freeze? Would the Secret Service really buy Carrie’s explanation that the conspiracy was to get Keane out of the hotel in order to kill her? When did the rogue Delta forcers settle on Quinn as the target of an unhinged military vet to frame for the assassination of Keane — something that was apparently beyond the scope of Adal’s plan? “Ultimately, I lost control of what I set in motion,” Adal tells Saul. He also delivers a line that, coupled with the twist at the end, seems like it is planting seeds for season 7 with Keane still in the mix.
“What I did was unforgivable, Saul, but I’m not sure it was wrong,” Adal says during the jailhouse visit. “There’s something off about her, the President.”
But “Homeland” can mostly be forgiven for its fantastical leaps in service of its plot. Since season one in 2011, no series on the air has worked harder to present a real-time mirror on the realpolitik of the post-9/11 world. To paraphrase Saul in his conversation with Keane, what “Homeland” does each season takes balls. People like a show with balls.
- Hard as it was to watch Quinn die, it makes sense for the show. Quinn already cheated certain death in season 5. Better to burn out than to fade away. Quinn made a Quinn-tessentially courageous decision to sacrifice himself when he realized he had no choice but to drive straight into his death in order to save Carrie and Keane. Quinn may have chastised Carrie for her laser focus on “the mission, the mission, the mission,” but Quinn was hard-wired to serve. Carrie’s inability to really grieve for Quinn until she finds the pictures of his son, and her, tucked into his well-worn copy of “Great Expectations,” was a nice moment. Rupert Friend should not be forgotten come Emmy time.
- There was no mistaking the references to the worries raised by the Trump administration’s policy of favoring “economic nationalism” and concerns that Trump’s campaign rhetoric has emboldened the public display racist attitudes. The title “America First” is a Trump-ian reference. So was the racial slur used by the covert ops bad guy Gen. McClendon behind the kill-the-President plot. In a reference to the Senator with a Hispanic surname who faced the Big Chill, McClendon tells Dar: “You think I’d give that oily f— the time of day?” Chilling.
- Another Lesli Linka Glatter-directed “Homeland” finale gave us some teeth-gritting moments of tension. Keane and Carrie trying to outrun the rogue gunmen in the hotel was one. So was the question of whether a drunken Max eruption would derail Carrie’s home visit with the social worker that holds the key to her reuniting with Franny.
- Claire Danes. Scene for scene, episode for episode, there is no actor who works harder than Danes does in this show. She is a national hero.