I feel like the sixth season of Homeland has been kind of a fun mystery that built for months leading up to tonight’s finale which took its intricately laid plot and fried all its circuitry, transforming it into a whack-a-mole game of “find the big bad.” That villain ended up being the person we’d least suspect in the show’s universe and the most obvious one in its real-life mirror. Very clever. It would be unfair to the series’ writers to not applaud the acrobatic maneuvers they performed in steering Homeland’s plot through the most unpredictable election year in television history. As I’ve mentioned before, this season began with a portrayal of a president clearly based on Hillary Clinton and clearly cast and written before last November’s election results came in. During the course of the season, we can track the plot’s parabolic curve out of its inconsistent parallel universe and halfway back to being some semblance of a reflection of ours, eventually transmuting Keane’s character into a hybrid of the could-have-been president of last year and the apparently-is-president of our current reality. This was almost like watching extremely long form improv, except it was highly entertaining.
We open on Dar Adal, who up to this point seems to be manipulating anyone and everyone, weaving a tangled web half as a counter attack against Madame President-Elect Keane’s sour attitude toward the intelligence community and half because he apparently is just addicted to playing 3-D chess or whatever. Either way, he’s wearing maybe the most unforgivable Dar hat to date while walking through a restaurant towards the walk-in freezer where he has a senator named Coto stripped to his underwear and handcuffed to a pipe. The utter shock of this scene distracted me from the glaring infeasibility of it. He’s out of his bald skull, sending people to throw buckets of water on this guy, interrogating him about his new Peter Quinn theory, and breaking all kinds of New York Health Department codes. Realistically this doesn’t work because in any restaurant that size there are going to be 100 people in that walk-in every hour, and you can’t bribe all of them, but I’ll let this go.
This is all very ominous but it quickly becomes irrelevant as we return to Carrie in the aftermath of the bombing she just survived. She’s now talking to Rob and deducing that the special ops guys who just blew her halfway across a suburban lawn have managed to get themselves called in to provide protection to the President-Elect after her scrape with protesters. They’re headed up by McClendon, a character heretofore unseen who serves as our new chief antagonist for maybe the next half hour. He’s an older military officer in camouflage pajamas with a vein in his forehead shaped like curvy lasagna. It’s fun to hate him for the bulk of the episode as he plays dumb with Dar and the secret service while planning to assassinate Elizabeth Keane.
Keane confides in Saul some remorse about her decision to balk against Brett O’Keefe and he hits her back with some of the more trenchant dialogue of the episode. He tells her she’s got “balls.” When she confesses that she might not be ready for the job of president he explains that it would be foolish to be ready for the job. Saul is like the Mr. Belvedere of Homeland. His pep talks provide a counterpoint to Dar’s obviously manipulative ones, even as they’re talking to the same people. He calls Keane a “bad dream” in that she’s a president that can’t be controlled. This would be such a warm moment if he weren’t right in the weirdest way. More on that later.
Quinn and Carrie arrive at the mob outside of the building where Keane is based and split up – Carrie going off to break the news to Rob and company about McClendon’s sinister motives, and Quinn going to scout the troops outside. Meanwhile, Dar is becoming unhinged by his own paranoid conspiracy, grilling McClendon over the phone about aspects of the plot that appear to have grown beyond his own reach. McClendon denies everything even though he’s currently attempting to assassinate the next president and is probably the person who engineered the conspiracy against Quinn, his old employee. A lot of people are being deceitful here and I think some of this will be explained next season. I predict McClendon’s story is fleshed out some more based on the casting of Robert Knepper. Unfortunately, what I mean by that is reality is stepping in to spoil the story here once more. He’s apparently signed a contract to be a recurring character and that fact that he seemingly makes it out of the finale alive only supports that. He plays a really hateable villain, too, at one point calling the Coto an “oily fuck.” Wow. See you next year, McClendon!
With all of the pieces set in place, “America First” crescendos into its cinematic action climax with a bomb threat being called into the building. In a panic, everyone important to the plot moves down a stairwell and into a motorcade to escape the building, but suddenly Carrie receives a phone call from who she assumes is Quinn but turns out to be Dar. He urges her not to let the cars leave the building, explaining that the bomb threat was meant to flush them out into the open for assassination purposes, and for a moment it is really unclear what the hell is going on and who can be trusted. Since that’s basically what Homeland is all about, I give it props here. It seems all too clear that Dar has completely turned on his allies until the first two cars of the motorcade are bombed and we realize he was telling the truth. Carrie manages to stop the last car and extract the President-Elect, running through the building’s kitchen while chased by two of McClendon’s black ops men. Because the action and plot twisting
Carrie manages to stop the last car and extract the President-Elect, running through the building’s kitchen while chased by two of McClendon’s black ops men. Because the action and plot twisting are so dense up until this point, it really isn’t apparent whether these two guys are trying to help the president or kill the president at this point, but then they dramatically kill her last line of secret service defense and it is decidedly ON.
Carrie pulls Keane into an elevator and heads toward the basement, stopping with the emergency to realize the moment that they are indeed in a do-or-die situation. The subtle use of suspense here is palpable. However, when she pulled out her phone and declared that it must have been being jammed I stood up out of my chair. This is well into a dozen instances just this season of Homeland patently denying that it understands how smartphones work at all. Anyone who lives or works anywhere near a building with an elevator can tell you that your phone won’t work in an elevator, especially on the basement level. Anyways, they agree to keep moving toward the basement and are greeted by a classic movie trope – the jump scare that turns out to be your friend. The friend here is Peter Quinn, who helps the two into the last motorcade SUV and just sort of says “Trust me.”
Quinn dies and he dies hard. I mean how else was this going to end for him? Was there going to be a season 7 where he gets better? No. Strictly from a storytelling point of view, this was all but inevitable. The manner in which he goes out, though, is awesome. Realizing he’s plowed the SUV out into broad daylight and is surrounded by his old company, which is now hell bent on killing him and framing him for attempted assassination, he floors it head on into a barricade of assault rifles while being shot to death and coasts into a pretty good parking space for a half sane driver who’s blacking out in death throes. I mention storytelling here because at this point we’ve exhausted any semblance of this plot really adding up. This whole sequence is completely insane and just wouldn’t play out like this in anything resembling our reality, but it’s still a well-told story because the thread of his character is spun through it beautifully. I’m not going to go into too specific details but just think about how after he drove three blocks everyone stopped trying to kill him. Beyond that, imagine driving through three intersections in a row in New York at all. Unfounded.
The epilogue, taking place six weeks later begins with Carrie, who is now Keane’s liaison to the intelligence community assuring a round table of her ex-peers that everything is going to be fine and they will be treated fairly in the aftermath of the coup. Carrie is now concerned with her custody battle and her apparently permanent position in The White House, basically blowing off Saul’s first attempt to connect since the attack. Speaking of which, how did Saul survive getting blown halfway to The Bronx?. However he did it, he did it, and he goes to military prison to visit Dar, who claims to not have access to a razor while having a perfectly shaved goatee. He delivers some of the most thematic lines of the whole show to Saul while exhibiting this glaring plot hole on his face. This is all too in keeping with how the story of Homeland is told. Don’t think about the details. Dar more or less explains that he got in over his head. His plan to bite back against Keane got way out of his control. His conversation with Javadi about getting out of the game was perfect foreshadowing. Dar becomes a tragic character, aware of his own mistakes and willing to live with them.
Max stumbles drunk to Carrie’s house and, in a last bit of suspense, almost ruins her entire life. I guess he’s in some kind of I.T. support guy “I’ve seen too much” shock and has to be thrown in her basement, obviously paralleling Quinn’s old state of affairs. This goes on for way too long as the child protective agent eventually rewards Carrie with paperwork giving he rights to Franny again and leaves without ever noticing the half dead drunk in that exact room. The tension fades and Carrie goes downstairs to have a cathartic moment bagging up Quinn’s old clothes. She comes across a copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, which is bookmarked with an envelope full of photos of Quinn’s child, curiously named “John Jr.” My explanation is that he’s a spy and uses fake names. Who knows? The moment where she breaks down crying looking at a photo of her own face is pretty weird, but it doesn’t matter because it’s interrupted by a perfect setup to next season. Saul facetimes Carrie while being pulled from his car to be arrested for his connections to the coup, which Carrie had just promised him he’d be immune to. She tries to go reason with Keane and is dragged out of the building by secret service. The camera pans in on a now paranoid and deranged Keane sitting in The Oval Office and staring into an Android tablet of some kind. After having been almost assassinated she apparently now trusts no one and is bent on purging the entire government of the conspirators against her.
I honestly didn’t see this coming, and when you realize that they’ve turned her into Trump it sinks in with an increasing gravity. I’m not sure if this is a perfect story. I think It’s always been way too ambitious to make believable, and they don’t understand phones for some reason, but you can’t argue with the fact that Homeland season 6 wrote its way from episode 1 to episode 12 all the way from another place back into our dimension, and that is no small feat.