Homeland finale recap: 'America First'
Maybe Carrie should have stayed abroad after all. Maybe if she had, she wouldn’t be ending Homeland‘s sixth season staring warily at Capitol Hill the way Brody once did, unsure of whether her country’s turned its back on her.
So that’s what this season was all about, the fact that terrorism can be home grown — and not seen as terrorism, but a defensive mechanism to keep America, as the episode title says, first. Keane’s paranoia is what compels her to stay seated while Carrie pleads for her to stop the witch hunt; it’s also what drives her to “detain” innocent people like Saul. These arrests may not come equipped with explosives and IEDs, but they’re flashy and they’re a different form of spreading terror, at least through the Beltway.
And what of General McClendon, Brett O’Keefe, and Dar Adal? Their entire mission, which certainly overshot its initial goals, was borne out of paranoia as well, created and carried out within U.S. borders by the people who claim to protect it. So who was right all along? How can a country defend itself when its enemies believe themselves to be its heroes? Why shouldn’t the highest office simply rule with an iron fist instead, intelligence community be damned?
There are no good answers to these questions — they’re enough to make anyone go mad. Heh, maybe we should all pull a Max and drink our uncertainty away. A drink would surely make Quinn’s loss feel a little more worthwhile.
Homeland took a long, winding, and at times bewildering path to get to this point. The finale begins with Dar’s own baffling journey, as he heads to one of his (surely many) interrogation spots sprinkled through the city: a freezer in the basement of his favorite restaurant, where an asset of his has squirreled away the nearly nude Senator Elian Coto. Coto, who hasn’t been seen since the season premiere, played a role in Dar’s little task force with General McClendon to take down Keane. But this time, Dar’s not working with Coto; instead, he wants to know exactly how Peter Quinn, a.k.a. the supposed “Toxic Soldier,” fits into the picture of their no-longer-picture-perfect plan.
Meanwhile, Carrie’s still reeling from the explosion at the house in Queens. She calls Rob to give him the details but is shocked to hear that McClendon is in New York with a team of reinforcements to provide Keane with an additional layer of security. She double checks with Quinn about McClendon, realizes something’s up, and takes Quinn back to the city with her.
She’s right about McClendon; he’s at the White House, working with Agent Thoms to secure the area around the hotel. Thoms has no idea about McClendon’s true motives, but McClendon manages to get the Secret Service to prepare for a potential threat — without anyone knowing that the threat is whatever he’s planning himself.
Well, except for Dar, who calls just as Carrie and Quinn arrive. Quinn heads over to check out the team that’s supposedly arrived to offer more protection to the president-elect and sees McClendon answer Dar’s call. We follow McClendon into his post, where he argues with Dar about the merits of using Quinn as a scapegoat for what’s about to go down. “We’re winning,” Dar says, incredulous at McClendon’s plan to hit Keane even more. “Keane’s on the ropes. What the f— do you think you’re doing?” McClendon denies doing anything at all — and points out that he would never trust Coto with proper intel, leaving Dar doubtful about what he knows.
Similarly doubtful: Keane herself. Inside her suite, she watches the massive protest and sounds dismayed at her inability to decide on a next move. Luckily (er, sort of), she doesn’t have to think too hard about her policies at this point; Carrie arrives to warn them of the imminent threat, even though Thoms doesn’t believe her at first. Just then, another agent arrives to start evacuating them from the hotel, as a bomb threat has been picked up. “It’s happening,” Carrie says — but what exactly?
Even Carrie doesn’t truly know. She keeps a close eye on Keane’s movements as they head to the garage and file into different cars in the motorcade — Keane in one with Thoms, Saul in another that’s supposed to also take Carrie, and Rob in a van with a Keane decoy — and then receives a call. It’s not Quinn, as she had expected, but Dar, who’s calling to warn Carrie not to let Keane leave the hotel. “That hotel has been vetted for months,” he explains. “The bomb scare’s a ruse to get her on the street.” Carrie doesn’t fully believe Dar, but when Dar brings up the fact that Quinn is a very easy target for the conspiracy to pin an assassination on, Carrie acts. She jumps in front of Keane’s car and stops them from leaving… right as the decoy car explodes outside the garage.
Quinn head quickly toward the wreckage and then watches as two men head inside the garage. They’re following McClendon’s orders to make sure Keane was hit — they thought the second car had her, as Rob (RIP) had been inside — and before they reach the car that had actually contained Keane, Thoms helps Carrie and Keane back inside the hotel. Quinn follows the men — McClendon sees this in a printout from their feed — while inside the lobby, Thoms stays behind to stall their pursuers. Keane and Carrie race ahead, only to hear the gunshot that kills Thoms. The two men continue their chase, but Carrie’s just fast enough to get herself and Keane out of harm’s way.
While inside an elevator, Carrie explains that with their communications down and the explosion that just occurred, it’s clear that they’ve been trapped in a “kill zone” meant to take out Keane, but that they have to get out of there at all costs. And so they do, thanks to Quinn, who picks them up in a basement level, makes Carrie protect Keane on the floor of the car, and drives them out of the garage — only to be met with an armed battalion of men ready to take him out.
Their instructions aren’t to take out the incoming president, but to, as McClendon puts it, take out the man who tried to kill the president-elect. Carrie, ducked out of view with Keane, can’t see what’s happening as Quinn revs the engine and drives straight at the hail of bullets. He never takes his foot off the gas even as he gets shot twice, and eventually, as the dramatic music swells and the slow motion shots begin, Quinn’s eyes start to blur. His body slumps down, and he lets the car crash, almost feebly, into a sedan blocks away from the hotel.
Carrie begins to cry when she sees Quinn’s dead. Keane is too shocked to shed tears, only asking Carrie for the name of the man who just saved their lives. Carrie offers it, and as people rush around the car and take pictures of the women inside with Quinn’s corpse, she cries even harder.
Six weeks later, everything has changed. Well, not everything. Brett O’Keefe is still angrily bemoaning the state of the States on his show, but he does note something interesting in his rant: the fact that Keane has, after her assassination attempt, expanded the Patriot Act and jailed those who wronged her in the conspiracy, including a senator, presumably Coto. “Civil war is coming,” O’Keefe says, pointing out Keane’s refusal to comply with court orders and her use of army cavalry units to keep her safe.
Then again, maybe that’s just all O’Keefe, and not Keane. That’s how Carrie sees it: In a meeting with intelligence officials at the White House, she acts as Keane’s liaison to the community, explaining that the broadening of powers isn’t a targeted effort to take down personnel who may have been involved in the conspiracy. Rachel, the woman who had questioned Saul on Dar’s behalf several weeks ago, says that much of her staff has grown worried that they’ll be arrested or fired. Carrie says not to worry about such purges or, God forbid, gulags in place to take down those who wronged the new president. She smiles at the room — hey, at least she believes what she’s saying.
As Carrie races out of the meeting, Saul catches up and asks for a few minutes to chat. He’s worried about Carrie; it turns out that she didn’t speak at Quinn’s memorial and has barely spoken to Saul since the assassination attempt. “The worst happened,” he says. “Quinn died, and you’re still out there going a million miles an hour. You will hit a wall.” She doesn’t think so, and she quickly leaves…
…to meet with Keane and her new chief of staff, David. Carrie happily reports that she “calmed the herd,” but David isn’t so sure that the community can be trusted. Though Carrie defends the people she just spoke with — she did work with them for several years during her career — Keane just smiles and notes how Carrie tends to say what you don’t want to hear, and how it’s a good thing. In fact, Keane thoroughly approves of Carrie now; she asks to talk to Carrie alone, offering her a position as a senior adviser to the president with an office in the West Wing. Carrie says she’ll think about it — she’ll first have to meet with Franny’s case worker about moving to D.C. full time. Keane then gives Carrie a report about their plans to occupy the Baltic states, and Carrie looks pleased to be trusted.
Saul, meanwhile, visits Dar, who’s now in prison. The two don’t chit-chat very much; Dar dives right into defending his actions. “Believe me,” he says. “It was never my intention for things to turn so dark.” He explains that he lost control over the very thing he had started, and though he admits that what he did was unforgivable, he tells Saul that he did it all to protect America. “There’s something distinctly un-American about her,” Dar says of Keane, while Saul just stares with his brows furrowed. Saul doesn’t agree or disagree; he moves past Dar’s carefully chosen words and asks if there’s anything his old frenemy needs. There is, actually: Dar gives Saul a note to give to a young teaching fellow at George Washington University — a note we don’t get to read, or to see delivered.
Dar’s story will have to wait for next season. For now, Carrie’s getting ready to look her best for Christine, the case worker from Child Services who’s about to arrive to inspect Carrie’s home. Before she does, though, Max arrives on Carrie’s doorstep, drunk and messed up and thankfully alive. He launches into a speech about how it’s a disgrace “they’re making him out to be some kind of stupid action hero,” but Carrie doesn’t engage. She tells Max to be quiet and to wait in the basement, which has remained her best hiding place for strange men.
Fortunately for Carrie, Christine’s visit goes smoothly, and Max doesn’t make a peep. Christine even tells Carrie that she can ask for another court date immediately and that she passed the inspection with flying colors. Carrie’s delighted, and she asks if it’s okay to take a job in Washington. Christine says it’s fine, then wonders what the job will be. Carrie doesn’t give her a straight answer; in fact, she tells a little white lie, assuring Christine that it’s simply an administrative role, and one that’ll allow her plenty of time with Franny.
After Christine leaves, Carrie checks on Max, only to find him passed out on the bed. She notices how Quinn’s things are still scattered around the room, so she begins to toss them into a trash bag when she finds his battered copy of Great Expectations, the one we’ve seen with him since his season 2. It’s the book that also contained an image of his son and baby mama — and without a word, Carrie takes the book and photos with her to the couch in the basement and looks through them one by one. She sees Quinn’s son, John Jr., grow up through the photos that are just as well worn as the book they’re in. And then she finds the last photo: a shot of her, smiling right at the camera.
Seeing this, Carrie cries. She never needed evidence that Quinn loved her, but here it was anyway — and when Max, now awake, sees her sobbing over the photo, he doesn’t know what to say.
If only the hour had ended there. Instead, Carrie’s emotional breakthrough gets interrupted by a frantic FaceTime from Saul, who wants her to watch as he gets arrested. He tells Carrie to talk to Keane, and Carrie confirms his report as she watches the news about the president’s arrests of dozens of officials inside the intelligence community, the state department, and the defense department. “Today the president is sending a clear message to the American people that our democracy is strong and resilient,” David says in a press conference Carrie watches with her jaw dropped, “and we will do whatever it takes to defend it.”
“Whatever it takes” also means avoiding Carrie at all costs. Carrie races to D.C. after failing to get Keane and David on the phone, but when she confronts David, he tells her not to be upset. “This can’t be a total surprise,” he says. Sure, they used her to keep everyone off guard in that meeting, but there’s plenty of reason to arrest so many people, including Saul, whose apparent metadata trail handed over by the NSA shows evidence of him working with people who were complicit in the conspiracy. Carrie scoffs, pointing out that everyone was involved in some way, but doing this isn’t “house-cleaning.” “This is payback,” she says.
David calls for the Secret Service to remove Carrie from the building, but Carrie arrives just outside of the Oval Office. She pleads with Keane at the door, but inside, Keane simply listens, then coolly takes a sip of her water. And in the National Mall, all Carrie can do is stare at the Capitol Building, contemplating what just happened.
So did this finale work for a season that brought everyone home? In some ways, yes. As much as I liked Quinn, I’ve never thought the show couldn’t exist without him, and so I’m glad to see that Homeland managed to let him go. But I’m disappointed to see the show couldn’t keep its emotional ball in the air long enough to make his sacrifice sink in. Did we need an entire, drawn-out episode of Carrie just crying over his death? Of course not — and that wouldn’t have felt right for the character. But did her crying over his copy of Great Expectations (a novel with a classic, absolutely appropriate story of love and loss) six weeks later resonate the way her drawing a star for Brody did? To me, it just missed the mark.
And it missed it because it raced ahead to set up the next season. Homeland has always kept a fast pace, but the time jump, combined with that chilling, sinister shot of Keane shut in inside the Oval Office, felt like it came out of nowhere. Yes, we’ve seen Keane’s steely resolve slowly torn down over the course of the season, and yes, we’ve seen how she had been hurt before by those around her, especially when she had been kept at the compound, but we spent barely a minute with her after the assassination attempt to understand her thinking. The new chief of staff is also a question mark, and the new status quo feels too extreme, too bleak to be real.
Then again, last season told a bleak story too, one that ended with Saul looking at his ex-lover’s dead, bullet-ridden body and Carrie distraught over Quinn’s, but it still provided a glimmer of hope. This one, on the other hand, went all in on its darkness and took the focus off its players. It made the American political system look like a hopeless one, with no compassion for itself or for its people. Maybe that’s too severe a reading — after all, current politics are enormously partisan as well — but the twist, if you can call it that, ignores the characters in favor of plot.
Or maybe I just really need a drink after watching Quinn bite the bullet. For what it’s worth, the final shot is a memorable one: It is interesting to see Carrie gaze at the Capitol the same way Brody did. If the show’s next two seasons follow her as she reacts to a government that betrayed her… well, we’ll just have to see if she turns.