It makes sense that this episode begins with the sound of sirens. Keane has lost control of her chief of staff, her administration, her image. Brett O’Keefe, too, of his domain in Lucasville. By the end of the hour, the high-wire act Saul’s trying to pull off turns into an all-out war. Of course, Carrie’s story remains the only thread grinding all the tension to a halt…but we’ll get to that.
For the most part, this entry’s the strongest of the season 7 quartet so far. Wellington’s Hail Mary — circumventing Keane’s order against the air strike — worked, at least when it comes to repairing Keane’s image. The morning shows have been praising the move, and people love it! This was the day Keane finally became president!
But Keane doesn’t see it that way. And why should she? She’s been undermined and can’t do anything about it, especially after Wellington butters her up with a speech about how much he believes in her and how she just needs a chance to prove herself. It’s all quite baffling, and Carrie rightly points this out when Max arrives, having watched the whole thing on her laptop feed from inside Wellington’s house.
Then again, Carrie’s reading a lot into everything. She barely lets Max get in one word before she starts connecting dots, telling him that Wellington, given how he played Keane, must be capable of taking out someone like McClendon. But Max reminds her that everything she knows has been obtained illegally, via surveillance they, again, illegally installed in Wellington’s home. And with Carrie grounded after her last debacle, what’s she supposed to do?
Brett O’Keefe faces a similar standoff — at least in his mind. He could very easily, very simply stop a disaster from happening between the FBI and his army by giving himself over to the feds, but that is the antithesis of what he — and more importantly, his broadcast persona — stands for. Brett O’Keefe is the Voice of the American People, the men of men, the leader of the fight against Keane. How is he supposed to go away quietly when there’s all this opportunity for something big to damage Keane right at his doorstep?
So here’s what he decides to do: Make a promise he can’t keep. He’s clearly wary about the amount of ammunition that’s been stockpiled around him by his pseudo-army — hey, he’s no good at firearms, remember? — but when he’s confronted about how dangerous the site, the home of a couple named Bo and Mary Elkins, is becoming, he says that he would never let anyone’s kids get hurt. In fact, he says he’ll make sure to hand himself over if things get out of hand; after all, he’s the one the FBI want, not any of these folks around him.
Maybe he believes it, that he’ll be able to prevent bullets from flying. But barely a minute after he says that, the men around him notice a drone flying overhead, piloted by the FBI. One of the men grabs a rifle and shoots it down — and in one move, pisses off the entire FBI operation except for Saul, who’s trying to keep a level head.
That classic Saul Berenson level-headedness gets tested soon enough. Though the Elkins have begun to take their kids away from the main house, JJ — the boy with the Brett tattoo — has run off chasing the family dog Bruno. (Which…feels like it comes out of nowhere? Maybe we’ll find out in two episodes that Costa Ronin’s character baited the dog or something? Because otherwise I have loved Bruno simply because he’s a dog and it feels wrong to be mad at a dog for causing all the subsequent trouble? Anyway.) Bruno winds up running straight at the FBI agents parked at the border, so Bruno gets shot (yikes), and when JJ exclaims over his dead pet, the FBI shoots him too, and when a special agent tries to help fix the situation, he gets taken hostage.
In other words, everything is screwed. But while Saul races to the scene immediately to see what he can do, Brett just stares as Bo and the other men bring a bleeding JJ back inside the house. He’s stunned; he broke his promise. And when he gets on the phone with Saul, he almost sounds apologetic, describing to Saul JJ’s condition. He admits that he’s lost control — that even though Saul needs him to relay the message that there’s a hospital nearby they can take JJ to, he might not be able to convince the men that that’s the right move.
Even Saul’s having trouble working with Agent Maslin, who insists on Brett’s men bringing their hostage back before they provide JJ with any medical attention. Saul, being a rational and decent human being, points out the fact that JJ is a 16-year-old kid, and that they cannot have his blood on their hands. Maslin resists, so Saul’s forced to call Wellington, who — sigh — also resists at first, pointing out that his rocky relationship with Keane right now means that Keane really shouldn’t have to hear another piece of bad news. It’s an absolutely ridiculous argument, and Wellington knows it, and so, finally, Wellington gets Keane to get on the phone with Maslin and help move JJ to a hospital.
The FBI sends in an ambulance with two paramedics, Brett’s men search them, and they’re allowed to help JJ. One of the paramedics, though, has a surveillance device she plants on the radiator next to the special agent taken hostage before she leaves. With JJ on the way to the hospital, Brett goes back down to the basement to broadcast a new message, using the literal blood on his hands to demonstrate how Keane’s work has led to violence. It’s the message he wanted to send all along, but before he can continue talking, JJ’s mother tells him to “just stop.” Looking a little pained at her comment — or maybe I’m projecting? — Brett does. (Next: Uphill battles…)