Homeland finale recap: 'Paean to the People'
How much would you be willing to sacrifice for democracy? For Carrie, the answer has always been — and now, is clearly — everything. Her daughter, her freedom, her mind — she’d sacrifice it all just to know that her country’s still intact, just to have that moment where she can look up at Yevgeny Gromov’s shell-shocked face and smile at it.
The question is whether any of it really worked — but we’ll get to that. The season finale — an intense, powerful installment — opens where the Great Wig Switch left off: with Carrie, dressed as Simone, being driven away by Anson and his grey Mercedes to lead Yevgeny’s men away from the real Simone. The real Simone, in a blond wig to play Carrie, has been taken to the embassy, where Saul and his team are waiting to extract her from the country. On their way out, Mirov stops their car, suspicious of how quickly Saul wants to get out of the embassy when before he’d been stalling, but luckily Yevgeny calls just in time to report that they’ve found the grey Mercedes in question and are about to detain Simone.
Duped, Mirov leaves Saul be, and the Americans make their way to their jet. They’re not safe yet: Back home, even Keane can’t cover for Saul and his mission anymore. When Warner visits the embattled Keane, she tells him the truth, about Simone being alive and how Saul’s mission was to retrieve her — but she admits that all she knows now is that something clearly went wrong that led to the violence in Russia. She just didn’t tell Warner because, well, Warner just helped remove her from office. At least on the other side of town, Paley and Janet can’t do any more damage; Sandy discovers Clint had been threatened by Janet and folded, so she has Max take away Clint’s phone and vows to keep a close watch on him for the rest of the mission.
But the closer the Americans inch to their getaway, the more trouble ensues. Simone knows she’s being passed off as Carrie, but rightly asks Saul whether he’s okay with leaving Carrie behind. Carrie, meanwhile, has to dash off on foot after she and Anson are cornered in an alley. As she tells Max over comms, she just needs to find a way to stall the police long enough for Saul to make it out of the country with Simone. Unfortunately, that may take more than a few minutes: Saul’s van gets stopped at the airfield security checkpoint, and his diplomatic immunity isn’t enough to stop a guard from trying to order everyone out. He’d been scanning their passports, and while it seems like Simone’s doctored ID worked, the guards want one of the men on Saul’s team to be arrested as a suspect in a homicide outside Moscow. (They did leave bodies behind during their raid to extract Simone last episode.)
Saul doesn’t fold, however, and winds up calling Warner to request help for them to pass. Warner asks if the mission has been a success, and after a beat — Saul realizes Keane must have let him in on their plan — he says yes. “If our situation here isn’t resolved,” he warns Warner, “that will change.”
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Warner, though, must finish his chat with Paley first. Paley wonders if the call was about Simone being retrieved, and after learning that she is, he tells Warner that if they do bring Simone back and let her testify, Keane will be allowed back in the office, and she’ll be even more vindictive than before. He advises Warner to tell the Russian ambassador what’s going on, to blow up Saul’s mission, because after all, Warner himself has done nothing wrong.
But when the ambassador arrives in the Oval Office to chat, Warner completely ignores Paley’s treasonous advice. He tells the ambassador that he must allow Saul’s team to board within the next five minutes, or he’ll close the embassy and detain every single Russian diplomat. Cowed, the ambassador calls Moscow and Saul’s team is allowed to move forward. And as for Paley? “Senator,” Warner says, “You can get the f— out of my White House.” Who knew Ralph Warner would be the stealth hero of Homeland season 7?
It all culminates in Carrie barely fending off the guards before being grabbed out of her hiding spot and turned over to Yevgeny, who’s furious at the realization that he’s been chasing a decoy. Saul’s plane takes off with Simone on board, Carrie smiles her smile at Yevgeny, and it’s mission accomplished. For now.
The episode jumps to three days later, with Simone’s testimony about to begin. Saul’s task force has gathered inside their hideout, and they’re thrilled by what Simone finally says on national television: the truth. She admits that she’s a captain of the GRU — the foreign military intelligence agency of Russia — and explains that yes, she was a part of a team that “tried to compromise your president and push her out of office.”
Just then, Keane walks in and smiles at the team. “So, this is the room where it happened,” she muses, while somewhere Lin-Manuel Miranda gives a thumbs up to Homeland‘s writers’ room, probably. Keane’s there to thank the people who vindicated her, and to assure them that she’s doing “everything” to bring Carrie home. Saul’s smile fades a little as she says that, and so does Max’s. After all, getting Carrie back from Russia isn’t going to be easy. When Saul offers the Russian ambassador the opportunity to trade Carrie for three Russian prisoners the Americans are holding, he refuses, because Moscow’s in no mood to appease the Americans on any front at the moment. Plus, they’re holding out for one prized prisoner named Gorin.
So for now, Carrie’s being held in a grimy-looking facility where a man named Alexander has kindly provided her with a book so she has something to do while staying in her cell. He takes her to Yevgeny, who wants to make a deal: She can record a statement — a “confession,” rather, that the entire Simone thing was a CIA exercise, putting the blame back on the U.S. — or she can continue to live in her cell without the meds she needs to stay sane and sober. “Apologize to the Russian people, and the pills are yours,” he tells her.
Carrie refuses, because she knows that even if a filmed statement would immediately be dismissed — everyone would know she, a prisoner, was coerced into making it — it would still plant a seed of doubt that Yevgeny, as he puts it, can water. Once back inside her room, she tries another tactic: She asks Alexander to get her the pills she needs. He assures her he’ll try. (Next: A presidential homecoming…)
Back in D.C., Wellington follows up with Keane on her next steps. She’ll have to be re-sworn in as president and will need to address the nation. She’ll also have to deal with Warner, who’s been asking for a meeting, and Keane says she’s happy to chat with him one last time before they ignore him all over again.
But by the end of this meeting, she looks much less dismissive of her vice president than before. Maybe she’s just in a chipper mood; when she returned to the White House, her staff applauded her return and warmly looked on as she swore her oath once more. That type of goodwill, Warner points out, is something they should leverage. During their conversation, he tells her she has an opportunity to reach across the aisle and use her planned sanctions against Russia to unify D.C. All she has to do is make those sanctions something devised by her and by Congress, rather than an executive order. Do this now, and she’ll be able to pass something else down the line.
She promises Warner she’ll think about it, but when Warner leaves, she chides Wellington for humoring him. Wellington, though, tells her that someone has to stop the vicious cycle of partisanship this country’s in, and to exercise some restraint. But does it have to be her?
Besides, she has one more person to see first: Senator Paley, who had been detained in the D.C. Central Detention Facility shortly before Simone’s testimony, for actively helping Russian interests against the U.S. When Paley’s taken to her, he looks grayer than he did before, disheveled and weak. He pleads when he and Keane are left alone. “I let a terrible thing happen,” he begins. “People died. I beg your forgiveness.” But he’s not asking for leniency; rather, he wants assurance from Paley that his family will be okay, especially without him being the breadwinner.
Keane just glares at him as he makes his case. When she doesn’t say a word, he drops to his knees, begging for her to punish only him. He finally asks her to say something, but she just leans in closer and… spits in his face.
On the ride home, Keane looks at the Jefferson Memorial and then gazes at the Washington Monument. It’s not clear what’s running through her head, but from this point on, Keane grows quieter than before, no longer looking like her paranoid self from the last string of episodes. She contemplates her role, and the next day, visits her son’s grave. Director Lesli Linka Glatter smartly lets the camera linger on Keane (and Elizabeth Marvel’s extraordinarily nuanced performance) as she wordlessly places a wreath on Andrew’s tombstone, then straightens the American flag next to it. It’s somber and it’s human — and it’s in this moment (at least I think so), that Keane finally lets herself acknowledge her own truth…
…which is that she no longer wants to be president. Instead, what she wants to do is save the democracy. And that night, she discards Wellington’s prepared speech for her address to the nation and has her team set up the broadcast from inside the Oval Office instead of in front of a live audience in the East Room. She tells a worried Wellington that she wants to speak to the American people directly and from the heart, and that she’ll wing it — “I’ll let the spirit move me,” she says — once she begins. He protests, but she shuts him down. “Trust me, David,” she says. “I got this.”
And she really does. From behind her desk, she delivers a speech that perfectly captures the thesis statement of Homeland‘s seventh season: This country, for all the threats it faces from the outside, has been, for a long time, destroying itself from inside-out. Every attack it fends off from a foreign power begets more distrust within the government, sows more conflict, and creates more fissures within the pillars that hold up democracy. America is “an easy target” now, she explains, because it is “as deeply divided a nation as I can remember.”
She was part of the problem, she concedes: The assassination attempt on her life made her paranoid and angry and vengeful. “I wasn’t above using the power of this office to lash out at my enemies,” she admits. “I don’t believe it was against the law, but it was wrong.” Which brings her to the point she wants to hammer home to Americans — and which I tried my best to transcribe:
From there she tells the American people that she’s resigning as president, and that she’s doing it not because she’s weak, but because she’s trying to “shock this country back to its senses,” so that everyone can remember that they need to “find common ground.” When she signs off, her staff is speechless. And Saul, who’s been watching from inside his office, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
Keane’s right: This is a shocking move. But is it the right move to make? Sure, having a more trustworthy president would be ideal, especially one that doesn’t have the baggage she has, but is Warner really the best bet for a government on the brink of collapse? And more importantly, for the world of Homeland, does Warner truly want the job? What did his exit from the room mean?
We won’t know that for sure until season 8. In fact, the final scene of this finale jumps forward seven months and doesn’t reveal whether Keane’s plan worked. Instead, it follows Saul as he heads to the shadowy Russian-Estonian border, where the exchange for Carrie is about to take place. The Russian CIA station chief can’t offer him any good news on how she’s been doing, and last we saw of Carrie, she had been outplayed by Yevgeny, who told her the pill Alexander managed to get her was a useless sugar pill, as he’d gone running straight to Yevgeny with her plans and gotten a promotion out of betraying his American prisoner. So in other words, Carrie’s gone seven months without her meds and without any contact with the people she trusts.
Across the bridge, a woman is taken by two men toward Saul, and Saul confirms that it’s Carrie. He watches gravely as his side takes the prisoners, including Gorin, toward the Russians, and the Russians come closer with a disheveled Carrie. They’re finally close enough for Saul to glimpse Carrie clearly, and he looks dismayed by what he sees: Her hair’s unkempt, she’s off balance, and she appears to have no idea what’s really going on. The jazz music then kicks in and picks up as Carrie’s shoved toward Saul by a Russian guard. She takes off running toward him, only to rush right past him, trip, and tumble onto the ground. “Are you alright?” he asks her, picking her up and trying to catch her eye. She just looks back confused, her eyes darting over his face and around them both, and fails to respond.
It’s a bleak ending that points to an even bleaker beginning for season 8, Claire Danes’ last. And it feels appropriate: After a season about animosity within America, it would have been far too unbelievable (even more unbelievable than some of the wildest twists and plot holes this season) to have the finale conclude with a sane and safe Carrie. I’m glad the show didn’t save Carrie’s exchange for next season, because this gives Homeland a compelling place to start when it picks back up. Each season, we’ve watched as a put-together Carrie unspools. This time, we’ll likely begin with the opposite, with a lost Carrie working hard to find herself again.
And finally, as always, thank you all for following along with my recaps. This season grew better as it went along after a shaky start, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series further examines the political climate we’re in. As frustrating as Homeland can be, it always does have something interesting to say. So in other words, bring on season 8.