[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Homeland” Season 7, Episode 1, “Enemy of the State.”]
Did the President of the United States just have an American general murdered?
By the end of the “Homeland” Season 7 premiere, that certainly appears to be the case. But no matter how soapy such a twist may sound, it’s a fantastic move for all fans of “Homeland” — provided the series follows through.
Wrapping up an hour that established President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) as a “fascist,” the first episode’s final seconds pushed her iron fist even further: General McClendon (Robert Knepper), who committed treason by plotting to kill President Keane at the end of Season 6, is dishonorably discharged and sentenced to life in prison. But the president thinks he’s getting off too easy and tells her chief of staff David Wellington (Linus Roache) to “fix it” — implying from earlier conversations that she wants her original wishes carried out: She wants McClendon dead, and Wellington makes it happen.
Though the description itself may sound like Showtime’s Emmy-winning drama is headed toward melodramatic extremes more akin to “House of Cards” and “Scandal,” how McClendon’s death is shot as well as how it’s contextualized in the episode makes his death far more substantive.
Aside from commands from the guards, director Lesli Linka Glatter shoots the six-minute scene sans dialogue, crafting a cold, ominous atmosphere while connecting the crime with the de facto detective investigating it. As McClendon is inspected and infected with the fatal drug (presumably via the mouth swap), Carrie watches Wellington via cameras her good buddy — and fan favorite — Max (Maury Sterling) installed earlier. The President’s top aide turns off a news report on McClendon’s sentencing and sits in silent contemplation, clearly concerned about what’s playing out with the disgraced general at that very moment.
Carrie doesn’t know it, but she’s watching a man wrestling with his conscience over a murder ordered by the President of the United States. She’s staring at the link she needs to imprison a leader who’s detained so many of her peers in the intelligence community, and the next episodes will undoubtedly examine how she connects the dots.
Hopefully, they’ll do more than that. “Enemy of the State” was so technically precise, so filled with spycraft, and so dialed in on relevant real-world issues — painting the president as vengeful, stubborn, and acting in her own best interests — that it’s already grounded in reality. “Homeland” hasn’t been dealing in gonzo entertainment for a while now, preferring more of an even-keeled and resonant approach to its season-long stories. That’s served it well, for the most part, but in the Trump era, the series started to feel almost too grounded; too rational; too level-headed for a world that was anything but.
This ending sets up the series perfectly to stick to those roots and embrace the madness of the modern-day administration. Keane’s parallels to Trump are quickly and firmly constructed (without backing off a narrative originally written before Trump was elected), and watching her get caught up in an immense, career-ending cover-up (the likes of, say, election tampering resulting in obstruction of justice charges) should keep “Homeland” relevant.
But what’s really exciting for veteran fans — those still nostalgic for the days of “Crazy Carrie” — is the complicated path to impeachment our hero now faces. As evidenced by Robert Mueller’s lengthy and complex investigation into the Trump administration, Carrie is going to have to move heaven and earth to prove what she just witnessed second-hand. First of all, her video surveillance is illegal and thus inadmissible. Second of all, it doesn’t prove anything other than Wellington was sick of watching the news.
But these sort of infuriating complications are exactly the kind of things that send Carrie over the edge. It’s what makes her take drastic action; far more drastic than prematurely outing an FBI Agent to a U.S. Senator before he’s ready to have a meeting, let alone testify in Congress. She’s out of work, in massive amounts of debt, and even her family is starting to lose faith in her. But she’s onto something. She’s caught the scent of a crime, and Carrie never lets that sort of thing go.
And that means “Crazy Carrie” could return (although we should probably retire that indelicate nickname). It means she likely will return, and in the proper context. The world is absolutely insane right now; if any moment in time demanded a fiercely passionate risk-taker like Carrie Mathison, it’s this one. Let her off the leash — even if it means partnering up with Alex Jones stand-in Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber). Man, that would really drive her nuts.
The only concern is that come next week, when President Keane is confronted with McClendon’s death, she denies giving the order. She can throw Wellington under the bus, sure, but the audience needs to know that when she said “fix it” she wanted McClendon dead. If it’s just a misunderstanding between president and aide, not only does “Homeland” lose much of its dramatic stakes, but also some of the relevancy it’s worked so hard to cultivate. Whether anything comes of the Russia investigation or not, viewers needs to see the intelligence community fight back against a fascist administration. The world needs Carrie right now. Let her loose.
“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.