Over the last half-decade or so, “Homeland” developed a penchant for prescience. Be it Russia’s cyber interference with American elections (in Season 6), a European terrorist attack (in Season 5), or a U.S. president at war with their own intelligence community (Season 6 again), the Showtime drama’s preseason intelligence briefings set the stage for annual stories that felt ripped from the morning headlines.
Season 8 was no different. Though the final season didn’t focus on controlling a deadly worldwide contagion, it did make a point of illustrating how national emergencies can escalate into further tragedy when an incompetent, easily manipulated president is at the helm. Without ever saying his name, “Homeland” took Donald Trump to task while the country was reeling from his lack of leadership.
“The idea was, ‘What has America learned since 9/11?'” executive producer and director Lesli Linka Glatter said about the origins of their presidential plotline. “If we were faced with another crisis, whatever it is, would we react [better]?”
9/11 had to be acknowledged before “Homeland” said goodbye. The 2001 terror attacks initiated the need for the Department of Homeland Security, which in turn inspired the series that examined its employees, their actions, and what it meant to be a patriot when you couldn’t always rely on your country’s government.
“[‘Homeland’ looked at] how terribly the overreaction to 9/11 served us,” Linka Glatter said. “We have the worst foreign policy in the Middle East that we could ever have as a result of not really digging for the truth, and needing to act before knowing.”
Looking at a similar scenario in the final season felt like a fitting way for the producers to say goodbye. Little did they know history would repeat itself yet again, introducing a fresh catastrophe for an ill-equipped leader.
[Editor’s Note: The following portion of the article contains spoilers for “Homeland” Season 8.]
The final season’s driving crisis pivots on the death of President Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges). After negotiating peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the president’s helicopter goes down, killing all its passengers and starting a heated investigation into what happened and who’s to blame. Vice President Benjamin Hayes (Sam Trammell) is elevated to Commander in Chief and, without knowing how his successor died or even if he was killed, the freshly anointed POTUS fans the flames of war instead of pushing his predecessor’s plan for de-escalation.
“Again, obviously, our president is not Trump. But he is looking at a huge crisis, which we’re in right now with the pandemic,” Linka Glatter said. “And look at how [Trump] is behaving. Again, totally different scenario — [the pandemic] is not the death of a president in Afghanistan — but both scenarios focus on the idea that, if something horrible happened, would we deal with it better because of what we’ve learned?”
If one such lesson was to elect more experienced, intelligent leaders, then “Homeland” wasn’t shy about acknowledging how badly we’ve failed to do so. President Hayes, to put it mildly, is an idiot. While not as pompous or egotistical as his real-life counterpart, Hayes mirrors Trump in plenty of other ways. He’s inexperienced in foreign affairs, yet unwilling to admit as much or properly educate himself even when faced with an ongoing crisis.
Hayes also relies on a tight inner circle to provide him with positive talking points and plans offering good optics. First, he takes council from David Wellington (Linus Roache), the late president’s Chief of Staff who soon finds himself outside the Oval Office.
“With Wellington, is it better to have someone sane in the room? I think so,” Linka Glatter said. “Listen, with Trump, we have a president who doesn’t want anyone in the room who doesn’t agree with him. He gets rid of them.”
Hayes, too, soon turns to a political ally and right-wing extremist, John Zabel (played by Hugh Dancy). As investigations turn up little evidence, Zabel pushes the president to strike back anyway; it doesn’t matter that they don’t know who’s to blame — the American people demand justice.
Such thinking should sound familiar to anyone who lived through the second Bush administration, and President Hayes undoubtedly shares as much DNA with the 43rd POTUS as No. 45. But bungled leadership at critical junctures remained the focus — and provided the final season’s most resounding, relevant takeaway.
“This season, we’re looking at how America projects itself overseas. How do we project our power overseas?” Linka Glatter said. “Would we overreact [if pushed]? I think the answer is yes. Look at what we’re dealing with now. Everyone’s looking to Andrew Cuomo because he speaks the truth, even if it’s not a truth that you’re happy about. People want to know the skinny and now, no one knows where to find the truth.”
The truth is of vital importance in “Homeland,” as Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) risk their careers and lives to make sure the president is acting off proper information. Without it, these intelligence officers would be lost, as would the country. Right now, as a country continues to reopen even as new COVID-19 cases spike, it feels like the truth doesn’t matter anymore. Carrie and Saul are gone, and all that’s left is a presidential fool.
“Homeland” Season 8 is available via Showtime.