With Chief of Staff David Wellington busy undermining President Keane’s power (arguably for her own good) and Carrie Mathison riding the wave of prescription drugs as she investigates a murder, Homeland centers this week’s episode on a bloody nightmare in the heartland. A big departure from globetrotting tales of governmental betrayal and espionage, “Like Bad at Things” tells the story of a disturbingly believable disaster, even before Saul Berenson draws direct parallels to Waco and Ruby Ridge. In those real-world cases, violence erupted between the U.S. government and those who no longer trusted or believed in it — and similar cases will likely happen again. Hopefully, if that day comes, it won’t be as horrific as the end of this week’s Homeland.
David is at home when a furious POTUS shows up. She first presumes that it was her military commanders who went over her head and ordered the Syrian strike, but Wellington confesses quickly. As he says, “We needed to put one up in the win column.” Wellington gives a speech he’s likely rehearsed a few times about how much he’s supported Keane, explaining that he ordered this strike to change the narrative about her presidency. Neither of them have any idea that Carrie is watching this exchange, but she can’t tell anyone about it or risk her surveillance being revealed. And, of course, neither of them have any idea that what’s about to happen will redefine her presidency forever.
On that note, things are getting more and more intense at what we’ll refer to as the “compound” housing fugitive and talk-radio host Brett O’Keefe. The FBI keeps bringing in new weapons, and it’s not long before the first shot is fired. It may only be at a drone surveilling the area, but it’s a shot nonetheless and a harbinger of things to come. The woman who lives in the home is worried about what might happen next. She should be.
Meanwhile, Carrie tracks Wellington’s buddy Simone Martin on the day she went to Hazelton, just before General McClendon died. The theory is that Wellington and Martin had something to do with his death. Tracking the parking ticket Martin received that day leads Carrie to a cash-advance place, where she convinces the guy who runs the counter to reveal that Simone was given $9,950. (Why that amount? Probably because five figures would require different paperwork and might even get the IRS involved.) Before you can say, “Hmm, that’s not a lot for a hit,” Carrie and Max figure out that Simone made four other stops where she took out similar sums. Which means she got almost $50,000 for a murder-for-hire.
The history books of the Homeland universe will write chapters about what happens next near the compound. J.J., the son of the owners of the home, is chasing his dog, who is shot from a nearby tree line by FBI agents. Responding emotionally, J.J. raises his weapon and he gets plugged in the stomach. An agent comes in to help and he’s taken hostage by the rebels. We have an injury and a hostage. This all just got very real. On a call to Saul, Brett reveals that he isn’t really in control, and we’ll learn that Saul won’t be for long either. The FBI refuses to offer medical help to J.J. as long as they have their man, but Saul calls the president and gets them to do exactly that. Saul gets shit done.
The EMS comes in to take care of J.J. and it doesn’t look great. He’s losing blood and could be going into shock. Brett O’Keefe uses the opportunity to broadcast to his loyal fans, saying, “The first shots were fired today in the war against America.” It’s one thing to stoke the passion of your listeners, but he also says that President Keane ordered it. It’s that manipulation of the truth that makes people like O’Keefe so loathsome: He has dozens of opportunities to stop what happens this episode, but he’s too weak and selfish to take them. J.J.’s mother senses this crucial mistake and yells at O’Keefe to stop while he’s still on the air. It’s a really sad moment — there is a young man’s life on the line and hate speech is flourishing. J.J. goes to a hospital.
While Carrie’s sister forces her to take her Seroquel, which makes her very drowsy, Saul is doing his best to negotiate with Brett. He knows that the chance for either of them to stop this madness is slipping away. “With all these guns, it’s inevitable,” he says. “Negotiators lose control.” He suggests that Brett remind his rebel buddies how the Alamo ended.
Crowds are assembled outside the hospital where J.J. is being treated — and that’s when a bearded man decides to do something horrendous. First, he grabs some scrubs and pretends to be a doctor to gain access to the hospital. Then he sneaks near the room where J.J. is being treated and snaps a pic on his phone that makes it look like no one is tending to him. He emails it out under the subject “FBI Lets Boy Bleed to Death.” It is 100 percent #fakenews and it’s going to lead to a massacre.
Carrie and Dante are still investigating, but she needs to get a drug cocktail to keep her stable first — this seems to be foreshadowing for episodes to come. Will Dante have to decide if Carrie making the right decision or just hasn’t taken the right meds? For now, she warns him, “If things fuck up, the badge won’t save you.”
The real action is happening at the compound, where the rebels have agreed to let the women and children go. They agree to do a health check and debrief, and maybe everyone will find peace. But we know that hospital photo is about to drop at the worst possible time. And that’s what happens: A news story features the photo just as the transfer is going down, and J.J.’s family doesn’t know it’s fake. Saul yells at Brett on the phone to tell them the boy is fine. They know he’s fine. Brett says nothing. He may claim he didn’t know whether or not to believe Saul, but it’s more likely he just needed to keep his ruse going. It’s a grave, terrible mistake: J.J.’s dad walks into the other room and kills the FBI agent whom he now believes killed his son.
All hell breaks loose. The FBI responds, opening fire on the compound. It’s terrifying. Shots ring out and Brett runs downstairs to safety. It’s too late to stop anything, which Saul sadly informs President Keane. Tear gas fills the basement, forcing Brett to use an American flag as a mask — not exactly subtle, but nice symbolism for a man who hides behind a bullshit concept of patriotism. They pull O’Keefe out, choking, crying, and staring at the bodies strewn everywhere. It’s the worst-case scenario of fire and death. And Brett could have stopped it with three words: “It’s not true.”
• With Brett in custody, will the disaster at the compound lead to further violence or protests? Could Homeland be setting up a season that’s about a full-blown civil war?
• I haven’t yet commented on the closing line of the credits, which you may not recognize. It’s from Quinn’s letter back in season five: “Just think of me as a light on the headlands, a beacon steering you clear of the rocks.”
• If you’re wondering why you recognize Brett O’Keefe, actor Jake Weber co-starred in CBS’s Medium for years and also appeared in Dawn of the Dead, Meet Joe Black, and U-571. (One last bit of trivia: He’s British.)
• I like the new credit sequence, but I wish they could have found room for the great Gil Scott-Heron line that opened it before: “The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things and see there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown.”