Past seasons of Homeland have ended with explosions and even the deaths of major characters, but season seven ends on a surprisingly somber note. The attempt by Russian operatives to undermine the office of the president of the United States essentially worked, even if its scheming has now been revealed to the American people. President Keane realizes that the political divisions exploited and deepened by the Russians can never be healed as long as she’s in office. Meanwhile, Carrie Mathison pays the greatest price as the “useful idiot” who is allowed to go mad in a Russian prison. These two women gave everything, with one giving up her power and the other having her sanity stripped away from her. This season of Homeland seemed to be asking that classic question: We won, but at what cost?
There are really two halves to “Paean to the People” — the extrication of Simone Martin from Moscow and the aftermath of her testimony on Capitol Hill. At first, it looks like Simone and Saul may not make it home. As Carrie tries to keep the Russian authorities, including Yevgeny, distracted long enough for Simone to board a plane for the States, Vice-President Warner reveals his true leadership. When Warner discovers that the Simone story was true — she’s alive and Saul has her, but he’s being detained at the airport — he has two choices: He can go with Senator Paley and basically let the Russians have everyone still on their soil, keeping America in the dark and Keane out of office, or he can order the diplomatic immunity that would put Saul and his team on the plane. He turns to Paley and says, “Get the fuck out of my White House.” Go Warner!
Just as the call is made to let Simone and Saul through, Carrie is finally reached by Yevgeny and his team. She keeps her head down, but Yevgeny realizes it’s Carrie and punches her. She hits the ground just as she hears from Max that Saul and Simone are in the air. She smiles at Yevgeny. She may be stuck there, but his plan has now completely fallen apart.
Cut to three days later. Simone is about to testify, Paley has been arrested for criminal conspiracy with a foreign power, and Keane is going to be re-sworn into office. Everything is great, right? Not so fast. And what about Carrie? Keane speaks of expanding sanctions against Russia — which Warner correctly suggests would be wiser as a bipartisan action — but Carrie is still stuck over there. We see that she’s in a Russian prison and under Yevgeny’s thumb. He wants her to read a statement that the whole thing was a CIA operation. Of course, no one would believe it, but it would plant a seed of doubt. That’s all that people like Yevgeny need. She refuses. He plays his trump card: her medication. If she doesn’t go along with the statement, she won’t get it. And she’ll go mad.
While Carrie is trying to figure out how to stand her ground and not lose her mind, Keane goes through a roller coaster of emotions. First, she recites the presidential oath by heart, and she does it with a smile and passion in her voice. She’s then confronted by two men: Warner suggests the bipartisan approach and Paley asks for some forgiveness as he goes to prison for the rest of his life. He literally gets on his knees and begs her to help his family. This wasn’t their fault. Her expression doesn’t change until she walks up to him and spits in his face. As tough as it is, it’s hard to blame her. Do you think Paley would have even met with Keane if the tables were turned? He was willing to allow Russian interference to destroy the country for political gain. He gets no favors, not even for his family.
However, it feels like these two encounters, and a sorrowful occasion at her son’s grave, start the wheels turning in Keane’s mind. There are long shots of Keane considering her options, and the speech she ad libs from the Oval Office will be her final address as commander in chief. It makes sense, both for the show and the narrative: Homeland wants some fresh blood in the White House for what looks to be its final season, and she’s right that some political figures are forever tarnished even after the truth comes out. There’s a parallel here between her decision and when Yevgeny speaks of watering a seed of doubt: Think of all the Brett O’Keefes of the world who would continue to undermine the Keane presidency by watering those seeds. And so, she does what she has to do and steps down. Her final words are, “Good night and God bless America.” With that, the lights go down on the Keane administration.
While all of that is happening, Yevgeny is playing one more cruel game. Carrie thinks that Alexander, one of her guards, is going to help her. She believes that he’s bringing her a pill to help keep her sane, but she learns from Yevgeny that it was just a sugar pill. It’ll do nothing. Again, Yevgeny is manipulating people through perception and emotion. But it doesn’t work on Carrie. She refuses to give in.
Seven months after President Keane’s resignation, we see the awful impact of that decision. On a bridge in Russia, Carrie is finally handed over to a group of American forces led by Saul. She looks utterly terrified. She’s wide-eyed, disheveled, and she doesn’t even recognize Saul anymore. The president stepped down and our hero is now completely mad. Who really won?
• Anyone else think that Gorin, the highly prized Russian prisoner who was released to obtain Carrie’s freedom, might play a major role next season? The price Saul and the government were willing to pay to get Carrie back seems like it’ll come up again, especially since we heard Gorin’s name more than once.
• Beau Bridges will return as now-President Warner next season, right? I sure hope so. He’s a great actor and he’s well cast in this role.
• Overall, this was a solid season of Homeland. It had some very high peaks even if ended on a run of relatively so-so episodes. Thematically, you have to admire the show for finding a way to reflect our current political scene so unpredictably. Plus, the performances were as solid as ever. We all miss Rupert Friend, but the new faces this year like Bridges, Dylan Baker, Costa Ronin, Linus Roache, and Morgan Spector were all good to great.
• Who was your season-seven MVP? This one goes back to the all-time series MVP for me: Claire Danes. Carrie had an impossibly difficult story line this time around and Danes didn’t phone any of it in. She’s still totally committed and believable, and she’s the reason why this show is going to reach eight seasons.
• What do you want from the final season of Homeland? Any hopes or wishes for Carrie? How should it all end?
• Thanks for reading along this season. See you next year!