The fifth episode of the final season of Homeland is about the chaos that would ensue after the crash of a world leader’s helicopter, smartly divided into three sections that focus on the past, present, and future. Carrie Mathison gets the first section, trying to figure out what happened that led to President Warner’s chopper going down in the Korangal Valley. The future belongs to now-President Hayes and General G’ulom, two men faced with leading their sections of the world forward, whether they like it or not. Meanwhile, the present is very dangerous for Max and the soldiers tasked with getting to the copter, confirming the president’s death, and retrieving any evidence there. It also presents Hayes with an unimaginable decision – whether to literally bomb the body of the President of the United States or risk his corpse getting into the hands of the Taliban.
Picking up immediately after the end of the last episode, “Chalk Two Down” opens with troops, including Max, headed out to the crash site while power players in Kabul and Washington D.C. watch history being made through body cams and other forms of surveillance. Instantly, Hayes is blaming the Taliban and pushing the narrative that they were behind this, and that’s before anyone even knows if Warner is dead. He didn’t want the president to go there in the first place, and now a man who looks like he’s always eager to express his opinion but rarely courageous enough to take real action is going to be in charge. God save us all.
Saul knows how quickly this is going to go bad, especially if there is room for doubt as to what really happened. He notes how quickly people rushed to judgment after 9/11, an interesting stance for the writers to take in that it’s basically accusing the U.S. government of rushing that investigation instead of finding the people really responsible for the attacks (which is true, of course, but not commonly stated on television). While they try to basically keep their fingers in the dam holding back World War III, Saul encourages Carrie to do what she can to find the truth, while G’ulom hears that the presidents of the United States and Afghanistan have not yet returned, and realizes he has an opportunity here, too.
While the soldiers are reaching the first crash site, Carrie arrives at Bagram Airfield to retrace what happened there. The first site is not the president’s copter, but the wreckage and bodies there are not a good sign. And Max knows this is the one he was supposed to be on. The chopper with POTUS and the Afghani President is two clicks away for the soldiers, as Carrie discovers that the president’s helicopter was swapped out at the last minute. Why?
Carrie and soldiers from Bagram hunt down the mechanic who made the swap, a man who abruptly left base after the president took off. Uh oh. Of course, it turns out to be something of a red herring. He left because of a pregnant girlfriend, not because he planted a bomb on a helicopter. And it turns out that they swap copters all the time because the equipment in the region is so shoddy. Is it possible that the president’s chopper wasn’t shot down, but crashed for a mechanical reason? Everyone needs to know for the safety of the world.
The soldiers reach the key chopper and discover everyone inside is dead, including both world leaders. It’s a sad day around the world. Even Hayes seems crestfallen, his face swirling with uncertainty about what to do next. He seems like a man who never quite wanted this level of power. David, on the other hand, knows how to act in crisis. He tells him about closing the markets to avoid a crash and setting the tone in the way they report the news to the American public. Hayes isn’t ready. He’s emotional and stuck, unable to act, closing the door in David’s face.
Saul calls G’ulom to report that the gossip is true, hoping that the General will be with him for whatever’s next. That seems unlikely. G’ulom never supported peace with the Taliban, and this is his chance to blame them for everything and start a war in at least the region, and potentially the world. Knowing what’s likely to come, Saul also calls Haqqani, telling him what happened and warning him to leave if they have any chance of succeeding at peace. This is an interesting move if the international narrative becomes that Haqqani and the Taliban killed the president. If that’s the public story, what if someone discovers Saul informed him first and told him to run? With so much going on, that subplot feels unlikely, but it’s worth noting how much Saul is putting on the line here.
As the Taliban reaches the site of the president’s crash, the big question hits the floor: how far will they go to stop them from getting the president’s body? If the Taliban takes it, they could do horrible things to it to encourage their cause. Saul and Carrie desperately argue against destroying the site once the American soldiers are clear of it, knowing that it could mean they’ll never really know what happened to the helicopter. They even get a hold of Max and give him an assignment: get the flight recorder. He does exactly that, even as he watches all of his fellow soldiers die.
As Max leaves the recorder at the first crash site and holds his hands up to a gun-wielding Taliban fighter who appears will either take him prisoner or shoot him, G’ulom strikes at his chance to be the world leader who write the narrative of this moment. From a podium, he says things like “shot down,” “assassination,” and he blames Haqqani. Who wants to bet that the recorder that will be retrieved from the crash site will prove that wrong?
• So what does this all mean if peace was thwarted and the president died because of inadequate machinery? The idea being that unfunded operations on the ground led to World War III would be an interesting note to end this show on. Yes, it would highlight how rushes to judgment have been the truest deterrent to world peace, but wouldn’t it also strike a note that we need more military funding? We’ll see how the writers let it play out.
• A thought on the spineless Hayes: Anyone who says “for the record” to try and get some sort of imaginary credit for something they said in the past in the middle of a tense moment is an asshole.
• Let’s consider all the options as to the president’s crash in a helicopter:
1. It was faulty machinery.
2. It was user error, a pilot making a mistake.
3. The Taliban shot it down.
4. The I.S.I. (the Pakistanis) shot it down.
5. Some crazy possibility like the U.S. did it, the Russians did it, Quinn’s ghost did it, etc.
What’s your bet?