Homeland ushers us into the back half of the final season with another episode that simply feels different in March 2020 than it would have at any other time. Listening to a fictional leader whose inexperience is showing that he’s not quite ready to grapple with decisions that could lead to panic, violence, and unrest is simply eerie in an age of daily disruptions to our reality. No one in the Homeland writers’ room could have imagined the double meaning today of a line like, “How does a weak president show he’s strong?” This recap is being written while a president pats himself on the back for accomplishments in a press conference instead of reassuring the public, and it feels somewhat like an answer to that Homeland question.
Taken on its own, apart from the tragedy unfolding around the world, “F**ker Shot Me” is kind of a thin episode. There’s some nice work by Claire Danes as Carrie is faced with reliving the repercussions of a major decision that she made back in season four, but we haven’t really moved the ball much down the field by the end of this episode. The world is still on the edge of war, Max is still captive, and Haqqani is still in serious trouble. It could be a byproduct of several weeks of intense momentum finally slowing, but this is what could politely be called a transitional episode, slightly amplifying character traits like Hayes’s poor leadership and Haqqani’s doomed fate, but ultimately serving to set the stage for what’s to come.
Let’s talk about President Hayes. After playing backseat driver to President Warner, he’s now behind the wheel, making major decisions that could impact the stability of the world. He not only seems to be listening more to the rhetoric of G’ulom than the advice of the smartest people in his government, but he even invites the controversial world leader to be there when Warner’s body returns home at Dover Air Force Base. It’s hard to believe anyone would think that’s a good idea, but Hayes sees political capital in violence and wants to be assured by his new BFF. The truth is that G’ulom knows that Hayes is easily manipulated, playing to the idea that coming down on Haqqani and the Taliban will make a statement in the first few days of his Presidency. The scene near the end in which Hayes pats himself on the back for catching Haqqani, who turned himself in, has the definite feel of another world leader who likes to take credit for doing the bare minimum.
Haqqani turned himself in with the hope that he would be given a fair trial, and Saul is doing his best to make sure that happens. He reaches out to Qureshi, who brings her political power from Pakistan to go with Saul to the judge’s house. They convince her to rule for a continuance, to give them time to find the proof that Haqqani didn’t assassinate two world leaders. She agrees, but it all backfires the next day when they switch out the judges. And the new guy isn’t interested in a trial. It’s more of a sentencing, and that sentence is death. It could happen any minute now, and David Wellington encourages Hayes to do the right thing and force G’ulom to issue a stay, but the new POTUS is busy getting his ass kissed by a new player, a man named John Zabel (Hugh Dancy), who looks like he’s about to be a whole lot of trouble for the concept of world peace.
While World War III is about to break out, Carrie and Yevgeny are tracking Max into Pakistan, where he was taken after the ’copter mission. It leads them to a village in which Carrie issued an order to bomb a mosque back in season four, thinking Haqqani was there but instead murdering innocent people at a wedding. She’s shaken up by even being there, and wonders if Yevgeny is still playing mind games with her. We should wonder, too.
They find Max, but the reunion is brief before he’s shuttled off to another location. They track him there, too, but he’s under a lot of armed guard and held captive by Jalal Haqqani, the son of the Taliban leader, and someone who clearly wants to lead his father’s organization into violence. What are they going to do with Max? It doesn’t look good and Carrie’s calls to send in the cavalry aren’t going to work in time. It even looks like Carrie might rush in to save Max on her own, but Yevgeny stops her. Is this the end of Max?
It really feels like Homeland is building to incredible violence in the Middle East. Haqqani’s death sentence will lead to attacks on bases and embassies from the Taliban soldiers in the area, but Hayes is more interested in the press around “getting” the guy who killed President Warner in such a short amount of time. He’s all short-term reward and no long-term planning, and he’s the kind of guy completely uninterested in what’s happening on the other side of the world. If he gets the right attention from the people around him and the right press, then everything else is secondary. Again, draw any parallels to life in March 2020 that you see fit.
• Mike wonders if Carrie has pulled a “Kim Philby.” If you didn’t get the reference, Kim Philby was a British Intelligence Officer in the ’60s who was actually a double agent, feeding information to the Soviets.
• I was wondering how long it is from when Carrie leaves the airport to when we see her and Yevgeny in Pakistan, so I did the math. They’re in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is nine hours by car apparently. So Yevgeny grabbed Carrie from the airport in Kabul the night before, and they drove all night. Must have been fun.
• Hugh Dancy! Homeland has been great at casting supporting characters in the past, and it looks like they had at least one more in the wings. The star of Hannibal has the perfect eager smile to play someone who is clearly going to use Hayes for his own political means. And, of course, Dancy is married to Danes in real life. Awww.