Is Carrie Mathison about to become a terrorist? The likely answer is no, but that’s the question I was left with at the end of “America First.” The final shot of Carrie gazing at the U.S. Capitol with equal awe and disdain echoes the final shot of the pilot, which found Nicholas Brody looking at the same edifice the same way as he planned a devastating terror attack. And Carrie would probably feel justified in taking her revenge, since Peter Quinn died protecting President-Elect Keane only to watch her take office and become a president unworthy of Quinn’s final act of sacrifice. But more than anything, “America First” is such a deeply implausible and phony episode, a radicalized Carrie wouldn’t be any harder to believe than the crimes committed by Dar Adal and his treasonous “deep state” co-conspirators.
“America First” picks up where “R Is For Romeo” ended, with President-Elect Keane under the watchful eye of her Secret Service detail after her motorcade hit an overeager protester. Keane looks out at the sea of angry people chanting “Not my president” and holding up protest signs, some of which mock the son who died in battle, and has a quiet moment with Saul. Homeland usually excels at these kinds of scenes, which take a massive global concern and turn it into two people just talking. The problem this time is that the show hasn’t done that great a job of laying out what it is anyone is protesting in the first place or why people take such issue with Keane’s presidency.
Keane tells Saul she made a grave error by appearing on Brett O’Keefe’s radio show, fearing she might have made matters worse, but I’m still unclear on why there was such a grassroots opposition to Keane in the first place. Homeland has done a pretty good job of staying topical this season even as the world of politics has gone topsy-turvy in ways no one could have predicted. But in the process of splitting the difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, certain nuances have been lost completely. The Keane the audience sees is steely, thoughtful, and compassionate in ways that seem to compensate for her more unorthodox impulses. And yet, all these people are protesting because of a video that attacks the memory of her dead son? What exactly am I missing?
Apparently I’m missing quite a bit, because suddenly Dar has allies far more prominent and dangerous than Brett O’Keefe. As it turns out, General Jamie McClendon is actually pulling the strings, and the anti-Keane conspiracy also includes Senator Elian Coto. Coto points Dar Adal to McClendon, the mastermind behind the plan to kill Keane and frame Quinn for her death. Meanwhile, McClendon is the one leading the black-ops strike team tasked with assassinating the president because she has unpopular opinions about Iran or whatever. Dar Adal is furious, considering he believes they’ve damaged Keane’s presidency beyond repair as it is, but McClendon is a diligent traitor, so he won’t stop until Keane is dead.
And still, my main thought while watching all of this is what makes Keane so threatening that assassinating her before she takes office is considered a reasonable solution? The whole thing apparently makes perfect sense to Carrie, who grabs Quinn and hustles over to the site of the protest, fearing Keane’s assassination may be imminent. Carrie is a highly intuitive person, but the pacing of the episode makes it seem like Carrie is holding her powder for some reason rather than trying to stop the assassination attempt as quickly as possible. Rather than scream bloody murder until Keane was secured, Carrie watches as the building is evacuated following a bomb threat. Carrie knows something is wrong, but furrows her brow instead of speaking up because suspense demands the first two vehicles in the motorcade get blown up while Keane is spared.
By this point, “America First” has already gotten so ridiculous, it’s tough to invest in the action scenes that follow the botched assassination attempt. It’s a shame because director Lesli Linka Glatter mounts the scenes effectively. I even experienced a few fleeting moments of suspense before remembering this is an episode of Homeland in which a powerful cabal including a sitting senator, a general, and a radio host plotting to murder the incoming president. Quinn gets a send-off that would be fitting and poignant had it not grown out of such a profoundly silly plot. As much as Quinn will be missed, the decision not to write him out at the end of season five is more confounding than ever.
After Quinn dies and Carrie and Keane narrowly avoid death, the episode jumps ahead six weeks to show how the dust has settled. Keane took her oath of office behind closed doors, and Carrie agreed to come aboard as a liaison between Keane and the intelligence community she’s alienated. Rob Emmons wasn’t lucky enough to make it out of the bombing alive, and he’s been replaced by David Wellington (Linus Roache), a new chief of staff who encourages his boss’s worst impulses. Saul and Carrie still haven’t managed to restore their relationship to where it was when Dar Adal first came between them. Dar Adal has been jailed for his crimes along with McClendon and Coto, but Brett O’Keefe is still free to dump out exposition as needed.
In the final moments, Carrie gets betrayed by Keane, who had her insist to the intelligence community that they needn’t look over their shoulders following the assassination attempt. Then, officers sweep Washington arresting anyone remotely related to the plot, including Saul. Keane, who will presumably be the president when Homeland returns, ignores Carrie’s reasoned pleas. Who knows how that will bear on Carrie’s decision to take a job as a senior adviser in the White House, but I assume she’ll probably turn down the job now. Maybe go back to the legal clinic and enlist Reda to represent Saul? Whatever is next for Homeland, I sincerely hope it doesn’t involve nuclear disarmament in Iran.
- The grossest thing about this finale to me is how it returns Homeland to the neo-conservative fantasy it’s always threatening to become. If the president watched this show, I shudder to think what he would take away from a story in which a newly-elected Interrupter-In-Chief becomes a literal target of deep-staters intent on usurping his power. The ending seemed to condemn Keane’s actions, but there was, in fact, a far-reaching conspiracy to assassinate her. I don’t know that her arrest spree is that unreasonable a response under the circumstances.
- Linus Roache will definitely be back for season seven. I can’t imagine he signed on for one episode. If he’s back, that means Elizabeth Marvel will be too.
- I, your humble reviewer, will not be back next season. This season finally pushed me away and I feel comfortable parting ways with Homeland. Good luck and godspeed.