Just as lean as “Chalk One Up” but a bit meaner, “Chalk Two Down” finds two men thrust into power and responding in very different ways. These back-to-back episodes bring Homeland as close to 24 territory as it’s been in a long time, with events occurring in close to real time and characters racing against the clock on all fronts. Although Carrie’s Russia storyline seems all but forgotten, the “previously on” segment hints at how it will come back into play: It was Carrie, after all, who suggested that President Warner come to Afghanistan in the first place, and at some point suspicion is going to fall on her again.
Confusion spreads in the aftermath of the helicopter crash. Some are quick to blame the Taliban, an easy conclusion to reach since they did shoot down the escort chopper. Still, there’s no evidence that’s what happened to Chalk One, so a team from the Army post is sent out to find the wreckage and any possible survivors. Max is among them, but his time as a lucky charm has come to an end. When the team reaches Chalk One, they soon ascertain that there are no survivors, and that includes both presidents aboard.
When Vice President Hayes gets the news, his brash cockiness evaporates in an instant. His first instinct is to run and hide, forcing David Wellington into wartime consigliere mode. Once Taliban forces arrive at the crash site, the question on the table is this: Retreat and allow them to take control of the site, including the president’s corpse, or drop a bomb and ensure Warner’s body is never recovered by anyone? Carrie is against the latter plan, not so much due to any considerations about the proper disposal of the president’s remains, but because destroying the helicopter will eliminate any evidence of the cause of its crash. Enter Max Piotrowski, reluctant action hero, who manages to retrieve the black box (“It’s orange,” he notes, though it looks red on my screen) under fire. Sticking around that long results in most of the team getting killed, and perhaps spending their final seconds on earth regretting that time they talked their good luck charm out of leaving.
At the White House, the feckless Hayes is trying to pass the buck to the military and avoid making a decision, but Wellington isn’t having it. He essentially bullies Hayes into calling for the airstrike, and even then Hayes tries to give the order without actually saying it. Because this is Homeland, there’s every reason to suspect this is all an act and that Hayes could be behind the chopper crash, but for the moment it serves as a stark contrast with G’ulom, who gets the news back in Kabul. At least while in each other’s company, he and Tasneem plead ignorance about the crash, which suggests that even if one of them is responsible, they weren’t working on it together. The U.S. ambassador wants to coordinate any announcement about the crash with G’ulom, but he has plans of his own. He makes a speech breaking the news, declaring martial law, and announcing a manhunt for Haqqani, who he publicly blames for the deaths of both presidents.
Is it possible no one is responsible? That’s Carrie’s hunch as she investigates the crash and finds that the president’s helicopter was swapped out at the last moment, and that the engineer who signed off on the switch has vanished from the base. For a few tense moments this plays like the first thread of a conspiracy being pulled, but it turns out the engineer is with his pregnant girlfriend off-base, and that the transport swap was a routine matter due to their mechanical unreliability. I expect we’ll find out eventually that it was no accident, just because that’s not Homeland’s style. Still, wouldn’t it be the ultimate twist, in the final season, if it turned out there was no conspiracy at all—just disparate players willing and eager to capitalize on the possibility of one?
- Speaking of 24, Homeland has gone through presidents so quickly of late, I couldn’t help wondering if it has come close to the prior show’s total. Not close! As far as I can tell, 24 had a total of eight presidents during its run. (I’m not including the reboot 24: Legacy here, which may or may not have had another president. My research is inconclusive.) Homeland kept the president offscreen for much of its run, with only Keane, Warner, and now Hayes actually appearing on the show. (I think! Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)