“Paean To The People” is split into roughly two halves. The first is Homeland at its thrilling, suspenseful best, as Saul and his team attempt to make their getaway from Russia with Simone in tow while Carrie acts as a decoy. The second is more of an extended epilogue, or a series of endnotes, some which are executed more successfully than others. The biggest surprises are saved for last, but that’s not to say they’re the best.
That first twenty-five minutes or so is executed almost flawlessly, though, with the series’ steadiest hand, Lesli Linka Glatter, at the helm. Picking up immediately where we left off last week, Yevgeny is tracking the vehicle into which he saw a bewigged Carrie duck at the end of the last episode. The plan is for Anson to drive her to the embassy while Saul makes his apologies for being suddenly recalled to the United States and whisks Simone and the rest of his party to the airfield. Complications, as they say, ensue. Saul’s vehicle is first stopped while exiting the hotel parking garage and then at the airfield gate, where a check of the passports results in a guard demanding one of Saul’s team, claiming he’s wanted for a homicide. Carrie is forced to lead Yevgeny and his operatives on a wild goose chase through the streets to buy time, eventually holing up inside a shop while Saul attempts to get acting President Warner to demand his release. (Nice move by wrapping the big red scarf on a random pedestrian, Carrie, but maybe ditching the wig could have bought even more time?)
This is vintage, pulse-pounding Homeland, especially since we’re not sure where we stand with Beau Bridges’ character. Does he really have the best interests of the country at heart, or is he, too, in league with Paley, who urges him to cut Saul’s team loose so he can retain his hold on power? Turns out it’s the former, and in an expertly edited sequence, Yevgeny gets his hands on Carrie just as Saul’s plane lifts off. The look Saul gives out the window says it all: he knows he’s left Carrie behind to an uncertain fate.
That’s just one of the loose ends dealt with in the extensive wrap-up that constitutes the episode’s second half. The mission is a success. Simone testifies to the Russian plot to compromise Keane and force her from office, the feds drag Paley off to prison, and Keane is re-sworn into office. As to whether this is truly a triumph, the show keeps us guessing to the end. Keane has been an erratic character all season, and that remains the case in “Paean To The People.” One minute she’s all smiles as she thanks the members Saul’s ops unit and reacts to the staffers cheering her return to the Oval Office. The next she’s giving Paley the stone face as he crumbles before her, pleading for the sake of his family and receiving nothing but her spit in return. When she tells Wellington she plans to “wing it” as she goes live on the air to address the nation, we’re primed to expect almost anything. If there’s been a purpose to her scattered characterization, this is it: we don’t know if she’s going to announce war with Russian or martial law or what.
That it turns out to be a resignation speech is unexpected enough; that this speech ends up being a plea for national unity from the Homeland writers (Alex Gansa is credited with this week’s script) is a bit cringeworthy. It’s a piece of wish-fulfillment, really, that the American president would admit using her power to lash out at her enemies, that she would acknowledge that our democracy is in grave danger and that it’s our fault, not Russia’s, and that she would resign to allow a less-divisive figure take over the office and lead the way toward bipartisan common ground. Since when is Homeland science fiction?
That leaves only Carrie’s fate to be resolved, and for a moment there, I thought she’d be spending the entire hiatus in a Russian prison. After refusing to record a message blaming the Russian interference on a CIA plot, Carrie is deprived of her meds and left to slowly go insane over seven months until a prisoner-exchange deal is finally reached. Our last look at her in 2018 is meant to be a disturbing one: wild-eyed, wild-haired, running past Saul and falling, and seemingly not recognizing him at all. It’s a little too Shock Corridor to really pack the intended wallop, though, and I dread any sort of extended time with this version of Carrie at the start of next season. Let’s just skip ahead a few more months and get it all behind us, yes? For now, though, we’re left with a mostly satisfying end to a bounce-back season.