Any suspense Homeland might’ve sustained with regard to chief of staff David Wellington’s (Linus Roache) betrayal of President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel)—say, allowing her to blame the hawks in her employ for going through with an air strike she expressly forbade—evaporates in the opening minutes of “Like Bad at Things.” (As it happens, the title’s missing comma is, like, the least of its problems.) With Carrie (Claire Danes) creeping on their conversation via her remote surveillance feed, Wellington confesses immediately, and Keane, beyond furious, decides… to keep him on board. (Management 101 with Madam President must be a real gas.) Just as last week’s “standoff” read more as a holding pattern, then, Wellington and Keane’s inconclusive argument lets the air out of the subplot before it’s begun, as if the writers regretted introducing it in the first place. And who could blame them? Despite Carrie’s insistence, Homeland doesn’t treat the circumvention of the chain of command as particularly worthy of note, much less condemnation: “It’s crazytown,” she says to Max (Maury Sterling). “Anything is possible!”
My working theory of Season Six (you know, when it still held promise) was that Homeland had become self-aware enough to grapple with its own misrepresentations of the “War on Terror”—most prominently by making an innocent Muslim the fall guy for a right-wing plot. As I’ve suggested time and again, this has become so garbled, ideologically speaking, that the series needs to rid itself of Keane and her nemesis, Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), if it has any hope of recovering. Increasingly, though, my working theory of Season Seven is that Homeland has simply chosen to aim that self-awareness elsewhere, namely at Carrie’s mental illness and its depiction thereof: Welcome to Crazytown. Anything is possible.
And by anything, I mean anything: Having cyber sex with talking ransomware, telling cascading lies to local law enforcement, spying on the fucking president of the United States, buying a cocktail of generic Indian pharmaceuticals out of the trunk of some guy’s sedan. (Homeland/High Maintenance crossover episode, anyone?) On the one hand, this at least presses up against being outright offensive, mining the character’s bipolar disorder for dramatic contrivances. On the other, Homeland has always mined the character’s bipolar disorder for dramatic contrivances, even when critics and audiences—myself included—were slavering over it. (One of my favorite TV moments of the decade is still the cut to black that concludes Season One, as Carrie draws an important connection in the Brody case mere seconds before she undergoes electroshock treatment.) Of course, the prospect of Carrie “surfing” Seroquel and Ritalin waves under Dante’s (Morgan Spector) guidance is enticing because she’s the season’s only bright spot so far, the fount of its over-the-top entertainments. But tonight’s episode also suggests that Homeland is beginning to hold its depiction of bipolar disorder up to a (funhouse) mirror; the description of Simone Martin that Carrie gives to the check-cashing clerk is, of course, a description of herself (driving her family insane, running up immense debts), and there’s something about her dismissive definition of the illness that feels faintly self-critical on the series’ part. “It’s a form of crazy,” after all, is how Homeland has preferred to gloss bipolar from the start—it’s always been less interested in the lived experience of the disorder than in its external effects.
Whether this is an entree into reading the season or me grasping at straws, I can’t yet say with confidence, but it’s worth acknowledging that only a series this brazenly without fucks to give would even attempt such a reckoning. In the meantime, anything seems possible, at least when it comes to Carrie—which is a small mercy, given how predictably the “standoff” between O’Keefe’s acolytes and the FBI devolves into a shootout, down to Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) ham-fisted references to Waco and Ruby Ridge. As soon as the supplies arrived at the compound in the early going—bottled water, canned goods, generators, guns—I wrote “This is bad” in my notes, and for every expected escalation of the situation—the destruction of the FBI’s drone, the shooting of the dog, and the shooting of the young man; the taking of the hostage, the killing of the hostage, the climactic raid—I added an exclamation point, as if to tally how many times I wanted to roll my eyes.
This “resolution” does serve two useful functions: One is to introduce The Americans’ Costa Ronin as an anonymous agent of chaos, stirring up trouble by leaking that misleadingly cropped picture of the young man “left to die” in the hospital; the second is to get O’Keefe off the lam, if not off his (or Homeland’s) high fucking horse. The fusillade of destruction from which O’Keefe cowers, all while live-streaming from “the real America,” is ludicrous enough; his emergence from the clouds of tear gas, mouth covered with the stars and stripes, is more ludicrous still; the tinkling, mournful rendition of “God Bless America” that accompanies the closing credits is most ludicrous of all, a glimpse of the series patting itself on the back for dealing with (read, making hash out of) “serious” issues it no longer has the chops to handle. When it switches from (possibly) self-critical to (laughably) self-congratulatory, the episode confirms that the title applies to Homeland itself.
Tack on another exclamation point, folks: This is bad!
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.