‘Homeland’ Season 7 Takes on Fake News and a Government at War with Itself
How do you augment the drama of the U.S. government when that government has become a weird circus of its own? Satirical TV shows have had a hard enough time finding their place in a political atmosphere that seems to be lampooning itself, but to be a drama fictionalizing serious, underlying governmental issues is an almost impossible tightrope to walk. Showtime’s Homeland has always sought to feel topical, whether in focusing on homegrown terrorists, agency in-fighting, Wikileaks-like data dumps, or CIA collaborations with foreign revolutionaries. But in its seventh season, which kicks off almost exactly where things left off in Season 6, the series seeks to maintain relevancy while also flipping the script, leading to a convoluted start.
Showtime only released one episode of the upcoming season for review, which suggests there are many twists and turns awaiting us on the other side. But what is clear in that opening hour is that in the wake of an attack on her life, President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) has cleaned house and jailed federal employees, becoming increasingly paranoid and calling for drastic actions against the plotters. Is she wrong to do so, after a a failed military coup? Maybe not, but Homeland sets her up as an enemy of her own government, as far as Carrie (Claire Danes) is concerned. It keeps Carrie on the outs (per usual), despite her attempts to regain access by promising a senator that she’ll deliver an informant who has no desire or intention to speak. To paraphrase her weary sister, there’s once again a massive government conspiracy that only she (Carrie) can stop.
That kind of self-aware line can work, since the show wants us to believe Carrie and be on her side. And yet, it also later attempts to unfairly question her through her sister bringing up her potential mania. Homeland has always had a tenuous relationship with Carrie’s mental illness — it can sometimes be a superpower (where she can see connections no one else can when she’s in a hyper manic state), but it tends to come and go in service of the plot rather than her growth as a character. And yet, this season seems to be considering a very fair take in regards to how anyone functions sanely in what feels increasingly like an insane world.
One of the most interesting, and possibly ill-fated, ideas that Season 7 tinkers with in its premiere is keeping up with the show’s odious Alex Jones-like character Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), who continues to gain grassroots support even while on the run from U.S. Marshals. Despite being a spin doctor and peddler of fake news, O’Keefe (despite some controversial statements — both within the world of the show and in the larger context of attacking female leaders) does more or less tell the truth to his viewers in this first hour. Is he being set up as a possible ally for Carrie, as someone to whom she can leak information about illegal detentions that Keane and others aren’t willing to address or acknowledge?
It’s certainly a way to shift the expected narrative into a new place, especially as we see something as tiresome as our old pal Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) trotted out yet again to a position of potential power. There are other familiar themes, like questions about allegiance — one of Homeland’s core tenets — and whether characters are playing it straight or setting up something sneaky. But the final scene of the premiere episode suggests that the Keane administration is headed into some uncertain waters, ones that Carrie may have to counteract via less-than-appealing means.
Any of these potential plot quagmires all play second fiddle, though, to the fear felt when realizing Homeland is introducing another angsty teenage character. Season 2 and 3 may seem so long ago now, but the memory of Dana Brody will not soon fade. With Carrie currently staying at her sister’s house with Franny and her sister’s family (and most pointedly her teenaged daughter), Homeland seems to be trying to once again shoehorn in a personal life for Carrie that the show doesn’t really need to have. Danes has always been incredibly compelling as Carrie when she’s just going about her business. A long, twisty sequence of events in the premiere shows Carrie trying to secure a location to protect a source, and it’s far more interesting than her bickering with her sister’s husband over him being a supposed “collaborator” with the government.
With only one episode of the new season available to screen, it’s impossible to know where Homeland will go from here. Like every season, there are enough good things to justify watching if you’re caught up, and enough of the not-so-good to be concerned (and it won’t win back those who have dropped it). Still, seven seasons in, Homeland is managing to find new ways to stay relevant alongside a political world that it both wants to mirror and subvert.
Homeland Season 7 premieres Sunday, February 11th on Showtime.