‘Homeland’ Season 7 Opens With Eerie Parallels to Reality

Homeland is the latest TV drama to be directly touched by real world tensions. It begins its seventh season with as much intrigue, twists and bullets as its predecessors, but there is a different mood now lingering over its narrative. Like “Mr. Robot,” this is a series that began inspired by the headlines but is now actively chasing them. The season opener is a thriller at breakneck speed, but its grip (and crutch) comes from the fact that, as with so many other shows, the world has suddenly become so different from when the show first premiered.

The new season opens as Washington, D.C. reels from the aftermath of the assassination attempt on newly-elected president Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Paranoid and rattled by the attempt, Keane has ordered sweeping arrests of those suspected to be involved in the attack. This has sparked wide, intense debate around the country and her senior aide David Wellington (Linus Roache), warns her that many are beginning to slam her as authoritarian (quite a few lines make references to Stalin). 200 members of the intelligence community have already been rounded up. Keane’s main target is General Jamie McClendon (Robert Knepper), who she is convinced is part of a military scheme to carry out a coup. In the shadows former CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is carrying out her own operation to work against Keane’s policies while trying to get to the bottom of the assassination attempt.

TV shows centered on politics these days are asking themselves how they can possibly compete with what’s on the real news. This was a dilemma faced last year by “Scandal,” which can’t seem to spin any melodrama more entertaining than CNN or Fox News. But “Homeland” is so well crafted that we’re carried along by its energy and sharpness. It began as a show about counterterrorism, but is now firmly set in the very domestic conflicts revolving around political figures. As the new season opens, the show does an interesting thing and turns the tables on reality. President Keane is a liberal accused of being a thuggish authoritarian. She’s also a woman, which makes the contrast with our real world debates more provocative. Her scenes with Wellington boil with intense back and fourths as she seeks the firing squad for McClendon and becomes increasingly abusive in the exercise of executive power. The dialogue snaps and crackles with some memorable one-liners, especially when she tells Wellington, “I didn’t bring you here to be my girlfriend.”

Others in the supporting cast are colorful references to reality. The most memorable supporting role is Jake Webber as paranoid radio host Brett O’Keefe, who is obviously modeled after conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (Webber even imitates Jones’s accent to perfection). In almost campy mode, the show has fun with O’Keefe as a reference to Middle America paranoia, showing him making misogynist jokes during his broadcasts and munching on fast food afterwards. But the writing is smart in making him a bit more challenging. When he accuses Keane of becoming an authoritarian or near-tyrant, it’s a little hard to argue when the show’s heroine, Carrie, feels the same and Keane’s own actions attest to it all.  

But above anything “Homeland” still works as an engaging entertainment. The scenes where Carrie meets with characters in dark parking lots have atmosphere and conversations become puzzles laced with intense spy drama. The details are fascinating when it comes to how to avoid someone in a hotel lobby, where to pack your weapon, or how to swipe someone out of your way with CIA-trained skill. Even as the show has lost some of its original edge and is now more “House of Cards” than international terrorism thriller, it’s never boring. The ending of the season premiere is intense and riveting, with dark implications for where the plot is headed.

Another strong element is how the series still tackles all the implications of the characters’ world. Carrie isn’t written as just some tool in a plot. She clashes with her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) over the fact that Maggie’s husband works for a government Carrie now considers tyrannical (“He is a collaborator”). These moments have some strong, convincing moments where words cut deep.

Fans who have been loyal to this series for six seasons will find much to like in its seventh round. As “Homeland” prepares to reportedly end with the upcoming eighth season, it is firmly placing itself at home within the current upheavals taking place in its fictional White House and our real one. Maybe it can’t top the headlines, but it’s good enough to help us escape from them.

Homeland” Season 7 premieres Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. ET and airs Sundays on Showtime.