‘Homeland’: After a Season of Exposing Russian Collusion Season 7 Ends With Sudden Twists

Has Robert Mueller been colluding with the writers of Showtime’s “Homeland?” Season 7 began as a clear statement on the current state of the White House, with CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) taking sides against a seemingly authoritarian president. It then turned into a Cold War-style thriller as a nefarious Russian plot to influence the American government was uncovered along with secret operatives doing Moscow’s bidding. The season finale, titled “Paean to the People,” is a fittingly engaging yet somber finale. It begins as a thriller and closes in the darkest shades.

The episode opens in full action mode as Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) carry out an operation in Moscow to extract Russian mole Simone (Sandrine Holt), this way she be taken to the U.S. to testify on the Russian scheme to oust deposed President Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Keane was of course pushed out of office in the previous episode by her VP, Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges). The operation turns into a full on street battle and Carrie is eventually captured by Russian intelligence villain Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin). When Saul and Simone are stopped by soldiers near the U.S. embassy, Warner rejects the suggestion of Kean adversary Senator Paley (Dylan Baker) and orders the Russians to let them through. Simone arrives in Washington to testify. But the situation can’t just be easily resolved. Carrie is left to rot in a Russian prison, with her essential medication kept away, while Keane faces the fact that if she remains president, the divisions in America manipulated by the Russians will continue to fester.

This is a season when many notable shows are entering cycles nearing a decade on the air. Having emerged from a post-9/11 culture, “Homeland” in season seven very much attempted to prove it remains relevant. It has essentially been chasing the headlines all season long. The early episodes were mirror reflections of the political and cultural debates sparked by the election of Donald Trump, and the second half became a virtual shadowing of the investigation into Russian interference in the vote. This is but television, which means the volume has to be pumped up. Carrie journeys into Russia in “Red Sparrow” mode, with a black wig and ready to evade Moscow authorities. The chase scenes, as Carrie and Saul get Simone out, are exciting, especially when Saul reaches the border and we really don’t know just what Warner is going to decide. Those pesky TV Russians of course don’t care for diplomatic immunity, and they never smile but speak in deep, threatening accents. There’s a James Bond quality to the material here with bad guys that are quite one dimensional. They are merely a headline yanked for a script. But as popcorn it’s never boring.

Yet “Homeland” itself has never been a purely one-dimensional show. This season posed some interesting ideas and challenges. It gave audiences a female president, but one who was not above vindictiveness or heavy-handed policies. The second half of the finale turns into a somber, reflective piece. The Russian plot exposed to the public, Keane is re-sworn in to office (she can even recite the oath by memory). But then the sense of safety is broken yet again.There is a moment where Paley falls to his knees before Keane, begging for forgiveness for opening a backdoor for Russia to mess with American democracy. She simply stares, coldly, even as he begs for his family to be protected, since he will most likely rot forever in prison. What he gets is her spitting on his face, literally. Keane also hesitates to do much to get Carrie out. She even hesitates to consider imposing sanctions on Russia with the support of both parties in Congress. Instead she carries out the show’s biggest twist and announces her resignation. Is this scene a sort of coded message to the actual commander-in-chief? It’s not too far-fetched. The language Keane uses sounds like the daydream of a sector of the country. Keane announces that the Russian incident has left her agenda too compromised, so the best thing is for her to step down. Eventually Carrie is released in a prisoner swap arranged by Saul. High-level Russian spies are traded for our Showtime heroine. She is dazed, her mind lost from not having her medication. It is surely one of the darkest finales this season. Little hope is left as the credits roll.

“Homeland” season seven gives the impression that the showrunners will be thoroughly taking notes every morning while scanning the headlines, as they prepare for the next round. At this point the series is preaching to its faithful choir, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It has somehow maintained its capacity to be a good thriller every week for seven seasons, even as it chases current events. It knows better than most that to be boring is a terrible fate.

The season seven finale of “Homeland” aired April 29 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.