The hot war in a politically and culturally polarized nation comes to a climax tonight with the season finale of “Homeland.”
The Showtime drama has stayed close to home for the most part in its seventh season. Claire Danes’ intrepid ex-CIA officer Carrie Mathison has been waging an increasingly desperate battle against fake news, political provocateurs, wily Russians, disillusioned FBI traitors, and ideologues and opportunists on Capitol Hill.
Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson has gone from a federal prison at the start of the season to an office in the West Wing as the National Security Advisor to the embattled President Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel).
The fourth episode of the season, “Like Bad at Things,” eerily reflected the national debate on gun violence as a standoff between the FBI and a red-state family harboring right-wing firebrand Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber) erupted into a massacre fueled by stockpiles of automatic weapons. Keane has fended off efforts to force her to resign under the threat of being declared unfit for office via the 25th amendment.
Carrie has been fighting on two fronts this season. Her personal life is once again a mess. The medication she takes to control her bipolar condition has lost its effectiveness, leading her to breakdowns and erratic decisions even as she gains occasional flashes of insight into the macro-scheming that surrounds her.
By season’s end, Carrie has begrudgingly given up custody of daughter Frannie to her older sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), after several disturbing incidents make it that clear Carrie’s priorities are clouded by her mission and her lack of effective medication. In last week’s penultimate installment, Carrie and Saul are back together as we know them best, plotting a covert operation that will save the Republic, at least for another day.
“Homeland” has faced criticism this season for what some observers see as treading on familiar ground from past seasons with Carrie’s struggles with her disease and the obligations of parenthood. The early episodes of this season in the view of some critics turned on plots that strained credulity even for a high-octane drama thriller.
Lesli Linka Glatter, “Homeland” executive producer and director of the finale episode, “Paean to the People” (written by showrunner/exec producer Alex Gansa), said the show makes no apologies for exploring Carrie’s personal struggles.
“Carrie is a mother and she is bipolar — those issues are never going to go away for her,” Glatter told Variety. “She’s been well-medicated and functional for a couple of seasons but we all know (from research) that there’s a time when the medication stops working.”
For all the anti-heroes that populate TV dramas, the decision to make Carrie a mom with spectacularly bad judgment is a bold choice. “There are lots of taboos about not being the good mother,” Glatter said. “Carrie is a complicated, layered woman. It doesn’t mean she does not love her child but she’s pulled in many directions.”
“Homeland” has famously had its finger on the pulse of geopolitical currents throughout its run. This time around, the focus on fake news and the partisan paralysis in Washington, D.C. felt like the most pressing national security issue to tackle, Glatter said. But as ever, there was a sincere effort to depict more shades of gray amid the red vs. blue debate.
“One of the things I love that our show does is have two people in a scene who have completely opposing views and neither is right or wrong,” Glatter said. “There’s not a person in a white hat and a person in a black hat. Hopefully from that you ask yourself questions about what you might think about a subject. That to me is dramatic storytelling in a character-based way.”
Production-wise, “Homeland” made a choice this year to shake up the look and feel of the show by blending different styles of camera work — from dolly shots to hand-held — within the same scene.
“Our world is so divided because people are so entrenched with their own beliefs,” Glatter said. “We made some choices that hopefully emphasize that in terms of camera work. We’ve always used a lot of hand-held camera but this year we mixed things up within the scene. I think it added a lot of tension and anxiety. You feel the human energy in the scene by mixing up different modes.”
For Glatter, who is the supervising director for the series, a big challenge this season was lensing the final two episodes in locations split between the show’s home base in Virginia and a half a world away in Budapest. Glatter called it a “tag-team” effort with director Alex Graves, who helmed last week’s installment, “All In.” Lensing on the finale only wrapped about a month ago.
“We were shooting in Richmond and prepping for Budapest at the same time,” Glatter said. “It’s pretty crazy trying to orchestrate a move at this point in the season. In Budapest it takes a month to get a location approved so even before the (finale) script was locked we were making decisions before we really knew what we were dealing with on a production level. I finished shooting in Richmond, got on a plane the next day and started prep.”
“Homeland” has been renewed for an eighth season, but that doesn’t mean that season seven won’t end on a cliffhanger. There’s been talk from Danes and Gansa that season eight will be the final adventure for Carrie Mathison and Co., although Showtime has yet to confirm any such plan.
Glatter said the future of the series beyond season eight is “not clear yet.” From her perspective, there is a lot of life left to explore with Carrie and Saul.
“Saul and Carrie as characters are profoundly interesting to me,” Glatter said. “I think there are many more stories to tell about what is happening in our world through the perspective of these characters.”