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‘Homeland’ Finale Recap: ‘Paean to the People’ Examines Polarization and its Discontents

Spoiler alert: Do not read if you have not seen “Homeland’s” season seven finale, “Paean to the People.”

Homeland’s” seventh season came to a close with a dreamy escapist fantasy for the many U.S. voters who are concerned about the partisan warfare in Washington, D.C. and its debilitating ripple effects on the body politic.

By the second half of “Paean to the People” — written by showrunner/exec producer Alex Gansa and directed by exec producer Lesli Linka Glatter — Elizabeth Keane had been reinstated as President, after being forced out in the penultimate episode by a 25th amendment play lead by unscrupulous Sen. Sam Paley (Dylan Baker).

Paley is behind bars for conspiring with a foreign power (or collusion by any other name) and forced to beg for mercy from the President he previously frog-marched out of the White House. She spits on Paley in disgust, but President Keane has one last surprise to unleash on live TV: she’s resigning in recognition of the part she has played in dividing the country.

“I wasn’t above using the power of my office to lash out against my enemies,” Keane tells the nation as she reveals her intent to hand the Oval Office reins to Vice President Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges). Keane gives a stirring speech urging the country to focus on unity, healing, and compromise for the good of the country. 

“If it takes a woman to shock this country back to its senses, so be it,” she says. “Let’s make a promise here tonight — an American promise to each other that instead of scorching the earth between us we will try every day to find common ground. There will be a new President in the morning. Help him. Pray for him. Our future depends on it.” 

Keane is exonerated after the mission to Moscow by Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) claims its prey — Simone Martin (Sandrine Holt), the Russian agent who helped foment the fake news stories that got Keane in such hot water.

Saul nabs Simone by playing a classic spy-fy switcheroo when the brunette dons a blond wig to masquerade as Carrie in order to get out of Russia with Saul & Co. Carrie is the fake-out for the Russian agents hunting Simone to kill her before she can spill all to the Americans. Carrie has to provide cover for the others to get Simone back to Washington to testify before Congress. Carrie takes a big one for the team and is taken into custody by the Russians.

In the closing moments, seven months have passed and Carrie has been denied her bipolar medication unless she agreed to record a statement saying that Simone’s testimony was all untrue and the whole thing was set up by the CIA. We finally get the big showdown between Carrie and Yevgeny (Costa Ronin) that “Americans” fans have been waiting for all season. A punch is thrown, and it isn’t by Carrie.

Yevgeny vows to withhold Carrie’s bipolar medication if she doesn’t agree to a give a videotaped statement. “F— you” and “go to hell” are Carrie’s responses. Cut to seven months later, Carrie is released at a border crossing as part of a prisoner exchange — four Russian bad guys are let loose to secure Carrie’s freedom. Only the Carrie that is shoved toward Saul in bad shape — goggle-eyed, twitchy, and seemingly barely able to speak. The long stretch without her medication has clearly taken a toll on the woman who promised her young daughter early on in the episode that she would absolutely return home.

The seven-month gap and the fact that Carrie wore a loose-fitting down coat in the final scene fueled immediate speculation that Carrie’s ordeal in the gulag left her pregnant — a chilling inference about how she was treated while spiraling out of control without her meds. The fact that Danes recently revealed she is pregnant with her second child will only add heat to the rumor.

All told, season seven of “Homeland” had more ups and downs from a creative standpoint than usual for this meticulously crafted drama that more often than not been astounding in its ability to reflect the post 9/11 zeitgeist. The big question we’re left with at the end of this season is whether season eight (which is already ordered) will be the show’s last, as Danes and Gansa have indicated.

As good as “Homeland” can be — from the writing to directing to the tour-de-force performances by Danes and Patinkin — the vagaries of season seven suggest that producers and Showtime would be wise to take a cue from President Keane and realize when the time is right to call it a day.

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