In “R Is for Romeo,” the penultimate chapter in a thrilling sixth season, the horrifying truth of modern living couldn’t seem more bleak — and yet, this episode offers real wisdom about how we ourselves could become part of the solution, rather than adding to the problem, of a post-factual world.
Tonight’s lesson? Our deepest instincts, our hard-wired need to fight for our survival, is easily manipulated by triggering our basest emotions, whether they’re triggered by anything at all… Because the importance of distinguishing between real and perceived threat is everything.
In this hour, and for the first time in a long time, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is an unwavering harbor: A beautiful thing in an ugly world, the voice of sanity and reason within a volatile environment of blind emotion.
He’s seen it all, and been changed by it — but that change comes with real, hard-won knowledge, and a comforting and steady, deep quietness. Would that we could all develop our own inner Saul… Or rather, the show suggests, disaster is assured if we don’t.
Saul risks everything — in this case, his freedom and professional reputation, and presumably life — to seek out President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) and tell her everything about Dar Adal and O’Keefe’s (F. Murray Abraham & Jake Weber) massive misinformation campaign, from the secret, six-floors-down Middle Earth bunker to the “Office of Policy Coordination” that operates it… Of which neither former Senator Keane nor the Solicitor General have ever even heard.
Keane’s gratitude results in immunity and sanctuary for Saul, and for a split second, it looks like his wise counsel could have handed Keane a slight victory. Saul sits calmly in the midst of the sh**storm, a beautifully benevolent sage (our Yoda, our Gandalf, in an Empire of internet Orcs) and reminds Team Keane softly just how many elected regimes have been toppled, since the beginning of time, with exactly the sort of campaign being waged against Keane now.
“The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things — and see that there might be another way to look at it, that you have not been shown.”
But as Keane, and we, are learning: Now that it is televised, that revolution cuts both ways. Disconnecting a populace from a sense of civil governance or representation is the first step toward regime change; propaganda with a sense of urgent transparency — the “truth” “they” don’t want to you know, which happens to align perfectly with your nastiest impulses — has never been easier to disseminate.
In the infancy of the internet and instant telecommunications, that sense that everything is equally lies leaves us vulnerable to accepting whatever confirms our preconceptions as the easiest, and thus truest, truth. And in the face of this concentrated, pre-fascist warmup assault, the Figurehead of State President-elect still feels personally like Sisyphus — and the truth she’s pushing up a precipitously steep hill will always be sent toppling back down upon her by the Dars and O’Keefes of her world, as in ours.
All the same, who wants to stand idly by and get steamrolled?
At Saul’s recommendation, Keane addresses Elliot O’Keefe (Jake Weber) directly, about his smear job against her son Andrew. Calling him a coward, she gets an invite onto his show, where she reveals her hand and calls out the Office of Policy Coordination.
It’s an awesome moment — and an all-too-fleeting fleeting triumph. Not long after, she walks out on the interview, and then the true power and talent of a spin doctor like O’Keefe becomes apparent. He takes Keane’s words of warning — directed against him specifically, individually — and transforms them into a threat against his, and their, free speech.
Which is, as ever, a barely coded message: He takes a woman, fighting for her life and that of her country, and warns his fans that he won’t be the last man she tries to silence.
And just like that, his rabid followers are whipped into an even greater frenzy, hurling themselves at her car without a care for their own safety. By episode’s end, Keane is shellshocked by the unrelenting nature of this fight for political survival. And not even Saul’s calm voice can really pull her out of her posture of frozen defeat.
And then there’s poor dear Max (Maury Sterling), caught in the middle as usual — but who could’ve expected he’d end up stuck between Dar and O’Keefe?
Dar is brutal with Max, in the super creepy “HR” department — aka the world’s most ominous supply closet — at his new job: “All that tells me is you have no idea the sh** you landed yourself in,” Dar hisses when Max asks for a lawyer, and we’re inclined to agree — but just when it’s safe to assume this is curtains for Max, the plot thickens to a cement-like consistency, in classic “Homeland” fashion, instead.
In an other elaborate fake-out paper chase-style escape, Dar breaks Max out… Then immediately kidnaps him to a new location. Freaked out by O’Keefe’s sneakiness about the Peter Quinn dossier he spotted while Max was creeping on them, Dar’s headed outside the realm and awareness of the “Office of Policy Coordination.” His cruelty slowly shading to a more comfortable pissiness, Dar puts Max on the case: An obviously fake, very insane, anti-Keane war-vet sockpuppet… with Quinn’s face.
If O’Keefe knew enough to hide this little Peter project against Dar, but not enough to do it right, it seems like Dar’s love for Peter might be the key to mobilizing him against his own hidden enemies. (And ours, of course. The pedophile enemy of Peter’s enemy is, for now, our friend.) It would be entirely too “Homeland” to chase Dar into a corner… And then have him become the key to upsetting whatever nightmare will end the season, resetting the board in some way or another. But the last-minute explicit exploration of this dynamic has been setting off plot alarms since it first came up, so we’re coming to terms: Lord knows previous seasons have had even ickier flip-arounds, thrilling rescues by even worse monsters.
And speaking of Peter and those of us who love him: The most potent emotional cocktail in the hour is put into the shaker early, as Carrie and Peter’s complicated love is laid bare in the continuation of last week’s cliffhanger: Peter confronts Carrie about being responsible for his stroke, insists that she made him the “monkey” he now is, an unthinking animal, and his self-loathing comes pouring out — as does her guilt for what she’s done to him. It’s mid-hour before she tries to justify her actions in Berlin — by saying it was her understanding of what Peter would have wanted, flagging both their intimacy and his heroic tendencies for extra double manipulation points — which is for Carrie possibly a record.
When the Mystery Bomber (CJ Wilson) and his cabal head out, Peter follows — and of course, Carrie goes snooping in the safehouse. We were already thinking, as we watched Peter lurch away from his stakeout in daytime, which is remember directly across the street: How have they not noticed him?
Mystery Bomber answers this question definitively by ambushing Carrie, dragging her all over the place, and nearly choking her out. Peter saves the day by bludgeoning the Mystery Bomber to death. In a swift callback to that moment when he calls himself a monkey, his feral, primate rage pours out of him — while the angry primate inside us, the audience, is darkly cheering him on. It goes on for a very long time.
Here’s the unfair, soul-destroying bind for Peter: His rage is valid, justified, earned. (The bomber killed Astrid, after all, and was now going after Carrie.) Peter can only be good at what he does because he’s driven by pure instinct. And we’d argue, and he would protest, that he’s also driven by love. Drowning in self-loathing, Peter insists he has no heart — that like Dar before her, Carrie’s done what she can to keep him small and dark, a robotic killing machine. He couldn’t be more wrong.
This scene reveals that Peter has too much heart — and furthermore, that his instincts are still right on. He’s living in a world that is a vicious, primal, “kill or be killed” one, and protecting everyone he loves within it, with any of the tools at hand. When the Solicitor General criticizes Carrie (and indirectly Peter) for having taken out an invaluable witness, it comes from the highly socialized, rational perspective of a man with the luxury of watching all of this from a detached distance — albeit, a distance that is more interested right now in bringing down the imminent threat of one of the greatest concerted acts of treachery in history.
…And soon, just as Carrie and Peter are uncovering a possible assassination plot and unable to contact Keane to tell her about it, the Solicitor General is operating from the perspective of a man very near or possibly within an exploding, boobytrapped merc den. SWAT team corpses everywhere, Carrie wakes up on the lawn screaming Quinn’s name — and we still don’t know what trap’s been set for Keane, and therefore Saul probably, much less what Dar and Max will be getting up to now that O’Keefe’s crossed the line. All we know is that Peter’s immunity for the murder was cosigned before the blast, and could therefore be compromised if the SG is dead after all.
So what separates the shallow, hair-trigger emotions of O’Keefe’s followers, and Peter’s rage against the Mystery Bomber? We’d argue that Peter actually had facts on his side — even though what he does with them appears as unstable and volatile as anything O’Keefe might orchestrate. Like Carrie in preceding seasons, though, his seeming madness is of the “everybody else is actually wrong” variety: Peter witnessed the Mystery Bomber killing Astrid, witnessed the same man choking Carrie out, witnessed him framing and murdering the very wonderful patriot and prophet, young Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree). Peter’s reaction arises from an instinctual and real drive to survive, and protect.
O’Keefe’s audience? They are being whipped into a mindless frenzy by the illusionary suggestion that they, too, are under attack — even when no tangible threat exists. Which was fine for Dar Adal when it was about knocking down a meddling presidential dove, of course: Dar believes that the monsters will come the second you stop patrolling for them, because the shadows are where he feels safe, whereas Saul and Keane — and even Carrie, now — know that the way we search for those monsters always does the most to help create them.
The Season 6 finale of “Homeland” airs April 9th at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime. Two more seasons have been ordered.