Homeland’s intrepid heroine, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), begins the series’ seventh season committed to #theresistance. She calls President Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), probably rightly, a “fascist,” and nods when her niece compares POTUS to Stalin; she dredges up a source from her tumultuous past and attempts to arrange a meeting with a senator from the opposition. But the senator’s top aide is skeptical about Carrie’s cloak-and-dagger routine—the burner phones, the implausible wigs, the various feints by which our protagonist continues to elude those who would silence her. “Is this spy shit,” the woman inquires, “really necessary?”
Carrie’s retort notwithstanding—I’m surprised she didn’t sprain an ankle jumping down from her high horse—one could say the same of Homeland’s laughably awful season opener, which manages to be both didactic and goofy. In “Enemy of the State,” the series exaggerates the (at times) bracing self-awareness of Season Six until it starts to resemble self-parody, unaided by the episode’s thankless quest to pose Big Questions about American authoritarianism in the same breath. From the outset, with the frantic jazz that accompanies Carrie’s grimacing morning workout, it’s one nerve ending away from winking at the audience, before settling back into dust-dry conversations about marches and free thinkers and collaborators and norms. The entire hour follows this frustrating pattern; it’s as if the first draft of the script were written by an op-ed columnist and the second by the staff of Saturday Night Live.
Since we last saw Carrie being carried out of the Oval Office anteroom, bellowing through the door at an unmoved president, more than 200 former government officials have been arrested in connection with the attempt on Keane’s life. Her response to the threat has become a full-fledged purge, and in case you failed to notice that she’s out for blood, Homeland is considerate enough to make the metaphor literal: Keane appears at the sentencing hearing of the top conspirator, one Gen. McClendon, to demand his execution. This is already somewhere comfortably past subtle, but wait, there’s more! Later, when McClendon’s sentenced to life in prison, she directs her chief of staff, David Wellington (Linus Roache), to go full Godfather and take him out anyway. One of the episode’s funniest lines comes after he balks, and tries to convince her to, well, chill. “I didn’t bring you back from political exile,” she snipes, “to be my girlfriend.”
Meanwhile, conservative radio host / walking writers’ room crutch Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber) is on the run from the feds and recording his program on the fly at a series of hideouts in what we know as Trump country. (Is it Keane country, too? For a series that’s become so much about politics, Homeland’s actually breathtaking mealy-mouthed when it comes to dealing with ideological specifics.) He’s nuttier than Keane is, though his accusation that the assassination was a false flag operation, designed to give cover for the crackdown, has the flair of a premonition—I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come true by season’s end. The fact is, gratuitous menopause digs aside, O’Keefe is a cardboard cutout, and not a particularly lifelike one, either. I suppose there’s a critique of Blue Lives Matter hand-waving in the fact that he’s rescued from U.S. Marshals by the local police (avid listeners, apparently), but I was chuckling so hard at the sheer convenience of it all that I must’ve missed it.
Carrie’s main objective in the episode is to facilitate the aforementioned meeting between a senator investigating the purges and her easily spooked source, and the whole affair is closer in tone to Inspector Clouseau than most counterterrorism dramas. (You think the wigs on The Americans are terrible? Carrie, my dear, it’s not very inconspicuous for your hair to be running away from your head!) To wit, she checks into two separate hotels and, still failing to lose her source’s tail, reports him to the concierge for exposing himself to her outside the restroom; when the source tries to call the whole thing off, she says of a reporter jailed for printing classified materials, “They were not looking for some idiot from Politico! They’re looking for you!”
“Enemy of the State” wallpapers its plot in “timely” headlines and then tosses a fragmentation grenade into the room, exploding whatever sense it might’ve made as a political statement into indecipherable word salad. It’s so atrocious that I finally gave up and started to have fun with it—it’s clown car Homeland, house of mirrors Homeland, Homeland as a particularly vengeful satirist might’ve made it. Like, of course Carrie gets her 16-year-old niece involved in the operation. Of course she’s got surveillance cameras set up throughout Wellington’s house. Of course she has a secret stash in the closet and calls the president a fascist primarily because the only person left alive who really gets her, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), has been caught up in the mass arrests.
By the end of the episode, Homeland jumps the rails so quickly, so wildly (not that last season ended on a high note, exactly) that I began to suspect there was, to quote the title of the series’ second-best episode, “something else going on.” I mean, McClendon’s horrible demise must be the first death by cavity search ever to air on American television, right? Not only is “Enemy of the State” so far beyond bad that it almost circles back around to being good (in a completely trashy, “Am I hallucinating this?” sort of way), it also contains at least one line so self-aware that the writers are themselves hallucinating, or otherwise playing a very long con. “There’s a vast government conspiracy, and you’re the only person who can bring it to light,” sighs Carrie’s sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), as the episode mercifully nears its conclusion. “I know.”
That sigh sounds about right to me.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.