BACK ON TRACK…MEANING SCARY AGAIN…BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE PAYING STRICT ATTENTION: HOMELAND SEASON 6

Homeland: Season 6

In Season 6, Homeland pulls off a miracle. In the past, including the anemic Season 5, the show has always worked best when Carrie Mathison is off her meds. That’s because Carrie has always been best at her job–keeping herself both interested and alive (she’ll settle for the second part if it comes to the rest of us, as it periodically must, in order for us to be interested as well)–when she’s gone full manic-depressive. How people who actually have the condition feel about it I don’t know nor can I judge how “realistic” this portrayal of mental illness is. But, up to now, and strictly in a narrative sense, Crazy Carrie has been interesting Carrie. More to the point, Crazy Carrie has been best adapted to deal with the cauldron around her, which only involves the security of the free world.

In Season 6, Crazy Carrie is kept firmly on the sidelines. It’s the stories that  count…and they all work.

Of course this comes with caveats. Stable Carrie is still way less stable than most people, even the monsters who surround her (and who feed and are fed by her) in the Homeland universe. And it should go without saying that not every scene works in a 12-episode arc. Maybe Shakespeare or Henry James could have kept everything boiling without wandering too far afield. But that’s too much to expect from teams of anyone, let alone teams of Hollywood moderns. Master Narrative has turned out to be a solitary art after all.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand amazed at what Homeland does do–which is continue to poke a stick in the eye of the Security State’s own principal Narrative.

The Security State, however named, insists on one message: You need us.

If they were ever pressed to elaborate (as they never are) they might expand that a bit:

You KNOW you need us.

That’s their message and it is relentless.

You can tune in the broadcast channel of your choice, read the newspaper you like best (or least), or listen to talk radio, and have this message reinforced and underlined twenty-four hours a day. I doubt even Alex Jones or Michael Savage (Jones is parodied but not really captured here by the usually reliable Jake Weber, loaded up with a Texas accent Jones, a Texan, doesn’t have, and a Manchurian Candidate subplot that works pretty well in context but doesn’t score any points for originality–the idea of the rabble-rousing flamethrower being in bed with the enemy he publicly despises was old and tired when Joe McCarthy was in diapers) would really contest the idea that the CIA (or NSA or FBI or any other alphabet agency) perform useful functions if/when they are managed properly. No one else who could be called mainstream even questions the absolute necessity of the Security State’s existence.

Well no one else but whoever is responsible for Homeland.

That none of our intelligence services have ever done any demonstrable good–and have done much demonstrable harm (even the FBI, even in the operation of their one legitimate law enforcement function, which is the pursuit of criminals operating across state lines), has mattered little to the overarching public narrative.

That’s how it is with Security States. Once you permit one to exist, it will have a single, unalterable goal: It’s own survival.

This is what Homeland has done an even more brilliant job of portraying than its popcorn predecessor, 24.

One thing it hasn’t done at all well–something 24 didn’t do well either except in Seasons 1 and 5–is integrate the Personal stories with the Political and Spy stories.

This has been more disappointing in Homeland because Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are much better actors than Keifer Sutherland–and they are playing much more interesting characters.

I’m not quite prepared to call them three-dimensional. That’s a tall ask on television. But that such a question can even be considered is extraordinary.

Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson do, after all, have inner lives. And those inner lives impact how they do the jobs that keep them, and us, interested. The principal dynamic from the beginning has been Carrie’s hope/belief that she can somehow walk away from it all running into, around and (occasionally–she did try to have him killed) over Saul, who knows she can’t and knows he can never let her know. Not unless he wants to lose his best agent/asset, which she remains, always, even when, as here, she’s not working for him. In his mind, letting her go would be the same as losing himself, which–also in his mind–would be the same as losing the world.

One reason Homeland, especially Season 6, works so well, is that very little of this is foregrounded. Despite the occasional blunt, obligatory confrontation scenes–most of them intelligent though hardly deep or even clever–most of this seeps out of the air. It’s walking around inside the characters and the less they talk about it, the more undeniable its presence becomes.

The other reason Season 6 is the best since the first is that everything else finally links up with this half-buried dynamic.

Yes, Carrie’s now a full-time a mom, but that just means the State has another especially creepy and suffocating weapon to use against her. Among other things she can’ t go off her meds. At least not until the State makes a mistake and actually takes the child away–then makes clear how contingent seeing her daughter is on Carrie behaving herself before (in a twist that may or may not be revealing…is it really a mistake? or just one of those glitches even the most rigorous police state cannot avoid?) pushing their advantage too far. In an especially deft move, we don’t see Carrie’s full response. We only see Saul, in her house, staring at the signature handiwork of her manic phase that we’re familiar with from earlier seasons.

From that foundation, the story builds out. The Peter Quinn angle is finally strong and has a powerful conclusion–one that links into the fates of two characters played by actors who are given enough space to compete with Claire/Carrie and Mandy/Saul and are more than up to the task. That  F. Murray Abraham’s  Dar Adal is all that isn’t surprising. He and his character have been strong since first appearing and Abraham’s qualities as an actor are well established. But Elizabeth Marvel, saddled with the show creators’ assumption that Hilary Clinton would be President as this season unfolded, is a revelation.

My only impression of Marvel going in was as the older Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers fine version of True Grit, where she was the only weak link.

Here, she’s all presence. It’s like seeing a real-life Mattie become President, with all the terror that implies (a Mattie who wanted to avenge her father’s blood was terrifying only to his killer–a Mattie who wants to be President should scare everyone).

Of course the show cheats a bit. Whether they were caught completely off-guard and had to go with a contingency plan or simply had the foresight to have such a contingency in case Clinton lost I’m sure no one will ever credibly explain. (Someone may explain. They may have already done so. But I credit these same people with schooling me on the perils of trusting anyone.) Either way, they were caught with the prospect of an obvious Hilary stand-in. So they did the only thing they could and turned her into Donald Trump. And not the actual Trump but the Trump of liberal nightmare. Marvel’s Elizabeth Keane has Trump’s foreign policy (or at least his public campaign strategy) of curtailing the empire (i.e., the part that has him at war with the Security State in the first place). She has mobs in the street yelling death threats and “Not my President.” She’s being shivved from every side.

And she’s merciless.

Had she even (unimaginably) given it a go, the real life Hilary could never have pulled this off.

But Elizabeth Marvel does. Among other things, she does for the idea of a woman President what Hillary couldn’t do (and I’d of said the same if she won), which is what Dennis Haysbert’s David Palmer did for the idea of a black president in 24.

Makes it seem as natural as breathing. So much so that I can easily imagine this performance changing the outcome of the election if it had happened two years earlier.

The Hillary-as-the-real-Trump–whether planned all along, or conjured on the fly–works better than even those of us who believe any stick is good enough to beat the Security State with could have hoped. The shadow war Trump has played out with our Stasi wannabes in the “real” world bursts into the open in Season 6 of Homeland.

And I won’t give the ending away. But if the show’s creators really did plan this all along, and really did think Hillary was going to be elected President in 2016, they’re even braver than I thought.

Which is going some.

*NOTE: Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes: Homeland delivers introspective comfort food with a satisfyingly strong leading female character and story lines that continue to surprise.

Introspective comfort food?

See what I mean about the Security State controlling the Narrative?

TO BAD TIMES….(Late Night Dedication #8)

….and the Betrayed: Suffer them for they are with you always.

As of this morning, the strongest voices–virtually the only voices–pushing back against the war drums beating in the Near and Far East, are Tulsi Gabbard and the Paleo-Right (Jones, Savage, Rockwell, Coulter).

The crazies, in other words. Business as usual.

The Responsible Democracts (now led by HIllary Clinton, with Obama, having served faithfully and well, conveniently in absentia, she spent the morning of Trump’s strike against a single airbase calling for the destruction of all Syrian airbases…of course she did) joined by Responsible Republicans (led always by Ms. Clinton’s erstwhile ally, John McCain, who, behind his death-mask grin, assures us that order has been restored) are working hard to get Donald Trump (who ran against all of them and, for the first time, seems politically, as opposed to morally or intellectually, confused) on their side.

In other words, they’re warming up to him.

If Trump keeps going along, expect confusion on Twitter, Facebook and CNN, as Lefties try to adjust….We’ll hear a lot of “Well he’s a horrible human being of course, but….”

What comes after “but” won’t matter.

I’m not saying it will go this way. Just that if the first step–Trump’s public capitulation to business-as-usual Security Statism–isn’t reversed by concrete action, and soon, the rest will follow as naturally as water running downhill. Even having gone no further than this, Howard Dean and other reliable bellwethers of Elite Opinion are already calling for Gabbard’s removal. It’s unclear whether they think the “people of Hawaii” should wait for one of those silly old elections.

Get your bets down now on how long it is before they’re calling her a Russian Agent.

I’m laying six-fifty-and-even on a week from Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Trump’s actions are only surprising in that they constitute his first serious misreading of his base. Bringing back jobs and Build That Wall won’t matter much if he goes all Slim Pickens and brings us “toe to toe with the Russkies.”

And he won’t dodge the matrix of fates he turned into serious possibilities by opposing the Security State in the first place.

Playing nice won’t help him avoid the Standard Options: assassination (the Kennedy Option), impeachment/removal (the Nixon Option) or political humiliation, up to and including possible sabotage of military operations (the Carter Option).

The Intelligence Community won’t stop hating him if he becomes their puppet.

And they won’t start trusting him, no matter how hemmed in or subservient he becomes.

They’ll just stop fearing him.

Until last week, he seemed smart enough to understand this–that losing the fight he picked will mean death or disgrace. Now, it’s anyone’s guess. Since I place no faith in him (nor, per Isaiah, any Prince), I won’t be surprised if he turns out to be less cunning than he has so far seemed.

Unless, of course, this was what he intended all along, which would make him very cunning indeed.

And how different will this sound, closing those rallies, if it turns out he had a deal in place all along….If it was always pointed at his supporters, rather than his enemies.

PARANOIA BLUES….ON THE RADIO NO LESS (Segue of the Day: 4/7/17)

On the way back from errands yesterday….

taking a break from the right-wing radio meltdown following the Security State’s first major win in their nearly two-year war with Donald Trump (we bombed Syria in case you missed it….John McCain’s death-mask grin and Chuck “they’ve-got-six-ways-from-Sunday-of-getting-back-at-you” Schumer’s sad, sad capitulatory eyes told all the Establishment tales worth telling, their words being, as always, post-warning, irrelevant)….

I flipped over to the Classic Rock station….

Which, in the hunt for survival, no longer confines itself to Classic Rock…

And they play Blondie….”Heart of Glass” (not just Blondie, but disco Blondie)….and I think “I’ll just listen to see if they play the ‘pain in the ass’ version….

Which they did….

…and, as it winds down, I reach for the button, prepared to be let down, thinking Alex Jones in full freak-out will probably be better than what’s coming next…

But the dee-jay says the Who are next…and, of course, if the Who are next on a day like this one, it can only be this…

…(and I flash on my Godchild, circa 2005, saying “I thought the Republicans were supposed to change all this”….appropo of which betrayal I don’t recall…what I do remember is saying ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’…and then pointing to his parents (he was a he then) and saying, ‘they got their politics from Star Trek, I got mine from rock and roll, you’ll note which of us is never surprised’….and, for once, I get Daltrey’s final scream just right)

Which puts me in such a good mood, I’m prepared to put up with the Police, even though it’s not “Roxanne”….but instead the only song it can be, if it’s playing on a day like this one and it’s by the Police….

…from 1983…and, on a day like this one, I can’t help but finally get it.

I didn’t stay in the car to find out if Hot Chocolate’s “You Win Again” was up next.

Because, hey, I got my politics from rock and roll….so I can’t possibly get fooled again, no matter who “wins.”

Weird thing was, the song that really caught the vibe of the deadened air all around….

Was the first one.

THE CHANGE IT HAD TO COME….(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #71)

..I knew it all along.

But it sure took a while

For most of the last year, I couldn’t afford a television hookup so I spent way more time than usual monitoring talk radio, the wackier the better. Back when Donald Trump first entered the Republican race, though, I had an unwacky day where I happened to be listening to NPR and the host asked two top level political reporters (so called, I don’t remember their names), if Trump had any chance whatsoever to get the nomination.

Both reporters went to great lengths to outdo each other in their absolute assurances that this could never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen in umpty billion years.

And I thought: “If you think he hasn’t got a chance, you’re crazy.”

I didn’t just arrive at that little insight by monitoring right wing radio, which, in fact, has provided plenty of push-back against Trump and Trumpism. (Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Dana Loesh out-and-out hate him and only the wackiest wackies, Michael Savage and Alex Jones, have offered anything like strong support.)

No, I arrived at my conclusion because I’ve been monitoring the weight of the Republican party’s consistent betrayal of social conservatives and evangelicals (i.e., most of my friends and family) for three decades plus. And I had noticed that in the past five years or so, things had changed.

I was not surprised that the national media missed the story.

I’ve never seen any evidence that evangelicals in particular are in the least bit understood by what Bernie Sanders–who sounds more like an Old Testament prophet than anyone in this race–never fails to call the political, economic and media establishments.

That lack of understanding is surely why those establishments were left clutching their pearls when Trump’s rough language, for instance, failed to turn off churchgoers in South Carolina. Or when the very reasonable arguments put forth by his opponents that, until the day before yesterday, he was reliably liberal on virtually every hill-to-die-on social issue that my fellow Christians, knowing full well they would be punched in the face economically, sold their votes for over three decades.

Such things don’t tend to matter when you finally decide to swing back.

When you decide to swing back, you look for the biggest hammer in the room.

All those sold votes–sold souls in some cases–netted nothing. Republicans quite predictably collected reliable votes from the pews and, from 1980 to now, gave nothing in return. Hence, it was only a matter of time before this bargain unraveled. The only question was which election cycle would provide the tipping point.

It’s here. The bargain is dead.

And Donald Trump is the biggest hammer in the room.

I know lots of evangelicals and take the temperature of many more on the radio and online.

I haven’t found a single one who likes him and very few who aren’t disgusted by him. I think a lot of their sentiment can be summed up here (in the most frightening and salient report I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon).

But while I have trouble imagining myself voting for Trump, and will certainly hold that linked essay in my head as a warning lest I be tempted to cross over to the dark side, I can understand why others have given in. I’ve never been particularly invested in “social issues” as a political matter–the law is always helpless against any personal practice the culture cannot enforce and the culture collapsed long ago. I don’t get worked up about the issues because I tend to think of America in the past tense–as something to be studied and learned from.

We had a shot.

We didn’t listen to our own prophets (see, particularly, my posts on the Rising at right).

We blew it.

I’m resigned.

But mine is a minority opinion.

Anger is a powerful emotion in any breast clinging to hope.

And there is very little in this world more satisfying than the moment you realize you finally have a venue for speaking directly to people who have held you in open contempt for a lifetime. No matter how vigilant you are in your quest to let the red letters in the King James guide your behavior, it’s hard to resist the simplest gut-level response, the one that has reverberated throughout this campaign and can be hurled back at every puzzled pundit face on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, every hour of the day:

“I hate you back.”

Without coming anywhere near putting it so strongly, that’s what Jerry Falwell, Jr. meant this evening on Fox, when he was pressed on why and how so many evangelicals (including himself) have chosen Trump over, for instance, Ted Cruz, one of their own.

It’s not the old days he said.

It’s not about social issues anymore. The politicians have had their day and been found dismally wanting.

“It’s like that old Who song,” Falwell, Jr. finally said.

Then he named the song.

If you don’t think we’re in some sort of New Age, try to imagine Falwell’s late father (a huckster who, along with Pat Robertson, was long ago appointed to speak for evangelicals by the same corrupt payola-style process, and for the same contemptuous reasons, that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were designated to speak for Black America–brothers and sisters, I feel your pain, because the question of whether it is better to be badly represented than not represented at all is not any easy one), dropping a Who reference.

And having the reference be nothing more than a statement of the obvious, too long in coming:

The only question now is the obvious one.

If Trump wins, will the new boss really be any different than the old boss?

I fear not. If someone has a thumb in the eye of the man who has a boot in your face, it’s easy to think he must be offering a better way. It becomes easy to look past the boots he’s wearing, to miss that they are heavier and thicker and have hobnails in the soles.

But, if you want to look for a silver lining, perhaps finally asking the question is healthier than continuing to ignore it.

And if not now, when?

Something to hold on to, I guess.

I do wonder what would happen, though, if, in this very same season, Black America were to somehow wake up in time to ditch Hilary for Bernie…and if we could then somehow keep from fighting in the streets with our children at our feet.

What then?

New day? Or past tense forever?

I’ll keep watching.

And dreading.