Homeland (S8E5) “Chalk Two Down”: Fact, Fiction & Everything In Between

Chaos abounds in Homeland‘s latest episode. Everything is at stake, but blatant disregard for facts hinders national responses on both sides of the world. In America, a trepidatious and dangerous leader takes his place in the Oval Office, while in Afghanistan, a corrupt and reckless new President fans the flames of war. Hope for peace seems farther away than ever before.

Episode Summary

The President is dead. Max (Maury Sterling) and the squad accompanying him find the corpses of Presidents Warner and Daoud, confirming that they were killed when their helicopter went down. As Max attempts to retrieve the flight recorder and other needed evidence from the crash site, the rest of the squad watches the perimeter. Without warning, they are attacked. The entire squad is killed, and Max is taken prisoner. Now-President Ben Hayes (Sam Trammell) gives the order to bomb the site, as suggested by Mike Dunne (Cliff Chamberlain), in order to prevent the attacking forces (whom, they presume, are Taliban) from obtaining President Warner’s body.

Homeland (S8E5) "Chalk Two Down": Fact, Fiction & Everything in Between
source: Showtime

Meanwhile, Carrie (Claire Danes) learns that the President’s helicopter was switched at the last minute due to a technical issue. She tells Saul (Mandy Patinkin) that such measures are common, as the equipment is barely working and fraught with problems. She fears that the entire disaster may have been an accident; nothing more than the malfunctioning of bad equipment.

Former Vice President G’ulom (Mohammad Bakri), having taken over for President Daoud, makes a hasty official announcement. Without evidence, he plainly states that Haqqani (Numan Acar) is behind the attacks. G’ulom has used the incident to set up a police perimeter in order to “round up” members of the Taliban. However, Haqqani assures Saul over the phone that he was unaware of the attacks. Saul tells him to flee and hide somewhere safe. He tries to do so, but is unable to pass the police perimeter, and is forced to find refuge inside the city.

Homeland‘s Final Season

In episode 5, “Chalk Two Down”, the pressure has been turned up to 11, and Homeland shows no sign of slowing down. Viewers, like the characters, are forced to deal with the destructive forces encroaching from the front line, unable to take the time needed to deal with the invisible manipulators above and beyond the enemies they can see. The deaths of two Presidents, the rise to power of their successors, the confusion inherent in “holding the line,” lines both physical and symbolic, all of these create a chaotic whirlwind of events.

Throughout “Chalk Two Down”, we are forced to deal with what is right in front of us. The President is dead. Ben Hayes is taking his place, a man who seems more concerned with personal image than facts, and Qadir G’ulom is bypassing any regard for truth in order to sow political and financial rewards from public panic. Anyone trying to do the right thing is barely able to keep their head above the water, let alone try and piece together a picture of who might really be pulling the strings.

Homeland (S8E5) "Chalk Two Down": Fact, Fiction & Everything in Between
source: Showtime

The only tool we have that can effectively and successfully cut through chaos is fact. Hard truth. Throughout the episode, Saul maintains his position as champion of the facts, but his advice goes unheeded as the pressure mounts, and his superiors are forced to make drastic decisions. Like Saul, viewers are cognizant of the dangers outside the current direct concern: Carrie is still compromised. Haqqani’s son, Jalal (Elham Ehsas), is still at large, and still has forces sympathetic to his cause. Gromov (Costa Ronin), and Russia by extension, is still behind the scenes, likely contributing in every way to the insanity. Which of these is the power behind the chaos? Or is it some combination of all three?

To a modern viewer, these scenes are only too familiar. Both in Homeland and in the real world, information warfare depends on chaos. It is the single most powerful arrow in the quiver of Russia’s very real disinformation campaign (a tactic now being implemented by various other countries as well). As Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, said in a recent New York Times article: “Chaos is the point” of Russia’s informational attacks. It is a major part of what led in 2016 to the election of a paranoid narcissist over one of the most qualified presidential candidates in history, and it’s becoming more and more sophisticated and dangerous.

Homeland‘s writers and show-runners are, once again, immensely successful in weaving together a powerful and terrifying political thriller. However, as has been the case throughout the series, half of the work has been done for them. Their representation of national leaders showing blatant disregard for facts is effective because, regrettably, it is real.

Homeland (S8E5) "Chalk Two Down": Fact, Fiction & Everything in Between
source: Showtime

The most powerful scene in the entire episode comes when the collective representatives and leaders in the situation room rise to pay respects to now-President Ben Hayes. Earlier, David Wellington (Linus Roache) had seen a glimpse of Hayes’ true leadership ability when the suggestion came to bomb the helicopter crash site. Hayes had locked himself in the oval office, unable to stand under the mantle now placed on his shoulders. Once David had finally found him, and delivered the suggestion, Hayes had spent the next several seconds pacing, unable to commit, and finally, turning to David, and asking pathetically: “Tell me what to do.” In the end, David is forced to make the decision for him.

Now, as he looks on, that decision, made out of necessity, prompts a room consisting of many of the world’s most powerful people to rise out of respect, despite the fact that the subject of their admiration had never made the decision in the first place. The look in David’s eyes as he realizes how precarious and dangerous the situation has become is starkly ominous. If President Hayes is meant to be a representation of Trump, than the comparison is a damning one. The United States of Homeland got stuck with the clueless, deluded and paranoid dunce due to the death of the former President, while in the real world, the United States of America elected him. As Saul says concerning the critical role of facts and truth: “It matters. It fucking matters. It determines what we do next.” To the corrupt, however, facts are merely inconvenient obstacles, enemies to be conquered on the road to power.

Bait-and-Switch

In the opening credits of this season, we have heard Saul’s disembodied voice speak the words: “I believe you. No one else will.” Throughout this season’s first three episodes, we have assumed, understandably, that these words were meant for Carrie. Only now, after the chaos of episodes 4 and 5, do we see Saul say it… to Haqqani. Haqqani assures Saul that he is following the terms of the cease-fire, to which Saul responds with those words.

This contributes to the overall sense of danger throughout this episode. If Haqqani is not behind the attack, who is? Were the fighters that attacked the helicopter part of the Taliban, or another organization? What godlike figure is behind this destruction? As of yet, only those in Homeland‘s writers’ room are privy to that information. As we continue to see the tapestry come together throughout the next several weeks, one fact is inescapable: we’re in for a hell of a ride.

How important are facts in governance? Does Homeland adequately portray the consequences of accepting or rejecting the truth? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Homeland Season 8 Episode 5: Chalk Two Down aired on March 8, 2020 on Showtime.

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