A compellingly acted drama about a new president at war with the national security establishment captivated our attention this January. In other news, Homeland—Showtime’s hit spy drama starring Claire Danes as bipolar CIA Officer Carrie Mathison—began its sixth season.
You could be forgiven for confusing the two. Because as Donald Trump negotiated the precarious transition between election day and inauguration day, President-elect Elizabeth Keane (played by Elizabeth Marvel) did the same in Homeland. That’s when things started getting weird.
At first glance, Presidents Keane and Trump couldn’t be more different. She’s a soft-spoken liberal who comes at you with a feather duster, he’s an unpredictable real estate mogul who comes at you with a spiked bat.
A closer look though reveals a common enemy. As Keane butts up against the National Security establishment, it offers an eerie parallel with Trump’s battles.
Keane is bold enough to contemplate pulling out of the Middle East altogether and that crazy backwards talk immediately throws her into conflict with CIA Black Ops Director Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham).
Adal briefs against President-elect Keane mirroring the real tensions between President and national security establishment. He bugs her conversations and accelerates shady ongoing covert programs before she has the power to curtail them. He doesn’t stop there, hosting secret meetings with hawkish generals and intelligence chiefs to discuss how to scupper the new presidency.
At almost the exact moment reports in the real world surfaced of a successful campaign by Obama loyalists to remove Trump’s national security adviser General Michael Flynn. It began to look like the deep state and the Homeland writers’ room were reading from the same playbook.
Trump’s intelligence agency problems started long before his shock victory in November. His stated belief that NATO is obsolete and his closeness to Russia are anathema to the national security establishment forged during the Cold War. In August 2016, 50 Republican former National Security officers wrote a letter saying the GOP candidate would be “the most reckless president in American history.”
Trump quickly fired back, “They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power.” Meanwhile over on Homeland, Keane became aware of Dar Adal’s leaks and told him, “I will not have my agenda mischaracterized and undermined before I even take office.”
That’s fighting talk but Trump knew that the way to tackle a leak was to invoke Godwin’s law, tweeting: ” Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler tweeted about an email he received from a senior intelligence community source telling him that Trump would die in jail. “Now we go nuclear. IC war going to new levels”, it read.
Speaking of things going nuclear, a major story arc on this season of Homeland is the mounting evidence of Iran reneging on the nuclear deal with the help of North Korea. Right on cue came the release a report last week stating that Hassan Rouhani’s Iran was advancing towards nuclear weapons… with the help of North Korea.
It’s not just recently that Homeland has hit headline pay dirt. The show has relevancy stretching right back to its inception. Homeland began following a returning POW Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), radicalized in captivity returning to plot a deadly attack on American soil.
This was mirrored in the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl case where the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance and capture in Afghanistan came under intense media scrutiny and led to a court martial for Bergdahl. Sgt. Bergdahl was widely called a real-life Nicholas Brody. Radio host Michael Smerconish bluntly said of the incident on CNN: “I equate it with an episode of Homeland.”
Later on, season five saw Homeland migrate to Berlin. The show focused on an attempted terrorist attack on a European capital the same month as the November 13 attacks on Paris that killed 130.
An advisory before the episode that week read: “In light of this week’s tragic events in Paris, we remind viewers that Homeland contains content that some may find upsetting.”
Air any show for six years and you might get the occasional lucky hit but Homeland has done it time and time again.
How do they do it? Like any good spook, they do their reconnaissance. Intelligence professionals abound in Hollywood these days. FX’s KGB sleeper agent drama The Americans was created by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg while former senior agency officials Rodney Faraon and Henry Crumpton were the executive producers of NBC’s short-lived State of Affairs.
In their corner Homeland have former CIA station chief John MacGaffin. Each year, MacGaffin convenes with the Homeland writing team and stars Danes and Mandy Patinkin. He sets up an event where they mingle with intelligence professionals to get a sense for their current concerns.
From that hive mind, they cull the themes and storylines of the new season. All of a sudden the accuracy starts to make sense.
Therein lies the defining irony of Homeland. A show whose entire premise is based on deception, and where you never know who to trust, turns out to be a reliable bellwether of our chaotic reality.
The post-truth landscape is littered with fake news landmines. If you want to know what’s happening in the world when you switch on your TV it’s becoming simple—disregard the news and believe the onscreen ‘fiction’ you see in Homeland.