Whether we like it or not (and I don’t), life has crossed the Rubicon of time, and the bridge between BT (Before Trump) and AT (After Trump) has been blown up. Even the least important factors in our lives – for instance, the series we follow on TV – will now be written, plotted, shot and aired with an eerie awareness that whatever happens in or to them will somehow be related to the fact of Trump.
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The sixth season of “Scandal,” featuring a U.S. president and his Dark Lady of the Crises as main characters, postponed its first episode from the eve of the inauguration to the week after it. The sixth season of “Homeland,” written and shot in mid-2016 during the presidential election campaign, opened January 15, the last Sunday of the Obama era, as planned. But the arc of the season’s plot (fictional, but striving to be as plausible as possible) spans the period between the elections and the inauguration. It has a president-elect as a pivotal supporting character, the intelligence agencies playing hide-and-seek, and a bipolar female heroine, ex-CIA operative Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes. In Israel it can be seen on Yes Oh on Saturdays at 22.00, concurrently with its U.S. airing.
If you don’t know what I am writing about, you should be ashamed of yourself. Not because you should have watched it – maybe you are not into political thrillers – but you should have been proud of it having originated in Israel, in the fertile mind of Gideon Raff. He’s a TV writer and producer who in 2010 conceived, wrote and directed a TV series called “Hatufim” (literally “Abducted,” but its English title was “Prisoners of War”). The series explored the frightening possibility of an Israeli POW being turned by his Arab captors prior (and possibly leading to) his release. It presented the ensuing mind (and body) games played by all – and played as dirty as possible.
Back in 2010, the U.S. may have still been a safe haven for the poor, homeless and tempest-tossed, but its TV and movie screens had been for years “America First,” if not “America Only.” Any foreign TV producer or writer yearning to have his work seen on U.S. screens had to arrange for a remake. Even if the powers that schedule American viewing had seen his original series in its original language and liked it enough to buy it, it still had to be adapted and rewritten and recast and reshot in English. Presumably, American viewers were turned off and switched channels when alien languages were spoken by the characters on screen.
Raff struck a mother lode, and “Prisoners of War” was turned – like its heroes – into “Homeland.” The missing word, security, hovered in the minds of post-9/11 viewers, who were supposed to be at least partially reassured by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Raff went on to create two other original American series, “Tyrant” (three seasons) and “Dig” (one season), both of them with a Middle Eastern theme, plot and locale. (Both were planned to be partially or wholly shot in Israel in 2014, and both relocated due to Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.) Since then, U.S. TV viewers have somehow accepted the concept of hearing foreign languages and reading subtitles, and that is how “Fauda” was acquired in its original Hebrew and Arabic; other Israeli series are lining up to follow.
In the meantime, “Homeland” acquired a life of its own, and when its original theme was exhausted with the death of the hero, went on to follow Carrie. She is a not-so-slightly unhinged damsel with a tendency to dive headfirst into any form of distress and an uncanny ability to extricate herself from the most intricate situations. Some viewers may remember Carrie trying to add a star for the ex-POW in whom she had invested so much, on the very wall at the CIA headquarters in front of which President Donald J. Trump bemoaned the poor coverage he gets from the press.
In season six, Carrie is still refusing to rejoin the CIA, having been bitterly disillusioned about the intelligence agency and its operatives. In season five, she was head of security for a private charitable foundation and its billionaire owner in Berlin. In season six she is in back in New York, this time working at a foundation trying to provide aid to Muslims living in the United States.
This week, the U.S. and the world are groping for the proper way to respond to Trump’s executive order barring entry to the U.S. based on ethnicity and religion. Meanwhile, Carrie will be striving to defend Sekou, a young Muslim American, who has been arrested and accused of attempting to aid terrorists. Carrie is also being accused by her CIA mentor, Saul (played by Mandy Patinkin) and the black-ops specialist Dar Adal (played by F. Murray Abraham) of advising, under-cover, the female president-elect. The latter, who has a personal axe to grind, is apparently planning to rock the ship of state in unexpected and unorthodox ways. Still, in the fictional world of “Homeland,” the president-elect is very much interested in intelligence briefings, unlike the real-life specimen.
You will have to find out for yourself if Carrie is actually advising the president-elect. That is, if you manage to divert your attention from the sub-plot that has Carrie hosting, at her Brooklyn apartment, a semi-paralyzed colleague with PTSD whose life she saved in Berlin. There is also – but of course – a sub-plot involving Israeli intelligence agencies, who are keen to unravel the Iran nuke agreement by running a covert operation. The U.S. intelligence agencies (who are adept at keeping secrets from each other), are unsure about how to address the issue with the president-elect, whose views are unknown. (She has not been advised about it, but will have to eventually deal with the consequences.) So the Americans will have to sit in unofficially with the Israeli team to prevent whatever might ensue.
If you are weary of following what goes on in the world as it is brought to your screen, you can always follow Carrie instead. Her fictional world seems full of twists and turns, but at least you can be sure it will be over, with no real harm done, by the end of the episode, and at worst by the end of season 8, in two years’ time, even before the end of Trump’s first term.