“Homeland” has always worked to put us, the audience, in a strange position: We’re drawn so effectively into the worlds and workings of the characters we love — Carrie, Quinn, Saul (Claire Danes, Rupert Friend, Mandy Patinkin — but at the same time, we’ve been taught again and again to trust no one.

It’s a a show that teases us in and out of every doubt we’ve ever held about others, or ourselves. Season 3 was built around this premise, putting us on the outside of a long con that could almost enrage us if it weren’t done so well, and we’re starting to see exactly why that season’s arc — which saw Carrie institutionalized and Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) finally sacrificed/redeemed in a plot to install a CIA asset at the top levels of Iran’s military — keep coming up for us this season: It’s because everything that’s going on now was planted there. The only difference is, now it’s happening in living rooms and Social Services cubicles. An infinitely more chilling, less safe-seeming, chaotic and arbitrary world.

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But if we’re taught not to trust the show — if we get burned every time we try and come in from the cold — then what’s to be done with the way Dar Adal  (F. Murray Abraham) suddenly seems like the biggest, most obvious baddie of all time? Isn’t the reasonable conclusion — like one of those “my brother can’t lie and I can’t tell the truth” puzzles — that if Dar is the enemy, he’s probably our enemy’s enemy too? Unless, of course, this latest preponderance of evilness clichés — he’s at this point hitting Disney levels of cruelty caricature — is another of this not-always-subtle show’s sly spy games…

In “Imminent Risk” (Mar. 5), we finally catch Dar with his hand in the cookie jar — really, all of them, all existing cookie jars — and we can’t but space out thinking about how suspicious it is that it looks so suspicious.”Homeland” isn’t just gonna hand us the bad guy on a silver platter. Never has, never will. We’re being shown this for a reason. Are we as onlookers being “turned,” like an asset, manipulated like a pawn? Just like Carrie? Quinn? Saul?

Even original Big Bad Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) had his humanizing moments, after all — his son was key to the show’s understanding of terrorism throughout the first several seasons, and relationship with Nick Brody was one of the show’s tenderest and most effed-up love stories. But man, does Dar give off a stink these days — as several of the dominoes always hanging over our heads comes clacking down, his finger behind every one of them.

Case one: There has never been a future on this show in which Carrie’s fitness as a mother wouldn’t be questioned in a public setting, it’s too easy a storyline to trigger. And yes, a certain someone has accelerated this particular day of reckoning: Carrie gets a call from Franny’s school, where CPS has questioned Franny about the recent hostage situation. It seems likely enough, at first, that this is regular procedure — a story about how suddenly being a normal civilian after years of her CIA powers giving her a top-down view of America might throw Carrie’s train off the track. Either way, you see the first snowflake here and immediately know just how bad, and massive, the avalanche is going to get.

The CPS representative (Marin Hinkle, of “Once & Again” and more recently “Speechless”) and soon after, the judge decided the case, could easily have been drawn in broad, villainous strokes as Big Bureaucracy, the System, the Man: Unfeeling, unmoved by special circumstances or good intentions, hands tied (and eyes blindfolded) by red tape. That’s the classic Carrie story, screaming the truth because nobody will listen. But it’s not how this goes down.

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Here the CPS representative, and the judge, are both serving as the voice of reason, asking the fair and objective questions that anyone concerned for a child’s welfare would rightfully ask: Why would Carrie leave Franny with Quinn, a man with well-documented mental health issues, who skews heavily toward rage? Why did Carrie check Quinn out of the VA hospital and bring him into their home? Why was Carrie h0lding vigil, and worse, falling asleep next to Franny’s bed at night, with a loaded gun in her lap? If she felt they were in danger, why didn’t she call the police?

Carrie’s classified/conspiracy-theory circumstances don’t much matter, of course, and her bullheaded way of throwing a valid “yeah, but” after every mindblowing confession doesn’t do much for her. When CPS brings up her bipolar disorder, it’s a red flag that things are not kosher, but more importantly it establishes a double-blind, a sort of prior restraint, that says no explanation she might give, as a civilian, could ever win out. She’s reduced, after five and a half seasons, to symptoms on a checklist: Mania, paranoia, a lack of “normality” (however arbitrarily that is defined), an absence of “mental stability” (however precarious such a state really is for any of us to attain).

What makes this complicated and rather unfair is that there are plenty of factors here that muddy the waters. After all, she’s a mother. In most cases, a mother’s determination to protect her child at any cost — blindly, fiercely, irrationally — is a primal instinct. Hard-wired. If there’s one thing we can agree upon about Carrie,  it’s that she loves deeply. Love for her child, all the more so (at least, these days). There’s no way to definitively tell which mode she’s operating out of  — mother, bipolar person, or both — because that’s not how it should ever be framed.

But let’s also consider the impossible yardstick by which she’s being measured: Not in the frame of reference of her own situation, but by the illusion of perfect parenting ability. What constitutes a “good” mother (or father)? If we had a definitive answer to that question, if we knew how to do it, wouldn’t the world be — mostly, if not entirely — populated by well-adjusted, happy adults?

marin hinkle speechless homeland Homeland: Carrie is facing her greatest heartbreak yet – and its all part of a certain someones plan

And too, this story is not set in a world where a more perfect parent is magically, readily available to take over for Carrie. The only alternative here is the foster care system, into which we learn Franny has already been shuffled. Even the officials involved recognize it’s not ideal, but compared to Carrie’s “dangerous” imperfect parenting, it’s the only quick solution. We understand each rationalization Carrie made along the way, and the unusual circumstances surrounding them all — once again, we see Carrie plead for context in Quinn’s case, which is once again an extraordinary ask, but speaks also of the way she views her own situation. That’s the life of an ex-spy (and her ex- and current-spy friends) — and it’s out of deep identification with Carrie, whom we’ve known so long, that we’re able to note down every single time she makes it worse for herself.

It was of course Dar who reported Carrie to CPS, and pushed Hinkle’s functionary into this full-on assault. Of course, his concern isn’t with the state of her mental health, or Franny’s welfare, it’s about Carrie’s perspective, her path to redemption — a personal wish he disbelieves in so harshly that he’s gone out of his way to disallow it, no matter who is speaking. Saul wants out of the endless war? No way. Carrie wants to stop being the Drone Queen and become a human rights advocate? Give me a break. Quinn wants to stop killing people all the time? Gross me out, I own you.

And, immediately and in terms of power, Dar’s problem is her politics — specifically how they align with her powerful ally, President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Every time he’s got the president on the hook, here comes Carrie with her reasonable approach and humanist philosophy, screwing everything up: Just as he warned her outside Franny’s school, he’s doing what he was born doing: Using Carrie’s greatest areas of vulnerability against her, in calculated retaliation. Trying to win, as the saying goes, not just today’s fight but all the fights to come — take her out at the knees, and personally.

And thus, it’s hard to know what to feel. Besides everything, at once. Sure, we’re mad her her, but we’re infinitely madder at him.

Think there’s only so much menace that one man can squeeze into a 48-hour period/44-minute episode? Have you met Dar? He’s got Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Quinn (Rupert Friend) to f**k with too, thank you very much.

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Saul’s abruptly hauled into a conference room and grilled by Rachel Crofts, a counterintelligence agent: Nobody in the whole wide world buys Saul’s “dinner with my sister” cover story, and never did — and certainly not Dar’s Mossad buddy Tova Rivlin (Hadar Ratzon Rotem). Dar then sweeps into the room, doing a pretty shoddy job of pretending to save the day and Saul calls bs. Has anyone ever in the history of lying delivered a less convincing, “Whhhhattt? Who me?” than Dar here? (Dar’s no idiot, so it’s fair to allow that his barely disguised glee over Saul’s discomfort could be intentional.) Either way, Saul now knows what’s what: Dar was the only person he told about his meeting with Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub).

About whom let’s chat briefly: The Langley bombing, when like the entire CIA blew up, was Javadi. Brody was patched up and sent to Tehran to murder his predecessor, leading to his own death; Javadi’s visit here in the States last time was eventful, including the time he gutted his wife with a broken wine bottle, and later he was turned as an asset and set up as a General. All the same guy. He was, essentially, the Nazir that we actually got to know. Seasons 4 and 5, Berlin and Afghanistan, he was out of sight but remained in power — lending urgency to Saul’s ongoing Iranian play that only started falling apart this season. He is a monster, but he’s our monster — and one of the most interesting characters in the whole show’s run.

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Ugh, so good. Anyway, he’s back in the US now under a fake name, helped along by Saul’s handsome young CIA student/ally Nate Joseph (Seth Numrich, of “Turn,” Julliard and Broadway), deposed and seemingly in big trouble. Although Dar and General McClendon (Robert Knepper) agree that Javadi and Saul can’t get together, or else “everything unravels,” it’s going to take some doing. Javadi is Saul’s Nick Brody, after all: The one thing he has ever gotten absolutely right, and we’ve seen before how far he’ll go to keep that toehold in place.

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So… Guess who’s going to help Dar keep Javadi and Saul apart? Carrie’s nameless across-the-street stalker/bomber guy — and now utterly reviled-by-us Conlin assassin — played by CJ Wilson, who is, you betcha, also answering to Dar. The ski-hat-wearing ratbastard is trailing Javadi, who is pretty immediately nabbed for interrogation by an agent named Naser, who wants the names of every American agent working in Iran. And if you didn’t get the uncanny greatness of Javadi before, we dare you to watch Javadi calling Naser an idiot and telling him to go to hell — in spite of the plastic tarp and tray filled with instruments of torture being deployed exactly the way you feared. He is a mess, and make no mistake, but he is a very awesome mess.

Then, Javadi’s bad-assery goes even deeper, as an admirer named Amir, who once served under Javadi in Iraq, makes a hasty rescue. His favorite memory: The way Javadi never asked his men to do anything that Javadi wasn’t willing to do himself. (Here serving as a direct contrast to Dar, who has others do his dirty work for him.) It’s one of those little moments that underlines exactly how Saul can even stand Javadi, after the hell he’s separately put everybody through at one time or another — and comes just before Amir delivers him to Saul himself.

As the very thing Dar was trying to prevent, we have to assume this is a good situation — and we put the pieces together: As suspected, the now-dead Farhad Nafisi (Bernard White) of the disappearing/reappearing cigarettes was totally a Mossad puppet, put on display for Saul’s benefit. Point two: Javadi confirms that Iran isn’t cheating on Saul’s arms deal by running a parallel program in North Korea… Which we can also now assume is part of whatever cabal Dar is running.

Javadi begs for asylum and protection, and access to his $45MM, and Saul offers to bring him in to talk to Keane about that. But just as a reminder — that he’s a wildcard, that Saul is playing with fire, and that we can allow ourselves to love him only so much — he ties up the loose end with a single shot: His sweet rescuer and fan, Amir.

“No loose ends,” Javadi mic-drops for a shocked Saul. “You taught me that.”

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But just in case you think that’s enough of Dar’s sh*t-stirring for one episode — or at least that Saul and Javadi will somehow be able to unravel it — we get in short succession two very interesting, awful pieces of information. Not only is Dar behind the Franny situation, but he’s also behind Astrid’s (Nina Hoss) “rescue” of Quinn… To get him out of sight, the better to fill his head with as much anti-Carrie ammo as he can think of, going all the way back to last season’s cliffhanger ending that saw Carrie permanently injure Quinn’s brain for what was ultimately a dead end, and then seemingly allow him to flatline in the season’s final moments.

The fact that not-so-transparent, guilty Carrie is directly responsible for his new, impaired life would be bad enough — but it only takes a little nudge to confirm his latest paranoid suspicions about her, and retrain Quinn’s eyes back on his old master, Dar Adal: The savior who spared him prison, and/or a lifetime of electroshock therapy. The one person who won’t ever let Quinn down, as long as he does as told.

While Dar spits with real venom about Quinn’s attachment to Carrie — and Saul’s, for that matter — we have no evidence to suspect this is entirely personal: It’s just a few more doors she’s blocking with her ubiquitous charms. However, it is personal, and not just about Keane. We wish it came as more of a shock to learn about Dar’s sexual exploitation of Peter back when he was a young, “beautiful boy,” but there’s nothing surprising about it — it’s been written into their relationship since the day they turned up on the show, and this feels like merely a nudge putting things back in place: Subtext becoming heartbreaking text.

There are no ragged edges between this information and Dar’s established character, and perhaps even less for Peter’s. Anyone else, there would be a yucky, Fagin-esque trope here to be upset about, but since it’s Quinn and since it’s Dar, all we can do is be sad for everybody involved.

Dar has a heart, after all — it just happens to be gross, if nearly manageable — and where there’s feeling, there is weakness. We knew he loved owning Peter, we just didn’t know how much, or for how long; we’ve always known how much Peter loved being owned, just not when or why it started. It’s their mess, we can let them sort it out — but it’s also final confirmation that sweet Peter Quinn never stood a chance.

As if there was ever a doubt about that. There’s a reason they’re called “assets,” after all.

“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.

Posted by:Julia Diddy

Julia Diddy is a freelance writer and critic in Los Angeles.