The line of dialogue that cuts closest to the bone in the overall impressive “The Flag House” (March 26) comes when far-right shock jock Elliot O’Keefe (Jake Weber) tells Dar Agal (F. Murray Abraham) it’s “time to weaponize some information.”
And in an instant, “Homeland” leads us deep into the midst of the real-life reign of post-factual terror now underway (also serving as a too-painful reminder as to why Election 2016 was decided upon as the “American Horror Story” theme for Season 7).
As it’s playing out in “Homeland,” the weaponization of information has O’Keefe and Adal finally running that smear job they’ve been planning — after Dar’s veiled threats to President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) have the opposite effect of their intent: Over the course of the hour, we’re reminded again and again that the intelligence community is made up of people who rely on their own intelligence and everyone else’s lack thereof… Which is why social engineering and manipulation are the most important tools of spycraft, and why base emotion in the corridors of power is so easily the cause of everyone else’s misfortune.
Because while anyone is susceptible to overwhelming emotion — triggered and detonated for maximum destructive impact, on both an individual and collective level — it’s particularly those who think they’re above such things that are most likely to trip over them. Dar Adal believes he wants what’s best for America, but can admit he loves the game; President Keane can look a murderer in the eye and never blink, not even after he’s gone, but stay up late in the night grieving for her long-dead son. And on the plus side, Carrie and Saul (Claire Danes & Mandy Patinkin) are so used to channeling their emotions into their work that, while it often makes things harder than they need to be, is also usually how they end up saving the day.
At episode’s outset, while taking on Max’s (Maury Sterling) news about the sockpuppet farm — a quasi-governmental enterprise created to mass-manufacture and manipulate emotion, note — Carrie’s too distracted to notice that nobody ever mentioned sending a black car to pick her up for the deposition that they assume will down take Dar (and unfortunately Saul). It’s only a bit later, after the driver’s dropped her off with some menacing information about Carrie’s visitation with her daughter, that she backs out of the deposition after all. It’s a bizarre enough twist that it only takes a heart-stopping sequence between the two women at Carrie’s home for Keane to put the whole thing together, and while she doesn’t mention Carrie’s name when finally issuing the verbal beatdown she’s been dying to give Dar, damn the consequences, it’s pretty comforting to know this was the last straw.
No sooner does Carrie cancel the deposition than Dar is oozing his way into Keane’s schedule, uninvited, with a list of three highly ridiculous cabinet candidates, one of whom is a direct opponent of Keane’s. Keane’s reaction to Dar is invigorating — and worrisome. She’s given up on trying to out-poker-face Dar, which is probably for the best, as there’s no beating this guy at his own game. But her declaring war, in so many words, on Dar, and his carefully ominous response, meant the gloves were coming off: It’s bare-knuckle underground “Fight Club” time now. Her reaction is completely understandable, and her steady stare long after he’s gone tells us she’s willing to go the distance. Was it a smart move?
Maybe not, if you’re only playing chess, but as one of the only civilians ever to take a central role on this show, it’s also possible that she was designed to serve the story in exactly this way: So much of Dar’s smoke and mirrors just seems so silly and playacting, such toxic pretense, that whether she gets knocked down permanently for this hardly matters: Somebody needed to call him out, so somebody did.
Not even a visit from Keane will change Carrie’s mind about the deposition, at least not until Carrie’s back in CPS/Dar’s good graces. As Carrie reminds Keane she failed to help Carrie protect Franny when she asked for help to begin with, the true irony is that back then, she had no idea Dar had roped CPS into his vendetta — in that moment, they were both too much in their feelings to think about their hidden, common enemy.
Only a few scenes later, we’re watching Keane come apart after Dar executes the exact same strategy on her that he has on Carrie. In this case, Keane’s child may be dead, but Dar finds a way to inflict further pain on a grieving mother’s deepest heartache. She can’t protect her dead child from Dar any more than Carrie can protect her living one from him.
Where information is weaponized to trigger emotion, emotion is something we inadvertently weaponize in ourselves — we’re all capable of being that reactive, unthinking sock puppet, primed for manipulation. To go CIA with it, and argue that we simply need to learn to respect facts and override our emotions in this post-factual world, is a naive and incomplete strategy doomed to failure. The gap between our logical self and the subconscious, emotional, irrational id trips up each and every one of us, time and again. It’s horrifying to be reminded that we can know on a logical level what constitutes “rational” or even “good” behavior, and yet we’re often powerless to override the wild gremlin within. All of the truisms and self-help talk about the importance of owning your difficult emotions is both the painful truth and gross oversimplification that turns us too easily into butterflies effortlessly pinned to our personal mounting boards.
When Max captures some furtive footage of Dar and O’Keefe plotting and scheming at his new “workplace,” it’s not too long before Max is whisked away by company security (and that Nurse Ratched corporate clone, of course) mere moments later. Sweet Max won’t be going down like Conlin (Dominic Fumusa), but what he does’t know is that O’Keefe is answering to someone besides Dar: After Dar spots a photo of Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), of all people, on O’Keefe’s laptop, he blithely brushes this off as another project underway before closing his laptop.
The fact that it was left out at all means O’Keefe doesn’t know the whole story — unless somehow this was intended for Dar’s eyes — and though we’re left wondering if this connects O’Keefe to the Mystery Bomber (CJ Wilson) somehow, we’re curious to see how Dar’s emotional attachment to Peter could actually be used for deliberate (or even accidental) effect.
Peter has tracked the mystery bomber to the very neighborhood where Peter used to meet with General McClendon (Robert Knepper) and his cabal, back in his merc days: Would it surprise you to learn that our Mystery Bomber is now leading the meetings? Or that they’ve got a delivery van in the garage that’s the spitting image of the ones the Bomber used to kill/frame Sekou Ba?
It’s to this titular house that Peter summons Carrie, via shady druggie rehab-era girlfriend, to rendezvous: Of course, she’s assumed he was still at Bellevue since Dar kidnapped him in the first place, so she’s pretty shocked to find him camped out in the house across the street with a long-range assault rifle, and the Mystery Bomber in his sights (literal). With only two episodes left in the season, doesn’t it feel outrageously likely that that trigger might get pulled? And doesn’t the emotional, reactive part in each one of us really want it to (bigger picture and rational objectives be damned)?!
Interestingly, it’s Peter who suddenly appears to be most in control of his emotions in the midst of this. He’s battling demons as large and vicious as anyone else’s in this mess, and yet, the brilliant tactician within him keeps homing in on what he needs to do: He could have pulled the trigger on Dar in the last episode — he had every compelling emotional motivation to. But he ceded to the voice of reason within him that knew there were bigger objectives at stake. This week, he is five steps ahead of us at every turn, and it’s thrilling.
Saul goes on the run, planning to flee the country permanently, but sets up one last meeting with our beloved Mira (Sarita Choudhury) first, in two of the show’s best-ever sequences, in any season: First, a short “paper chase” in which his estranged civilian wife gets to play spy, and then their equally short, but powerful, secret meeting, in which Mira does what she does best: Call bs on Saul, shocking him into a moment of personal revelation and inspiration. Saul’s fleeing the idea of having his entire career decimated, his reputation destroyed — that pride in his work and successes, that Carrie-esque sense that he alone is holding the Middle East together — is a fire that only Dar Adal could set under him: Both because the men know each other so well, and because it’s the only part of Saul that megalomaniac Dar can understand.
But Mira, with her whole stunning thing she is constantly doing, brings Saul back to a place of clarity: He sees his emotional reaction for what it is and then summons within him a calmer reckoning of what needs to be done… In this case, breaking into Carrie’s house and making tea, while she’s off in Queens with Quinn. He may not be ready to just hand himself over to the President for a deal, but sticking to his guns and running to Carrie is a great sign no matter what, because he would only put himself at his daughter-mentor-weapon’s mercy if that pride were no longer getting in the way.
The look on Saul’s face when he unlocks and stumbles upon Carrie’s “workspace” is priceless: The countless, frenzied push-pinned multi-colored threads linking stories, photos, news articles, scrawled theories connecting every part of this season, and Carrie’s own shame-filled narrative, and Quinn’s, into a swiftly self-reassembling puzzle.
While this is, in the language of the show, usually a physical manifestation of her mania in full swing, and thus a danger zone that also means her magic jazz powers are back, Saul’s look of fatherly pride is more deeply complicated than that. Beautiful no matter what, and certainly a little homesick for their halcyon days — but if this were the best-case scenario, if Carrie’s finally reached a place peaceful enough that she can access these abilities on some level without doing the whole pharmaceutical cha-cha… Then simple pride is just the beginning of what he must be feeling.
Carrie’s gut instincts, irrational yet powerful emotions and manic episodes have always fueled her biggest triumphs, as well as her darkest failures — and yet this season has been about the past coming back to haunt her, rather than her own complicated physiology. But perhaps that’s the look of recognition in Saul’s face here: The way he can finally see it from her direction, how our greatest weaknesses can be our greatest strengths if we learn to channel those qualities in constructive, proactive ways, versus reactive, subconscious ways.
And now, with Carrie “safe” for the moment in Queens, and Keane looking like she may well strangle Dar to death with her own well-manicured hands before all’s said and done, and Saul with Carrie’s full mental arsenal at his disposal, we get confirmation that Max sent his images of Dar and O’Keefe before he was nabbed. Everybody might as well be exactly where they need to be, Quinn most of all: With a rifle pointed at the Mad Bomber’s stupid head, and good ol’ Carrie by his side. Now just don’t touch Max’s face and we will be fine.
“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime. One episode left until the April 9 finale, with the show already renewed for Seasons 7 and 8.