“Homeland” has always been about impossible choices. Maybe the appeal is, in part, that it makes our own “impossible” choices look merely difficult in comparison — and we could all use a little perspective, to bear those choices with more grace and less self-loathing.
“Sock Puppets” (Mar. 19) puts Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) between her usual rock and hard place — but this time, it means putting her only remaining ally right under the boot of the state. Doing the right thing doesn’t generally result in the Disney song and dance number or satisfying after-school special moment many of us were raised to believe would invariably follow, but nearly all of us still cling to that childlike hope.
The episode begins with an intense therapy session, featuring an array of classic Claire Danes faces, and which Carrie later relates to Max (Maury Sterling) comes down to the idea that she puts the people she loves most in harm’s way. It’s an important point — considering that by episode’s end she’s done it to Saul (Mandy Patinkin) — but she does elide a couple more important therapeutic points.
First, that Carrie’s crusades for the ultimate good usually include trying to fix past mistakes by repeating them in the present: Witness her conscious attempt to rewrite her history with Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) by bringing Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) back from the brink after she wrecked his life and body… Or the fact that the first three seasons of this show were based on her delusional thinking that she could have stopped 9/11 if she’d just been more manic, or the fact that this season is based around her attempt to right the wrongs of Berlin and her “Drone Queen” persona in Afghanistan by supporting President-elect Keane’s (Elizabeth Marvel) new paradigm for counterterrorism procedures.
But second, that she puts these crusades above her own safety, and those of everyone around her. Not a linked concept, or a different way of saying the same thing, as Carrie would have herself believe: Bringing Quinn into her home, to make up for hurting him before (and make up for getting Brody killed), which she brought about to make up for loving a terrorist in the first place, which only happened because of the delusions above…
What the therapist is saying, and Carrie is still maybe not hearing (even though he specifically instructs her to really try to hear it!), is that the only loser — the only person without any agency in this story — is her (and, it’s pointed out significantly enough, Brody’s) daughter Frannie. Whether he’s right or not, and we all know and probably agree with her justifications for this, the question stands: Everyone always says they put their children first, and above everything, and only rarely does that appear 100 percent true from the outside. She brought a violent killer with PTSD into her home, and left her child in his care… Why? To prove she wasn’t wrong about the young terrorist who’d just exploded himself in Midtown. It’s a compelling case, if an incomplete one, and the rest of the episode bears it out.
And what is this move that will take down Saul? Why, the same one that puts Dar (F. Murray Abraham) on blast, and could take him down possibly once and for all… Which is why Carrie isn’t inclined to drag her feet on it, and which is why — all grumbling to the contrary — Saul isn’t going to fight it either.
Carrie’s party to a secretive pocket-dial from Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), when Dar Adal shows up at his hotel room not with millions of dollars like Javadi thinks, but the Mossad agents to whom Dar has just betrayed him. Saul and his adorable lil’ CIA sidekick Nate Joseph (Seth Numrich) manage to track the scuffle to Javadi’s hotel room, which has been scrubbed, but Carrie eventually finds his phone, at least, which contains just enough evidence to convince Keane that Dar Adal has been playing her this whole time: A relief, since an angry Keane is obviously a lot more fun to watch than a gullible, naive one.
So now that everyone’s onboard, how do we bring Dar down? The Solicitor General says it’s got to be an ongoing investigation, as far as the current conspiracy — which of course includes the mad bomber who’s been spying on Carrie and just recently murdered Astrid (Nina Hoss) and seemingly Quinn — and that means going to the books for a way to prosecute him — getting around his obvious legal leeway as the most black-ops person ever to work alongside/”with” a government agency since Darth Vader.
Which brings us back to Saul: Specifically, his affair with Russian secret agent/Berlin CIA Station Chief Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), which led to a breach that Dar Adal covered up, which conspiracy is the only way to nail him for this double-twist with Javadi and get everyone out of harm’s way. Public disgrace and the probable deconstruction of a lifetime of service — that’s tough when you’re the architect of a middling peace in the Middle East, but it’s not exactly a hit Carrie hasn’t taken for the team at least once.
In fact, it’s so written in the stars that you almost expect Carrie to bust out laughing when she points out that another way to go was to not sleep with Allison in the first place, only for Saul to reply, “Well, coming from someone who f***ed a guy in a suicide vest, that means a lot.”
It’s perfectly Saul, that exasperated growl, and in fact would have been a pretty neat conversational road to go down — but CPS calls to let Carrie know she’s been approved for an on-site supervised visit with Frannie, thanks to her therapy session. Perfect time to put that advice into action, and stop trying to save Saul — or at least cushion his blow — when she is focused on her daughter. Of course, she also has nobody to share this wonderful news with, at this point, having just severely hurt Saul’s feelings and lost Quinn and Max to the wolves…
Oh, yes. Max — our dear Max — has quite a day, unveiling the very real-world and timely secret storyline that’s been fueling this season: That deep-web private security firm that was Agent Conlin’s (Dominic Fumusa) last investigative stop en route to his fake suicide, which is hiring people with Max’s exact skillset. And you’ll never guess who’s salivating about that resume most: Top monster and conservative shock jock Elliott O’Keefe (Jake Weber).
While O’Keefe’s performance to now has been as grating as Kate Burton’s Sally Langston on “Scandal,” to see him heading up a black-bag security firm with hired killers on the payroll provides a legitimate chill: The idea that a wilding-out Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh could be disingenuous playacting in some larger scheme is not just terrifying, but a little too Breitbartishly realistic for comfort…
Especially when linked to the site’s overall mission, which is plaguing the internet with the eponymous “sock puppets,” the false social-media identities used by to foment right-wing panic and frenzy (among other known objectives) and scale their astroturf effects into global accomplishments — such as stealing elections on behalf of foreign powers, for just a random example — that kind of thing. It’s less a shocking WTF and more of a “Yes, this show is about sad and awful things that are very real but that I cannot do much to change.”
(What is a shocking WTF, and in the best way, is the way Max explains a one-year gap in his real-world resume, which is O’Keefe’s last sticking point and the only thing between Max and his prey: “M&M,” he finally scrawls into the blank space, clarifying finally that he spent that year “doing meth and masturbating.” It’s brilliantly played, as O’Keefe immediately jumps into that narrative (rather than the truth, which is that the missing year is all about CIA stuff and would show Max’s hand), soliciting like pulling teeth a bravura performance of Max’s grief after a death overseas, suicidal ideation, the whole nine — which explains why he neglected to share the info, and why it isn’t recorded anywhere.)
It is immensely satisfying to see everyone closing in on Dar from all angles, and getting Keane onboard does more to soothe our nerves than even Carrie — who’s still visibly kicking herself for crossing the line with her a while back — even if we know the high costs attached, and the fallout more brutal than we’re probably even imagining. Dar’s roots are deep and strong in this show, written into every relationship and storyline in some way or another, and as much as everybody would like to just say he’s evil and be done with it, the fact is that they all have some intimate connection to him, or some awareness of his limitless power and dedication to his goals, that renders that all but moot.
While falling back in love with Keane is lovely, and her agitation in following through on a debrief alone with Dar is delightful — she’s never been more brittle, or funnier, than during this teacup-clattering charm offensive that would have fooled absolutely anyone else on Earth — in the end, Dar knows he’s burned, and probably knows who to blame. Watching Dar watching Keane trying to fool him was a little too much like watching a snake watching a mouse pretending to be a lion — and her goal for keeping the meeting, a shot at his list of Cabinet preferences that would show us his allegiances within the government, crashes and burns. The President-elect is, for all Adal purposes, burnt.
There’s a moment during the original reveal, sandwiched between these two Dar meetings, in which you anticipate Keane just throwing her hands in the air, screaming “YOU PEOPLE!” — and when she does, it’s perfect. But the truth is that she still has no native understanding of this community she shows such contempt for, and it shows. If you don’t like mindreaders, don’t lock yourself in a room with one. But assuming he doesn’t suddenly assassinate her, it’s small potatoes: Keane’s fine, everybody’s fine, and if Dar’s mad at you that just means you’re doing something right.
However, it does mean that Max is the only one out in the field, an active agent in dealing with the things in front of us and not Saul and Dar’s past crimes… Or is he? Because it’s at this point that we, like the episode itself, remember there’s still one card left to play — and one that goes straight to the heart of the matter: Peter Quinn.
Quinn’s day is… A lot. He starts the whole mission by rubbing some of dead Nina’s blood on his mouth for no reason, steals a cop car, siphons gas for a makeshift Molotov — all of this, remember, one-handed — so that he can quickly empty out a gun store and ninja himself into Dar’s house just before he arrives home, ticked off as all heck about Keane suddenly developing guile.
Gun to Dar’s head, Peter may have inspired a few breathlessly ambiguous moments as we play out the scenarios between them: Dar loudly proclaims his love for Peter, and in the next breath “I raised you, Peter. You are my child,” which is… All of it, again. Nothing we didn’t really know, but nothing we’d had occasion to think about too much. Even when Peter pulls back from simply murdering him once and for all, we’re left wondering if he’s still being manipulated…
But nope. Dar’s next call is the Mad Bomber, who recently failed to kill Peter for like the eighth time, which not only ties Dar and his buddy O’Keefe to every thread of the season finally, but also tells us that Peter was marked for death all along, and Astrid into the bargain. We wonder exactly when Peter went from expendable to a liability — was it when he was injured and no longer useful, or has this been lurking ever since he chose
Carrie the sunlight in the first place? We don’t question Dar’s love for him, any more than we question whether Dar’s a rapist, but either of those are exactly as moot as the other: Dar cannot get out of this season alive, can he?
Watching Peter continue to claw, scratch, kick and crawl toward redemption is how this show keeps us coming back. We know that Carrie’s going to be okay, honestly, because she has it together finally. But as Quinn’s ontogeny continues recapitulating Carrie’s phylogeny — this week having shown us Dar Adal, finally, as Saul to his Carrie and Carrie to his Brody simultaneously, we seem due at least one more confrontation before the end… Not to mention at least one more opportunity for the show to sidestep the pretty nasty tropes it’s dealing in, when it comes to men’s sexuality as markers for betrayal and untrustworthiness — although here we’re given comfort by remembering how beautifully it pulled off Brody’s complex relationship with Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) long ago, down to even the love/trust triangle with Carrie.
As the end of the season draws near — three episodes remain — we know the net is closing on Dar, and while we brace ourselves to gasp or cry (or both) as a character we adore must invariably sacrifice far too much to pull this off, at least we’ll have the rare pleasure of the baddie taking a hit too, for once. These kids need a win.
“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime, and has already been renewed for a seventh and eighth season.