Comparisons to “The Night Of” are not at all unfounded: “Homeland’s” Season 6 is encased in a heady perfume of intrigue, and the shimmering mirage of character motivation has not yet been pierced. It’s a delicious time.
To hear Sekou (J. Mallory McCree) tell it, his deported father is the reason for his family’s planned trip to Nigeria: A family torn apart by heartless federal policies lays a nice foundation of emotional authenticity. (Let’s throw some tentative air quotes around “authenticity,” just in case.) He tells Carrie and lawyer Reda (Claire Danes and Patrick Sabongui) that the cash was a loan to fund his trip, magnanimously provided by his friend and co-radical Saad (Leo Manzari)… Who, um, did ask Sekou to meet with someone while in Nigeria, although as we saw, Sekou said no…
…And in short order, we learn Saad is a confidential informant to the FBI. Damning evidence, against Sekou, supplied by a government stooge… Can you say “entrapment?” Because you know Carrie sure can!
Saad is voraciously protected by his FBI handlers, but when the prosecution offers a seven-year plea, Sekou’s heartfelt, wide-eyed protestations of innocence hit the right note: Pitting a passionate, bright-eyed youngster against the corrupt Establishment is broad-strokes for sure, but this is always the fun part of “Homeland” — who doesn’t relish the shell game, trying to keep your eyes locked on the believability of our scapegoat?
In a secret, dark-alley meetup, Carrie confirms her suspicions about Saad: Handler Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa from “Nurse Jackie”) threatened Saad with jailtime if he didn’t help set up Sekou. None of which is admissible in court, but puts us on the right path for sure. And not for nothing, but Saad’s context here — a dark-skinned Pakistani youth caught in the downward spiral of crime and disenfranchisement (consider Ava DuVernay’s impeccable “13th”) — certainly contributes to the overall grossness of Conlin, who already effortlessly presents as a smug frat boy.
The Sekou plot has hit its stride in short order: A hell of a lot of dominos were set up in this ep, and this storyline is standing head and shoulders above the longer-playing series arc stuff. On the one hand, that’s an easy proclamation to make, with a show that likes to trick us into feeling as off-base and paranoid as the spies and burnt assets it tracks.
The Saul/Carrie tensions and his accusations of her being the President-Elect’s secret adviser at first have us back on well-trodden ground: ”This is some bullshit,” insists Carrie — the “Homeland” subtext naturally being, “Ha ha, of course it isn’t” — and so when Carrie does later meet with President-Elect Keane, she still recommends putting Saul in a key intelligence position to address a deal gone wrong. It’s a sweet nod to her history with and fondness for her mentor, and the whole situation demonstrates her skill at compartmentalizing, even in the private sector.
On the other hand, the Quinn (Rupert Friend) stuff is sodden with Carrie martyrdom: A convenient bed of spikes she’s meant to throw herself upon so we can watch her hate herself even more. (And like Conlin’s convincing hateability — yes, this too is possible.) The dramatic scope of this story’s underpinnings — boy meets girl, boy falls in love with and avoids killing girl’s boyfriend, boy gets murdered on camera and girl resurrects him to a horrifying Frankensteinian half-life — make everything here feel awfully heavy-handed, but perhaps that’s unavoidable. We know she’s lonely — not even Otto’s () into it these days — and we know it’s a unique position for her to be in, babysitting a version of herself at her worst, down to the manic drug-and-sex binges, but… It’s a holding pattern we hope doesn’t go on too long.
As long as we’ve known them, Quinn’s played the Wounded Warrior and Carrie the Walking Wounded. We see them switching places, and we know it’s going somewhere, but… it’s kind of exhausting: Quinn takes it upon himself to watch the footage in which he’s poisoned to death, and of course Carrie is front-row… Admitting she’s watched it at least a hundred times, because that’s a Carrie thing to say, in order to find and rescue him.
But when Quinn asks why she saved him, there isn’t a single question that could be more specifically directed toward making Carrie cry harder. A Greek chorus in the corner of the room, shouting “Shame!,” would cap it all off nicely, and based on everything else going on in her life — all proactive, peaceful, conflict-resolving, healthy things! — it feels a little like a backslide. Or maybe it’s not about Carrie at all, in the usual way: This could also be her attempt to solve the American veteran crisis all by herself, starting with one dude. You just never know.
So we’ve got all that, and then: Sekou, prosecution of intent, our increasingly conflicting views on patriotism both inside and outside the show, which remain the sizzle on the steak. Next week, verbatim:
Saul goes to Abu Dhabi. Carrie delivers bad news. Quinn senses something.
What bad news will Carrie deliver? There’s a lot to choose from. And what will Quinn “sense”? Probably nothing great!
“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime, and has been renewed for a seventh and eighth season beyond the current one.