Is it just us, or were you also watching this episode from the corner of the room about ten minutes in, rocking back and forth semi-catatonically, maybe even sucking your thumb and doing a little whimpering while waiting for the other shoe to drop?
Of course we knew it was too good to be true: Sekou (J. Mallory McCree) was a pawn in a greater scheme of some sort, and his release was too good to be true. And Carrie (Claire Danes) meant well, as always — though a little too certain that the ends justified the means in securing his release the way she did. Alas, that wasn’t the “end” (make that “End” with a capital E) that she, or we, saw coming for poor Sekou.
Prior to the gasp-out-loud, jump-from-the-couch ending of “A Flash Of Light” (Feb. 12), it was already plenty nerve-wracking to watch Sekou’s youthful stubbornness, naiveté, and rebellion flare up immediately upon his release. Not that he wasn’t entitled, but as “Homeland” fans, we’re naturally like whipped dogs, trembling whenever some poor clueless character seems to believe in things like justice and rights and happy endings. We know this fictional universe is least kind to its idealists. (So gaaaaah! That video! Damn it, kid!)
You could feel it in the air at Sekou’s welcome home party, buddies acting suspicious and Sekou’s attorney, Reda (Patrick Sabongui), chastising Carrie for how she handled this one: “Fair Trial is not a clandestine organization,” he hisses, which is harsh, but fair… And only leads into the hour’s repeated motif as Carrie continually tries to draw the lines, for anyone who will listen, about the difference between herself then and herself now.
In a visit to Sekou later on, trying to push him to take his triumphant return video down, Carrie knows she’s not much more to look at than a well-meaning white lady — but she showed him their shared middle ground in a very earnest, open-hearted conversation about how a post-9/11 America has prioritized fear over freedom, and her implication in all of it — and is rewarded with the full complement of idealism, disappointment, and enlightenment that fuels Sekou’s drive and rage. His anger is justifiable, and remarkably simple: It is sufficient to just plain be angry about being denied rights — free speech and due process, for starters and in the last ten minutes — due arbitrarily to the color of his skin and his religion.
It is interesting to see the form of Carrie’s patriotism, this season: The real love affair of the show has always been Carrie and her country, and what she is prepared to do for it, what she will give away, what she is willing to ask for in return. So to see her acknowledge that yes, his protest is valid, and even his reasons for breaking the law are things she agrees with — but, and this is rare in television, she offers the fact of her lived experience as the reason she can only call his agitprop “ugly,” which she does several times.
Another show, another character, would just be throwing words around like that as a function of sentimentality. But that’s not what this fight, or this imagery, are about. To Sekou, dead American soldiers are shock-value collateral damage that he only cares about in theory, in rhetorical value. But for Carrie, dead American soldiers walk behind her every step she takes, they’re the stars she draws on the wall. They’re in her daughter’s every smile.
Of course all of this, this episode’s worth of emotional negotiation that finally presents Sekou as the unmysterious, good, smart kid he always seemed most likely to be, makes his relegation to posthumous patsy so much more heinous, his loss so much more powerful. And the fact that Quinn (Rupert Friend) spends that entire time following up on the man who eventually plants the bomb that kills the boy — it’s dramatic irony, but it also reminds us of what makes Quinn special. His instincts, his Spidey-sense, his ability to read someone by looking at them: Even if his body isn’t working right (watching him load a gun, and later pop a lock, one-handed is really tough), his soul is coming back to his body, finally, and that’s going to make the greatest difference in the end. He did it, and with that comes the next link in the story: He’ll lead us to Sekou’s killer, and so on.
He didn’t do it in time, and he didn’t know what he was doing, but he did it. And that’s a story Carrie knows well.
Of course the question now becomes, why would one of the key players behind this setup be staking out Carrie’s place? Her involvement in Sekou’s case is merely as representative of a civil rights foundation — and as Sekou’s attorney, Reda would seem to warrant as much if not more attention from the culprits.
Given his original determination to implicate Sekou, could Conlin’s (Patrick Sabongui) corruption go this far? There is a link to Carrie there, and once Sekou burned his asset in his video, it’s doubled up. But it seems obvious — Conlin is too brutishly charming to be a straight-up villain, and too goony to be a mastermind. More likely he’d be another unwitting pawn in the conspiracy.
And of course, it would be very “Homeland” to take a stabilized Carrie and throw her back into the paranoia deep end: Her fantasies that “everybody” is after her have always held the ring of truth: After all, her various crusades have earned her, like Saul (Mandy Patinkin), a healthy list of non-fans and outright enemies — and her downfall amidst the larger purpose of this plan would delight a good many.
Carrie wrote a check she couldn’t cash yet again, and Sekou paid for it with his life, but that’s hardly the half of it: In addition to probably ruining Carrie’s working relationship with Reda, and the FBI as a private citizen — and possibly putting the foundation itself at risk, which would also be the death rattle for her intimate friendship with investor-angel Otto (Sebastian Koch) — this will compromise a lot of the work she, and the other agencies, have done in the past.
And even in the public sector, Sekou’s death is going to put power in the hands of the worst sort of Americans, the ones Carrie is terrified to see back in power: Pantomime villain, radical Islamic terrorist, slips through the lax fingers of American security and escapes to fight another day, taking down as many infidels as possible down with him. For a security hawk like Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) it’s practically divine intervention — proving him right and giving him an expansive mandate — which is valuable enough that there’s not really an upper limit to how much damage might be too extensive in its pursuit.
And Dar (F. Murray Abraham) is definitely on the move: He plays hardball with President-Elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) by leaking rumors of Iran’s double-crossing nuke activity to the press, making her look like an ineffectual softie, and then shows up at preschool to — as a “friend and adviser” — “stand down.” Carrie’s shaken by it, does an okay job of not showing it, but the fact is that Dar is speeding up his timelines, and that’s never good. Plus, we’ve Keane pressing her from the other end, looking (and not politely) for leverage against Dar to keep him from undermining her again.
When Keane reminds Carrie that the whole point of power is to be in a position to right certain wrongs, it’s a sentiment nobody could really disagree with, and certainly has been Carrie’s method of operations as long as we’ve known her. Problem with this line of thinking is, dictators also like to think they’re righting a wrong. Damn it, Keane, slippery-sloping it every time we really want to like you.
It’s a good thing, then, that Saul’s overseas adventures are coming to an end — even if the cause, a seeming terrorist attack in the middle of Manhattan, is a horrible bummer. This visit to his sister — who is also a bummer — is just falling apart as a cover story for his covert investigation into Iran and North Korea’s possible nuclear alliance, to the point where he’s nabbed on his way out of Israel for questioning, until the bombing summons him home.
All around, good for Saul — but great for Carrie, who’s gonna need backup now that her carefully engineered above-board life of civil service has just gone up in flames. We were rooting for you, girl, but it seems like life just isn’t quite done with you yet.
“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.