For now, it looks as if Homeland is settling into a groove, measured and speech-heavy rather than action-packed and turbocharged. Good. I like Homeland in this mode, if it gets it right, and this was an excellent episode.
The best storyline continues to be the one in which Saul and Dar wander around like a pair of chatty alte kackers who just happen to have the authority to start a limited nuclear war. First up, Saul drops in on Carrie at her office. Thing is, he says conversationally, I was listening to President-elect Keane talking about drone strikes and so on, and it all sounded very familiar. I know she’s a friend of Otto During. So, Carrie, are you briefing PEOTUS? Oh, nice one, I thought; that, in Homeland world, sounds entirely plausible. Carrie denies it passionately but unconvincingly. Well, for some reason Saul seems to be convinced at least, although he uses his line in avuncular menace to warn Carrie that, were she to be offering back-channel advice to Keane, “that would not play well at all”.
Meantime, Dar is briefing Rob (the Hill Harper character – not yet pinned down what he is to the new President, but I’m still guessing Chief of Staff) that, according to the Mossad, Iran is reneging on the nuclear deal, that an Iranian scientist with links to their nuclear programme is going to be in Abu Dhabi in a few days, and that the Israelis are going to pick him up. Should the USA be involved? And – no way out of this, Rob, on the basis that your boss hasn’t been inaugurated yet – the current President has agreed to defer to PEOTUS’s decision on this one. Now, at that point it begins to sound like a gigantic trap, but fortunately Keane has someone from whom she can take advice: Carrie, obviously, who tells her that even if it conflicts with her principles she can’t sit this one out, and to send someone she can trust – i.e. Saul – to Abu Dhabi. Even better, Dar knows that Carrie has been speaking to Keane, but doesn’t tell Saul. This is all Homeland at its best.
Carrie, of course, also has her day job to cope with: Sekou is still in custody accused of attempting to provide support to terrorists. He denies it, claiming that the money found in his bed was given to him by his video-making bud Saad, who has disappeared. It doesn’t take much investigation to discover that Saad isn’t his real name, and that he’s an FBI informant anyway; and, even though the FBI doesn’t want to give Carrie access to him, she is after all one of America’s top espionage operatives. So it’s the work of no more than a few minutes for her to find him. It looks like entrapment, but the FBI has something on Saad and he’s not going to risk his own freedom to help Sekou. Saad does, however, confirm that he told his handler, FBI agent Conlin, that Sekou wasn’t involved in terrorism. This is also very well done.
The only part of this episode which isn’t wholly successful is, of course, Quinn’s storyline. At the start – sitting in the basement listening to talk radio, demanding food “in cans”, throwing a coffee mug at Carrie – he’s behaving like such a colossal jerk that’s it’s very difficult to feel anything other than off-the-scale irritation. Carrie drafts in Max – whoever he is, an employee at her advocacy project? – to babysit Quinn, and in fairness he displays infinitely more patience than I could, perhaps remembering that surviving a lungful of sarin gas isn’t necessarily going to result in optimal behaviour. By the end of the episode, though, even that arc is salvaged in a calmer, quieter scene: Carrie visits Quinn in the basement, to discover him to be (apparently genuinely) bemused about how he ended up the way he is. In response she shows him the video of his gassing, and she tells him that he was very close to death. Why, he wonders, did Carrie save him? On one level it’s hardly a question at all; on another it’s one which would take the whole of seasons 3 -5 to answer adequately, and it breaks Carrie in two.