As fun as outlandish plot developments can be, sometimes nothing's more entertaining than smart people who do their jobs well. Nobody will deny that the sight of Carrie Mathison in a frizzy wig solving a mystery by activating a laptop screensaver was one of the most hilarious things Homeland has ever done, but this week saw our heroine stand with authority before a bank of flatscreens barking commands to underlings, and the effect was just as rousing. Much of season five has presented Carrie as an off-the-grid rogue operative — which certainly has its appeals — but that outsider status too often prevents her from working at full strength. What a relief, then, that "The Litvinov Ruse" mostly absolves her of any suspected wrongdoing and allows her to once again prove she's the best spy-game mastermind on television.
These kinds of serials thrive on interpersonal conflict, but sometimes, you just want the characters you like to like each other. So when Carrie reunited with Saul (now armed with the knowledge that she'd been right all along), their wordless embrace was nothing short of heart-tingling. They like each other again! All season long, Homeland has asked us to believe these two would turn their backs on each other, and we were finally given a solid confirmation of why that had happened: Carrie personally lobbied against Saul's promotion to CIA director. Only viewers with a working knowledge of last season's finale will care about the details of why she did it, but it's almost as if the reason never mattered. Carrie and Saul needed to be apart so that they could finally reunite here. And it felt great.
Carrie's and Saul's plan to regain Dar Adal's trust and get themselves back in good standing with the CIA was simple: Expose Allison as a Russian operative. This kicks off an episode-long series of spy games, a well-oiled machine of intrigue and suspense. First, Saul swings by Allison's house for some "I'm defecting to Israel" farewell sex, and the instant she falls asleep, he creeps downstairs and glues a tracking device into that purse that she bought online while she was feeling blue about being a secret KGB agent. Then, Carrie and Saul strike a deal with the Berlin intelligence agents to trick Allison into believing they recruited a Russian spy, who is more than willing to name names about a certain mole within the CIA. Allison either doesn't take the bait, though, or maybe she's just REALLY horny, because she's busy having a sexual liaison on several hidden cameras, as opposed to the spy meet-up they'd hoped for. (Saul does not enjoy watching.) But when she's pressed again on the supposed Russian snitch angle, she finally does take the bait and tries to go off-the-grid. Saul, Carrie, and Dar Adal need her to do something very incriminating on camera to prove that she's a traitor, but ultimately, all they get is drone footage of her entering a Russian safe house. This ends up being just enough to incarcerate her and her KGB bestie — but knowing Allison, it also gives her just enough wiggle room to get out of it.
The main take-away from all these shenanigans is just how good both Allison and Carrie are at their jobs. Carrie even remarks that all the on-the-fly decisions Allison makes — like ditching her cell phone and doubling back through a train station — were exactly what Carrie would have done. And it can't be stated enough: For a show premised on people doubting Carrie's sanity, there's something refreshing about watching Carrie prove just how great she is by leading the charge when it counts. In the end, though, Allison may have come out on top. Some quick thinking leads her to claim that she recruited the KGB guy as a secret asset, not the other way around. It's a big, bold lie, and only Allison could properly pull it off. But regardless of whether it works out in her favor, Carrie and Saul still make their case that she'd been up to something, so that's a relief.
Honestly, nobody could blame you if you've skimmed this recap just to get to the Quinn part. For most of the season he's existed in his own show, and this week the Quinn Show turned into a HORROR series. Last week, his plan to "smuggle" terrorists into Syria went awry when they bashed him in the head with a pipe and transported him, alongside gas masks and chemicals, back into Berlin. As it turns out, Quinn's captors were preparing for a sarin gas attack, but only after they send authorities a threatening video of Quinn being gassed to death in a homemade gas chamber. But part of what makes Quinn great at his job is his ability to hone in on peoples' emotional weaknesses, and here, he successfully appeals to one of his captors' sense of basic humanity. Although his captor can't dispose of the poison gas before Quinn's scheduled execution, he's able to secretly inject Quinn with a serum that counteracts the sarin's effects. I think we can rest easy that Quinn will probably survive this incident, but the episode concluded with the truly troubling image of his face contorting into a frothy, writhing mess. Quinn was not having a great time and, by extension, neither were we.
"The Litvinov Ruse" was as riveting and fascinating as the ninth episode of a season of Homeland can be. Watching Allison's house of cards begin to tumble was a pleasure made sweeter by Carrie's return to respectability. Saul's and Carrie's mutual trust is back, and that has always been one of Homeland's secret spices. But once again, we need to single out Miranda Otto for her phenomenal work. Allison is a stellar, complicated character, who has elevated a generally small-scale season into a surprisingly compelling human drama. We can relate to Allison's weaknesses and we can appreciate her cunning, but she's nearly impossible to predict. In other words, she's Homeland in a pencil skirt. I can't wait to see what she (or the show) will try next.