Homeland follows up its character-driven season premiere with an even more somber, relatively slow episode. This is a good thing. It’s nice to see the show feeling more like a drama than the 24 clone it sometimes became over the last five seasons — although I do expect a bomb to go off at the end of every scene. I think I have Post Homeland Stress Disorder; every scene feels like it could with an explosion.
“The Man in the Basement” is a study of two very different men, both trapped by their situation: Quinn (Rupert Friend), recovering from the sarin gas poisoning at the end of last season, and Sekou (J. Mallory McCree), stuck in a cell while the legal system determines if he’s a threat to national security. Meanwhile, Carrie Mathison is still bad at following orders and really good at lying to Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).
The episode opens with Quinn, the titular man in the basement, living in the home owned and occupied by Carrie. He’s moping around, listening to an Alex Jones–type as he rants about the criminal element being brought into America by foreigners, and he throws his coffee cup at the door when Carrie tries to come in. Will Quinn be radicalized against his own country? It’s not that far of a stretch, especially if — or more likely when — he learns that his recovery was threatened by Saul and Carrie waking him up against doctor’s orders in last season’s finale so they could question him. The last line we hear in this scene sounds particularly ominous: “If you feel this calling to be an independent American, the time to rise up is now. NOW!”
Carrie has Max (Maury Sterling) come over to help take care of Quinn while she goes with Reda (Patrick Sabongui) to meet with Sekou. They found $5,000 under his mattress, which he claims to have hidden so it wouldn’t be stolen before he could get tickets to Nigeria for his family. The government claims it was material support for a foreign terrorist organization. Was he finally going to see his father, who was deported 14 years earlier? Or was he planning to support an attack against the United States? We just don’t know yet. Sekou does reveal that his buddy (Leo Manzari) gave him the money, and that he wanted Sekou to meet with someone in return. Uh oh.
While Max tries to get Quinn to take a shower, Saul visits Carrie. He thinks that PEOTUS Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) has shaped her national-security policy with Carrie’s help, since they’re connected via their mutual friend, Otto (Sebastian Koch). Carrie denies it, pretty believably. Saul isn’t buying it, and Carrie gets angrier. At times, Saul can be a bit threatening. He definitely has an aggressive side and Carrie is tired of dealing with it. She kicks him out, claiming that she’s given up on intrigue and is happy doing what she does to protect Muslim Americans against harassment. Of course, we later learn that she’s still a damn good liar, and Saul’s instincts were correct: Carrie is feeding Keane information about the CIA’s policies and procedures.
As far as Carrie Mathison’s particular brand of subterfuge goes, few people know her tricks better than Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), who meets with Keane’s top advisor Rob Hemmis (Hill Harper). He has a line that contains this episode’s most startling real-world commentary, coming days after one of the America’s most controversial inaugurations: “Presidents don’t get chances. They get tested.” He reveals that there’s an Iranian nuclear program being run covertly outside of the country, and this could be the way that Homeland goes international this season, especially when Carrie and the new POTUS decide to send Saul to deal with it on the ground. Saul heads overseas, so perhaps Carrie will follow when an international incident takes place. But what will the show do with Quinn?
Before any of that can happen, Max does some research on Sekou’s mysterious benefactor and videographer, who we learn is really named Tyrone Banks Jr. He was a power player in the Steel City Gang in Pittsburgh and turned into a confidential informant by the FBI. He’s not only under FBI protection — he’s the one who actually busted Sekou. Did he entrap him, too? Reda argues that they need to ask him this question in court, but the FBI blocks all access to their guy. Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) tells Carrie that the tickets to Nigeria were bought and paid for before his C.I. even showed up. So what was the money really for? It’s a tough call: Did the FBI find a terrorist or make one? Sekou is stuck either way, and Reda wants to encourage him to take a plea deal of seven years behind bars.
While Carrie is at work, Quinn goes for a walk and suffers a seizure in a nearby bodega. The EMTs come, but he refuses to go to the hospital. Much like Quinn is trapped by his physical situation, Sekou learns the depth of his legal one. He’s understandably furious, swearing at the officer nearby and getting dragged away. Reda tells Carrie that they should be happy with anything under 15 years. Even though Carries disobeys orders and tracks down Tyrone — who reveals he told Conlin that Sekou wasn’t a terrorist — I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t a bait and switch. Remember: Homeland is built on Carrie’s feeling that she “got it wrong” on 9/11, and her subsequent relationship with a man turned against his country. What if Sekou’s innocence arc is a ruse? It would fit perfectly within the history of the show. Perhaps Carrie gets Sekou out of prison, then he commits a terrorist act. Or his narrative could merely be that of a young man caught in an FBI-enabled nightmare. I have a feeling we’ll know soon.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s nightmare may be easing up a bit. He finally confronts something he’s never seen before: the video of his poisoning that Carrie used to save his life. In a starkly depressing moment, Quinn asks Carrie why she saved his life. How do you answer that question? What’s the alternative? Carrie doesn’t know what to say, and Danes does a great job selling the emotions that flood her. She cries, apologizes, and walks away, turning off the light.
- The somber pace of the premiere continues in the second episode, which is a good thing. I’m glad it feels more like a drama this season. As I mentioned above, I expect that to change soon, but it’s a nice, tone-setting start.
- Do you think Sekou is as innocent as he claims to be? Or is Carrie being fooled again?
- If the show moves overseas, how do you think they’ll keep Quinn involved?
- Will Carrie’s mental health become an issue again, as it has every season? She seems awfully together right now. It’d certainly be a change if the writers actually kept her that way for a whole season.