Each season, Homeland has a habit of spinning its wheels around episode three or four, after the narrative has been established and before the action really gets going. Despite a few nice moments, mostly due to the gravity that Mandy Patinkin brings to everything he does, “The Covenant” is a remarkably thin episode for this often-thick series. It’s almost startling how little distance the plot is pushed. Yes, Quinn’s paranoia now appears to have some validity, Dar’s distrust of Carrie and PEOTUS Keane is growing, and Saul is finally overseas, but that’s about it.
Quinn (Rupert Friend) wakes up and goes to take a shower. Although it seems like this might be the moment at which Quinn finally comes back to us, returning from the brink of sanity on which he’s teetered the last couple episodes, it’s a bit of a fake-out. The opening scene turns out to be a horrifying nightmare: It’s not water that comes out of the showerhead, but gas, sending Quinn to the floor in convulsions. He wakes up screaming and is quickly comforted by Carrie (Claire Danes), but he takes her kindness the wrong way, sliding his hand under her shirt onto her bare back. She jumps up.
Carrie has plenty to worry about beyond Quinn’s affection. Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) has learned that she defied a judge’s orders and tracked down the confidential informant who turned in her client, Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree). It’s bad. The plea deal has been withdrawn and Sekou could now get 15 years instead of the 7 offered. Reda is furious, but somehow still lets Carrie go talk to their client alone, which I don’t buy for a second. Homeland has a bad habit of falling into suspension-of-disbelief traps with these small scenes. Almost everything about the Carrie/Sekou arc fell into that trap this week, especially the overwritten scene in which she confesses and apologizes to the young man. Let’s hope the writers will be able to move on soon.
Meanwhile, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is in Abu Dhabi, trying to get to the bottom of the rumors about a parallel nuclear program being operated by the Iranians. To do so, he interrogates Farhad Nafisi (Bernard White), who claims to be in Abu Dhabi for a conference. Saul suspects he’s really there to negotiate an illegal arms deal on behalf of the Iranians. Saul talks tough, telling Farhad that he knows he recently accessed a massive line of credit at First Emirates, likely to buy illegal weapons, and tries to pressure him with photos of Farhad sleeping with a prostitute. Farhad insists it was a deal with the Russians, and that he did not go to North Korea as Saul insists he did. He even drops that Iran never wanted a nuclear weapon; they only fired up the program as a way to get sanctions lifted. They wanted “to negotiate away a program we never wanted in the first place.” Something doesn’t make sense. If they were negotiating with the Russians for a defensive weapon, why were they hiding it? That wouldn’t be against the agreement. Saul suspects something is up.
Quinn is pretty suspicious too, staring at the cracked ceiling like Martin Sheen at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, when he hears a sound upstairs. He grabs a knife and locks the door, just before someone tries to open it. He goes to the window and sees someone cross back across the street, to an apartment overlooking Carrie’s house. Who’s watching the house? And are they watching Carrie or Quinn?
After telling Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) that he had to let Farhad go, Saul finds a pack of cigarettes in the trash that makes him even more suspicious. He knows that Farhad put the pack in his pocket when he left. How did it get back in the trash? Saul heads off to the West Bank to visit family, but a late-night excursion to a car, in which he slumps in the back seat, proves that he’s still investigating something. Dar tells Keane that the evidence is “conclusive” that the Iranians are doing something illegal, but it sure doesn’t seem that way yet. Carrie is later surprised that Saul/Dar used that word, noting how the CIA likes to use vague terms — especially since they got into so much trouble with the WMD drama. Is Dar planting a trap?
Meanwhile, Carrie makes a play to save Sekou. She goes to a man named Roger for a favor: a transcript of the call between Conlin and his CI, which she later plays for the furious attorney. She wants all charges dropped and Sekou released tomorrow, or she’ll take the audio to the attorney general. I’m increasingly convinced that this will be a classic Homeland double switch — another bad judgment of character on Carrie’s part. She’ll get Sekou out and then he’ll commit a terrorist act, sending her down another spiral of self-loathing and insecurity. I actually hope I’m wrong, because that arc would be too familiar.
Finally, Quinn finds the girl who set him up for a beating and gets her to take him to the dude who robbed him. The guy seems somewhat apologetic, but Quinn beats him and takes his gun. Quinn does not seem stable enough to have a weapon, and Carrie would lose her mind if she knew that there was a loaded gun in the basement of the home she shares with her daughter. As Carrie comes home, Quinn picks up his weapon, looking out across the street. The guy is still there in the window of the apartment. And he’s watching them.
- Again, this episode does very little in terms of narrative development. Quinn is a little healthier and now he’s armed. Sekou is closer to getting out. Saul has no real answers. Let’s get moving next week.
- Having said that, the slower pace allows for a great scene in which Saul is back with his family in the West Bank, where the actor brings much-needed gravity and history to conflict in an area of the world that seems incapable of finding peace.
- The new credits, filled with sound bites as always, include one that mentions “Russian hacking.” I wonder if they were edited recently. Interestingly, they end with Carrie and Quinn’s conversation from last week, showing that they are still the heart of the show. “You saved me.” “Yes.” “Why?”
- The Dar/Saul vs. Keane/Carrie dynamic can only go so far. We learn that Dar has been listening to their conversations, so he knows that Carrie is advising. Let’s move on now. Homeland works best when Saul and Carrie are on the same team. Dar can be a wild card who plays both sides, but it’s time to reunite the heroes of this show.