A frustrating season of Homeland improved a bit this week by focusing on the vulnerabilities of four of its most interesting characters: Carrie (Claire Danes), Saul (Mandy Patinkin), Quinn (Rupert Friend), and Astrid (Nina Hoss). The show has always worked to balance the personal and the political, often being most effective when it looks at how the former impacts the latter. And this often-strong quartet is more interesting now that they’re in both life and career low points. Carrie is a mess because her daughter, Frannie, has been taken away from her. Saul has been left out of nearly every political loop and no longer has the power he once did, as his one-time ally Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) conspires against him. Quinn suffers from PTSD and paranoia. Astrid suffers from how much she cares about Quinn. And it’s that last vulnerability that leads to tragedy.
The hour opens with a lengthy scene on the set of a Breitbart-esque abomination called The Real Truth and its host Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber, doing a clear Alex Jones impression). O’Keefe and his people are running a smear campaign on the dead son of PEOTUS Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), trying to remove her status as a “Gold Star Mom” by painting her child as a coward. Several of Andrew Keane’s fellow soldiers claim that Keane was “the opposite of a hero,” and one nervous man goes as far as to say that Keane was fleeing combat when he was shot in the back by a sniper. It’s the kind of gross manipulation of the facts that cable “news” programs do every day to fit their agenda, and it’s somewhat nauseating to see it in action. Especially when O’Keefe edits footage of Andrew’s death into a commercial that distorts reality later in the episode. Even Dar Adal looks a little nauseated over it all. But he still asks to see it again.
While Keane’s dead son is being attacked, Carrie is worried she’ll never see her daughter again. She’s in what Max (Maury Sterling) calls “The Black Dog of depression” after losing her kid. The problem is that Saul needs her help, right now. He has Javadi (Shaun Toub) hidden away at a homeless shelter, and he needs to get the man who can prove that Iran isn’t working on a nuclear program in front of the PEOTUS. Carrie can make that happen. But Carrie is a mess. Saul needs to fix her first, and again, this is often where Homeland gets interesting — when it addresses how the personal can impact the political.
Speaking of personal relationships, the most interesting this week is between Astrid and Quinn. She goes for a run, leaving the paranoid Sarin gas survivor on his own. He investigated the area, including taking her Sat Phone from the car and removing the bullets from the gun she has stashed beneath the seat. The idea is that she won’t be able to use it to keep Quinn prisoner, but this decision turns out to be one that Quinn will regret forever.
Saul shoos Carrie’s “Black Dog” by showing her that Frannie is happy in her foster home. She’ll be fine for now, while Carrie helps Saul save the world from another international crisis. In a scene remarkably loaded with expository dialogue that recaps the season, Saul and Carrie basically compare information. He tells her about Javadi; she tells him about the suspicious deaths of Sekou/Conlin. As much as the dialogue is a bit too “here’s what you missed this season,” it’s nice to see them reunited and caught up, working together as a team again.
Meanwhile, Quinn is at a local market, overindulging on free samples, when he thinks he sees the dude from the lobby in the building across the street at Carrie’s, talking to Astrid. What’s he doing there? As Quinn and Astrid are driving back, he spots him walking into a nearby motel (he’s not very good at hiding for someone trying to kill a former super spy). Quinn is frustrated and angry, hurling questions at Astrid when they get back. Why is she helping Dar Adal? Astrid’s motives are clearly pure, but Quinn is hurtful and mean, eventually actually punching Astrid in the stomach and fleeing. He drives to the motel to stake out his mark.
Javadi is playing chess when he gets the call — time to go talk to the new leader of the free world. Carrie comes to pick him up and Javadi speaks of Saul’s decreased power. I was immediately suspicious that he was going to do something stupid. And that’s exactly what he does. In his meeting with Keane, he tells her the opposite of what he told Saul the night before — confirming that Iran is working on a parallel nuclear program. Saul knows he’s lying. He saw footage that proves the opposite. Javadi burns Saul to gain favor with Dar Adal and his more powerful allies, who can protect him better than Saul. He’s a selfish, evil man, and he always has been. As Saul is pushed to the ground, Patinkin gets one of his series-best lines: “I’m not all right. Fucking miles from all right.”
Quinn is about to be even further from all right. He’s outside the motel as the tragic action of the final arc of this season begins. First, he assaults the man he’s been tracking from the market to the motel, turning him over to reveal the wrong face. Was it always the wrong guy? Is Quinn’s paranoia allowing him to see things? He goes back to the house, shouting Astrid’s name, finally opening himself up to her, saying things like, “I need you! I can’t do this by myself!” He convinces her to stay, and her love for him is clear. She’s such a phenomenal actress, able to do so much with so little, and this is one of the best scenes of the year.
And then it all comes crashing down. A red dot pierces the room and a shot rings out. It’s the man from across the street, and he’s there to kill both of them. Astrid runs for the gun in her car, and Quinn can’t express the horrifying truth that only he knows — it has no bullets. She gets there, aims at the shooter, and … click. He plugs her with the sniper rifle, walking closer and taking another shot to make sure she’s dead. Then he goes over to Quinn. He flees to the lake, diving under the water as shots ring out. We hear the water and nothing else. The attacker leaves. Quinn surfaces. He survived, but he may wish he didn’t.
• Just when I was hoping that Homeland could bring the great German actress Nina Hoss to a bigger audience, the writers go and kill her. I know I said last week that this show needs to kill off some regulars to show the stakes are real, but I didn’t mean Astrid!
• This episode was definitely talkier than we usually get nine episodes into a season, but it felt more purposeful and character-driven than a lot of this season in a good way. We actually got some solid performances from Patinkin, Friend, Hoss, and Danes.
• I said it last week and I believe it even more after the Andrew Keane commercial — Dar Adal has to die. The depths of his evil have reached a point this season where he can no longer go back to the “gray area” in which his character previously resided. I’m starting to look forward to seeing him get what he deserves.