Homeland hits the midway point of its seventh season with one of its best episodes in years. We’ve finally converged the Saul and Carrie arcs, and the tight writing and direction of “Species Jump” makes one of the (technically) longest episodes of the season fly by. It’s an episode that plays with what we know about these characters — Carrie’s recklessness and Saul’s brilliance — and reminds us just how ambitious this season has been overall. After the death of Quinn at the end of season six, it must’ve been tempting to up the action and go overseas again, but instead, the writers looked homeward to craft a season about information warfare and Russian interference in American politics. It could still go off the rails, but this has been the best half-season of Homeland in years.
“Species Jump” deals with a common theme of the show: Who can be trusted? Can we trust Dante Allen? Should we have trusted David Wellington more than we did? What about Saul’s Russian spy contact, Ivan? In a way, the season has cleverly incorporated that idea of information warfare into the fabric of the plot. Think about it: I griped about Simone being dumb enough to get a parking ticket while paying for a murder, but now, we’ve learned that she got caught on purpose. It also seemed inconsistent that Dante did such an abrupt about-face with Carrie, telling her to leave him alone one week and then suddenly acting like her best friend the next. Might there be a reason for that flip-flopping behavior?
At the start of “Species Jump,” Carrie Mathison is straight-up confused. She and Max are still watching the surveillance of David’s house, waiting for Simone to reveal that her cover has been busted. Does she know about the surveillance? Or maybe she’s too scared to tell David? She isn’t acting like a woman who’s getting blackmailed for killing a general. And then Simone gets served with a subpoena: She’s been busted and will have to speak to Senator Paley about what she knows. But it’s becoming clear that David isn’t a part of this. Carrie is starting to figure it out too: He’s being framed, dragging both him and President Keane into this scandal. But Carrie only knows this because of illegal surveillance. How can she possibly reveal that information?
Meanwhile, Saul puts together a three-person team to get to the bottom of how legendary Russian operative Yevgeny is involved in the Lucasville massacre. He finds an old CIA contact — someone who knows a great deal about Russian espionage and was pushed into academia — and a new tech guy. Saul convinces his old friend to come back into the fold with a great line: “Anybody else would be my second choice.” Mandy Patinkin is so good in scenes like this one. Who wouldn’t want to follow Saul into battle?
Saul can certainly influence Ivan, who has come out of hiding after their conversation about Lucasville. He wants to speak to Yevgeny, and bullies a fellow Russian spy to get them together. It’s a power move that will lead to his gruesome murder, and this subplot is an interesting one in terms of the international spy game. Ivan is pissed at Yevgeny because the younger spy’s actions led to the deaths of Americans on American soil. That’s just not something they used to do — not for moral reasons, but because the escalation could spark a war in Syria or the Ukraine if Keane tries to redeem a lame-duck presidency. What’s most startling is that this protestation of bad-faith espionage leads to Ivan’s death, locked in a body bag and thrown in the water. Times really have changed. There’s no turning back.
While Ivan speeds toward his watery grave, David Wellington watches his world fall apart. At first, he confronts Senator Paley about why he’d even want to talk to Simone. Remember, this show takes place in an era of false arrests and witch hunts, so David just assumes this is a weird fishing operation. Paley has one of the key lines of the episode when he says, “I don’t think you know her as well as you think you do.” You could say that again.
Simone’s debrief comes quickly, and Carrie sneaks into the back to watch the testimony. Paley confronts Simone, who wants immunity to testify. That’s when Carrie really starts to put it together. Simone is framing David — and by extension, President Keane. But Carrie is still missing a key piece: the role she played in all of this, courtesy of Dante.
Even as Dante encourages Carrie to go home and take her medication, our heroine still hasn’t realized how she fits into this whole scheme. It takes a great scene with Saul for her to do so. She’s in a corner, as she tells him about the Simone case and even the surveillance. He isn’t happy, but he connects the dots that she’s too close to see. He basically walks her through how this all happened, pointing out that Dante brought her the parking ticket that implicated Simone — and without that piece of evidence, there’s no case. Remember: Carrie was about to take her medication and sleep through the season before Dante knocked on her door. Realizing he must know more than he’s letting on, Saul tells Carrie that she can’t talk to Dante any more. Saul also draws the line between the Simone/Dante/McClendon arc and the Yevgeny/Ivan/Lucasville arcs: Could the Russians could be behind it all? It’s a play to completely demolish the legitimacy of the U.S. presidency.
The worst week of David Wellington’s life gets much worse when he goes to talk to Simone, who has clammed up with her attorney. She walks with David from the heart of a restaurant to a bar, where she fakes an angry encounter. She loudly says that he’s threatening her and even mentions physical violence. Someone at the bar is filming on her phone, and it’s even clearer now how much Simone has been playing David this whole time.
Of course, Carrie can’t sit still. As Saul learns the depth of how online agents influence memes and viral stories — including technical details that connect Lucasville and the Wellington saga — Carrie takes action regarding her new suspicions with Dante. She gets the team together for what Dante thinks is a celebratory night at the bar, but it’s really an operation. She flirts with Dante, getting him to drink more than he should and doing shots handed him by other members of the team. When they get back to his place, he passes out, and the rest of Carrie’s Scoobs come in and go to work.
• I love that Max digs cheesy ‘80s pop. I wish the show had more time for little character details like that.
• Anyone miss Brett O’Keefe? He certainly brought a different energy to the show. Do you think we’ll see him again?
• Franny’s stuffed animal is named Snowflake. Is it just a cute name for a kids’ toy, or a play on a word that has become politicized in recent years?
• We are halfway done with season seven. How do you feel about it so far? And where do you think it’ll go from here?