Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland.
Photo: Stephan Rabold/Showtime
Question for discussion: How interested were we in watching a TV show about terrorism this weekend? Usually we’re fascinated by entertainment that seems “real” or “fact-based,” or offers at least an ersatz reflection of things we know to be true. But I’d argue that realistic entertainment still feels far-enough removed from reality that we can safely enjoy it without trigger warnings. And then sometimes you’re watching a show, and in it, a group of men are planning a jihadist strike against a major European city, and you just feel like clutching your stomach and sitting on the floor. Homeland has always prided itself in using international terrorism as a factual foundation for its pulp-enhanced story lines, but weeks like this one make it difficult to enjoy.
“Oriole,” in a vacuum, was a solid, suspenseful episode of television. After last week’s Saul-centric interlude, this episode marked a return to Carrie’s endlessly frantic existence. If you were hoping to learn just what was in those documents that caused this huge Russian-German-American fracas, well … after poring through the documents all night, Carrie doesn’t find a smoking gun. Just a CIA “while you were out” message from an Iraqi man trying to reach her. She tracks him down to find out what he wanted to tell her, and it was that another CIA asset she’d once thought was dead was actually alive. Just more breadcrumbs!
Next thing you know, she’s donning her fright wig and heading to Amsterdam, where she tracks the former asset down, breaks into his home and steals his laptop just as he is apprehended by armed thugs, who then opened fire on Carrie. Though we’re still left with questions about what, exactly, Carrie has gotten herself into, the suspense remained top-notch. At least there was that.
The most important element of “Oriole” was Allison’s increasingly illuminated machinations. If it wasn’t already clear, this episode confirmed that she is indeed KGB — or SVR, though her Russian boss seemed okay with either term — and her lifelong infiltration of the CIA is regarded by Russian higher-ups as heroism worthy of putting her in charge someday. Despite how competent and shrewd Saul and Carrie have been over the years, Allison still managed to convince each of them that she’s a reliable ally, and on advice from her KGB superior, she even managed to manipulate Dar Adal into releasing Saul.
Later, in his hotel bathroom, Saul turns on both faucets and whispers to Allison everything he knows: Carrie was alive, he’d given her the documents, and so forth. And in one of Allison’s most human moments yet, she greets this news with waves of nausea, eventually sitting by herself on the bathroom floor. We still didn’t know why it was so crucial to keep Carrie separate from those documents, but Allison’s panic was a nice demonstration of just how high the stakes seem to be.
Because Saul had crossed the CIA and utterly destroyed his friendship with Dar Adal — “You will remember this moment … and it will shame you,” he says — he’s now staring down the barrel of imprisonment in the Langley catacombs. The beauty of his character is that it was fully plausible that he’d accept this punishment with a bowed head, but we’d also believe it if he chose to fight his way out of impossible circumstances. So, when the agents escorting him to the airport were suddenly overtaken by masked men with Uzis, we got a sudden, classic example of the latter. Saul had called in a favor with the Israelis and officially “defected” from the United States. Didn’t see that coming! Committing treason was probably not particularly high up on Saul’s to-do list, but at least now it affords him the opportunity to exonerate himself, and maybe even to help Carrie.
Oh, Quinn. Last week we saw him accidentally fall in with some jihadists at a safe house, during which he shamed them for plotting to commit terrorist acts in Berlin. He then murdered their leader with his bare hands, which, in terrorist circles, is a bit of a mic-drop moment. So, this week, they casually ask if he’d be willing to sneak them back into Syria. He almost laughs in their faces … before realizing it could be a good idea. During a quick sandwich date with Dar Adal, the two agree that he should pretend to bring them to Syria, then take the opportunity to assassinate one of the dudes’ uncles, who is a notorious terrorist leader. So yet again, Quinn happily signs up for certain death. Classic Quinn!
Again, “Oriole” was full of fascinating character moments and crackerjack suspense sequences, and on the whole brought together disparate elements in a highly satisfying way. But, given the tragedies of the past week, it’s entirely reasonable to feel disquieted by the episode’s subject matter. As Düring explains to Carrie, “You’re either born with wings or not.” Like its namesake, “Oriole” has wings, but sometimes even birds don’t feel like flying. I’m not sure I know what that means, or what anything means, but that’s just how the world is sometimes. Homeland seems to understand that, too.