Claire Danes as Carrie, Mandy Patinkin as Saul.
Photo: JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME
The writers of Homeland have been building to “Sock Puppets” for some time. Think about how much of the show’s history factors into this one episode: It opens with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) talking about Brody, and how she pushed him to his death. The sarin-gas attack on Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is referenced in the same scene, as Carrie wonders if she’s not making some of the same mistakes. Meanwhile, this sins-of-the-past tone is woven through the entire episode. Not only does Max (Maury Sterling) speak about Fara’s death from season four, but Saul (Mandy Patinkin) can finally be taken down for his fifth-season affair with Allison, a Russian spy. And, of course, the pre-series history of Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Quinn factors into the final scenes. It’s a strong episode largely because it’s built on five-and-a-half seasons of drama.
There’s also a refreshing, formal playfulness to the episode’s opening scene. To the camera, Carrie speaks of how Frannie never knew her father, how she reminds Carrie of Brody, and how she feels responsible for his death. There’s a very slow zoom in on her face, and Danes is quite good here, not overplaying the swell of Carrie’s emotions. The angle changes and we learn she’s in court-ordered therapy. She switches to speaking of Quinn, drawing a line emotionally from Brody. She pushed Brody to the inevitable, and she’s worried she might do that again. (Or, in her own words, “I can’t lose another one.”) There’s a thematic callback here in how she handled Brody, how she often speaks of errors made in missing 9/11. Even now, six seasons in, Homeland is still a show about people trying to make up for past mistakes and only making bigger ones.
One of the men who put Carrie in this position, Dar Adal, is meeting with President-Elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). She’s totally buying what he’s selling, believing Javadi’s (Shaun Toub) about-face from last week’s episode, in which he confirmed Dar’s story about the Iranian nuclear program. Saul is being demoted back to Langley, while Dar gets to help Keane pick the new secretary of state. Has that been the play all along — that he’ll put one of his allies in a position of power?
Before Dar can make his next chess move, he has to tie up a loose end named Javadi. I’m a little surprised that someone as smart as Javadi didn’t see this coming. He can’t be left in the wind, free and able to screw Dar. Dar screws him first, calling in Mossad agents to “disappear” him. Javadi is a smart man, and he quickly calls Carrie, placing his phone behind his back. While the agents tranquilize Javadi and dump him in a laundry basket, Saul and Carrie race to find him. They get there too late, but they find the phone, on which he has the footage of Nafisi’s interrogation and torture — footage that reveals the truth. They show it to Keane, who’s understandably furious about all of it. She gets angrier as Carrie tells her about their theory that Sekou Bah was framed and that Dar was behind it. “How do we shut him down?” the new president asks.
Meanwhile, Quinn has new focus after watching Astrid (Nina Hoss) get shot and barely avoiding the same fate. As the cops come to investigate the shots at the house on the lake, he escapes. The score gets louder as we see the rage in Quinn’s eyes — he looks more focused than he has all year. Not long after, he gets to Blueline Tactical Supply, where he starts a fire and steals a bag of high-powered weapons. Now he’s not just angry, he’s armed.
While Quinn is coming back, Max is going undercover. He traced from where Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) made his call to Carrie on the day he got killed. There are a lot of jobs being filled there, and Max is going to get one. We learn that whatever is happening in this building is being managed by Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), star of that loathsome propaganda show. Max wins him over by telling him about a year spent in grief after Fara’s death. It’s a nice, vulnerable moment for Max, and people like O’Keefe can sniff out vulnerability in an instant. It makes Max look like someone he can use. He gets the job.
Carrie is called to Keane’s room again, where she meets George Palos, the current solicitor general and soon-to-be head of the Justice Department. Palos lays it on the line for Carrie: Dar is clearly a law-breaking madman, but they don’t have enough evidence to make the current case against him. However, Carrie did reveal to Keane that Dar helped cover up last season’s Allison situation. That’s how they can get him. Carrie is hesitant because she knows revealing the Allison story will lead to the end of Saul’s career, and possibly bring down the entire agency with him.
The next day, she breaks the news to Saul in one of the best scenes of the season. Saul has to sit down when he hears the news — not just because he’s getting screwed, but because Carrie is a part of the screwing. She told Keane. He’s furious. She dares to throw in his face that he shouldn’t have been sleeping with a Russian mole, and Saul throws that stone right back at her glass house, bringing up Brody. During this heartbreaking moment, Carrie gets a call that she can visit Frannie. Meanwhile, Saul looks shell-shocked. How does he survive this? He’ll get pardoned down the line by the new president, but everything he’s worked for will end.
While Saul’s life falls apart, Max learns exactly what happens in this “black box” of a building. He’s brought to a lower level, where everyone is staring at him in a very Body Snatchers-esque moment. They need Max to save their jobs, which we learn are basically acting as professional trolls. They have dozens of social-media accounts called “sock puppets” — fake users with online lives that they manage, such as “IraqBob,” “Navy Wife,” and “Delta Force Groupie.” It’s a fascinating scene, especially in this era of distrust of major news outlets, social-media outrage, and #FakeNews.
After a meeting with Keane in which Dar has one of his most punchable moments ever — he tells her how proud her dead son would be of her political accomplishments — he goes home to find Quinn in his house. An emotional scene follows, in which Quinn accuses Dar of trying to kill him. Quinn reveals that Astrid is dead, which Dar clearly didn’t know, meaning his guy has gone rogue. Dar pleads with Quinn: “I raised you, Peter. You are my child. More than that. I would never hurt you.” He sounds distinctly like a predator when he says, “I love you. That’s God’s honest truth.” Quinn strikes him to the ground, then marches out. But he traces the call that Dar makes to his assassin. Now Quinn can go after the man who tried to kill him.
• A mea culpa for not mentioning the Quinn–Dar revelation that was introduced two episodes ago: In short, as several commenters noted, “Imminent Risk” came very close to confirming that Dar demanded sexual favors from an underaged Quinn. Homeland has a habit of bringing up character details then never doing so again, so I’m glad to see it was incorporated here — especially since it cements Dar’s villainous role.
• Would Homeland actually take Saul out of his profession? There are two seasons left, and his career simply wouldn’t be able to survive the Allison scandal. Perhaps he’ll jump to the private sector for the final two seasons, but I’m not sure that would work. But could the news possibly be squashed, now that the new head of the Justice Department knows about it?
• Three episodes left and there’s a lot of plot to cover. Max knows something now about the way political outrage works. How will that factor into the final arc?