Homeland: A False Glimmer

The fifth season of Homeland started out strong, with geopolitical plotlines, Quinn’s secret missions, Carrie off her meds, Saul being framed, and then, a few episodes in, something happened. Whether it was the reveal of Allison’s true agenda (even though we still don’t know her agenda), or Quinn accidentally bumping into a terrorist cell, the whole hacker thing dragging on and on, whatever it was (all of the above, probably), the series never got back on its feet. Yet another mediocre season goes into the can.

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Shock Value
‘A False Glimmer’, the season finale, wraps up the bomb threat quickly, as expected. Carrie (Claire Danes) goes into the tunnels, in pursuit, and manages to stop detonation. And shoots up a train in the process. She was always going to stop it, of course, and credit goes to the writers who tried to not make it too predictable, but the show’s kind of been out of tricks for some time; it keeps on failing to surprise or shock the audience.

Turning the Knife
After rescuing the bigger part of Berlin, Carrie goes to bed. She’s woken up by Jonas (Alexander Fehling). There’s a bit of reconciliation – although you could make the case that it’s just sex – and afterwards, Carrie believes they can just ‘pick up where they left off’. Jonas knows that’s impossible. It was a stupid idea from the beginning, he says, which is turning the knife in Carrie’s stomach; no need to do that, Jo’. However, Carrie’s got a lot of other options, when it comes to men, but more about that later.

Hurt
Carrie visits the hospital, to check in on Quinn (Rupert Friend). He’s out of his bed. In surgery, which will last hours. Carrie spends her time waiting in the chapel. A very nice one, actually, and because I don’t suppose the production designers went through some much trouble, I suspect it’s a real room. While she’s there, she’s hurting herself, grabbing her bandaged arm tight, to feel something physical; the psychological hurt is too big. When Quinn’s out of surgery, the doctor tells her there’s a slim chance he’ll recover, and if he does, he’ll have serious brain damage.

Story of Importance
There’s also the question of what happens to reporter Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic) and her hacker buddy Numan (Atheer Adel). Although, the real question is do we care? She threatened to release the leaked CIA documents, but we’ll never know what’s in them. It was just a silly MacGuffin. Astrid (Nina Hoss) picks them both up, deletes the files on Numan’s computer, blackmails Laura, and that’s the end of it. This CIA hack subplot has been completely unnecessary. It never turned into a story of importance. Besides, we still don’t know why Allison (Miranda Otto) was so terrified of the leaked information.

Pop the Trunk
We won’t be able to ask her anymore. Once she gets her self-inflicted bullet wound taken care of, she’s put in the trunk of a car. They’ll drive her over the border, all the way to Russia. Saul (Mandy Patinkin) had gotten wind of it – Ivan (Mark Ivanir) had told him, in exchange for a luxurious witness protection program – and has set up a road block. He ambushes the car and has a team shoot an insane amount of ammunition at it. Everyone inside is dead. When he asks one of his men to ‘pop the trunk’, my hopes were it’d be empty; Allison had fooled him once again. Alas. Another story wrapped up nicely with a bow around it.

Darkness
Jonas doesn’t want Carrie anymore, but there are a lot of people who do. Or did. Quinn, for instance. He’d written her a letter, in case he didn’t make it back from Syria alive. In it, he expresses his love for her, but he also says he knows he’s not made for love. His life is about keeping the darkness at bay.

An Offer She Can’t Refuse
Saul would like to have Carrie back, professionally. Insists she joins the ranks again. She’ll get ‘carte blanche’. Really? After everything that’s happened, over the course of 5 seasons? It seems very unlikely that the CIA would want her back at all. They always considered her trouble. Unstable. And rightly so, by the way. Now they offer her a position to do whatever she wants? It’s such a simplistic happy ending. Luckily, she turns down the offer. (But you never know, maybe they’ll make her the head of the CIA in season 6, nothing ridiculous surprises me anymore.)

The Otto Way
And there’s another offer. It blindsides her. Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch), who wanted to cut her loose just a few episodes ago, because she was basically dead weight, has suddenly turned 180 degrees. He wants a ‘partner’. In life. Think it over, he says.

Last Order of Business
After reading Quinn’s letter, Carrie visits him in the hospital. He wouldn’t want to wake up. He’d never settle for this. She prepares to take him out of his misery, but in order to escape predictability again, the writers come up with something else. A bright light. Coming through the blinds. Apparently, Quinn, in his vegetative state of being, has ended his life himself.

Homeland: Our Man in Damascus

Homeland is like a box of grenades; you never know what you’re going to get. A dud or something spectacular. The penultimate episode ‘Our Man in Damascus’ certainly doesn’t belong to the latter. It’s just variation upon variation on old themes and scenes. It’s a well directed episode, though, albeit dragging a little too much. It is, however, due to the script cliches that yet another season of Homeland hasn’t gotten past mediocrity – no matter what the finale brings.

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Our Man in a Hospital Bed
Fan favorite Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is one tough cookie. He’s in the hospital, barely alive, but Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Carrie (Claire Danes) want to wake him up. He might have information about the planned attack. Getting him out of the induced coma could potentially kill him, but you know, this is the CIA – the television version of the CIA – so Saul and Carrie got to do what they got to do. I don’t know – somebody should do a study – how many times this has happened on TV shows, but really, telling the doctor to wake up a comatose patient for information and risking the patient’s life, we’ve seen that way too many times by now. The only thing that makes it a little bit more interesting this time, is Carrie’s relationship with Quinn. There’s an emotional connection there. Apart from that, the scene unfolds like you’d expect. Quinn wakes up, stammers something too soft to understand, the machine goes beep, he’s put back under, and Carrie has to think of another way.

One Thing Leads to the Next
That other way, is through Al-Amin (George Georgiou, Game of Thrones, The Honourable Woman). Georgiou is a great actor, I wonder why we haven’t seen more of him. He only appeared once before, in the season opener ‘Separation Anxiety’. Maybe he was tied up in Essos and wasn’t available. Despite being enemies, he helps Carrie – again. Gives her the address of the doctor that may have stitched up Quinn. And one thing leads to the next; Carrie’s got the location where the attack will take place. But she didn’t account for Allison (Miranda Otto), still running loose.

Bathroom Break
Well, Allison’s got an agent with her at all times (except in bathrooms), but that doesn’t stop her from frustrating the investigation. Especially now that she’s received new orders from Moskou. For some reason, the Russians want the (gas) bomb to go off. It’s a ‘message’ to the West, or something. It’s hard to wrap your head around their reasoning, actually. Just like it’s hard to understand why Allison would have to go through all that trouble to hear her new instructions, when there’s a Russian agent right there in the restroom with her. That whole Russian plot line makes less sense every week.

The Dangling Threads
And there’s that other plot line that just keeps on dangling. Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic) appears on television, demanding to speak to Faisal Marwan (Ercan Durmaz), who’s been taken by German intelligence and is unreachable. She threatens to release all the leaked CIA documents. Are we going to know what’s in those documents, ever? What’s the endgame of the Russians? It seems like there are too many things that still needs wrapping up. I assume the finale will focus mostly on action, which will leave us with many unanswered questions.

At Close Range
Action, because Allison got away. She orchestrates a shootout, after killing her bodyguard and the lead who gave up the location of the bomb. She could’ve easily run there and then, leaving a mess behind. But she decides to call for backup, put a bullet in her own arm (at close range, which would seem strange, but okay), bleed out on the floor, get transported to the hospital and then run. I mean, her logic is beyond me. She could’ve, I don’t know, not shot herself, called in the fake location of the bomb and just got the hell out of there.

Stubborn
Fact is, she’s escaped and has to be caught. Meanwhile, stubborn Carrie’s gone to the place where she’s convinced the bomb is. She’s almost caught up with the guy who’s got the detonator (because – hello, cliche – the bomb suddenly couldn’t be triggered remotely). That means next week she’ll save the day in the first 5 minutes and from there on out all attention will be on Allison. Hopefully, we’ll not just get a 50-minute chase, but some explanations as well.

Homeland: New Normal

With hackers, journalists and undercover mercenaries either being thanked for their service to the story and shown the door or killed off in a gas chamber, the playing field gets a bit quiet. There’s Carrie, Saul, Allison and the one who’s got the power to flush out the Russian mole, Dar. Just four characters left to save the season.

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A Map
You’d think. Apparently, the German cast still has a role to play. Although, I don’t really see why. The Foundation has found someone who might know something about an attack in Berlin, but the CIA already knows a lot more. They’ve got something the Foundation doesn’t have; a map. It all feels a bit unnecessary, watching two sides do the same thing. It’s almost like the actors were on the payroll so they needed to be used. Notwithstanding the acting, by the way. Especially Sarah Sokolovic, who plays Laura Sutton. She’s gone from insecure newcomer to Awesome Actress Who Will No Doubt Star Opposite Tom Cruise In A Mission Impossible Movie Someday, in just 10 weeks.

Traditional
Although Homeland tries very hard, the blow to Brody’s head was a massive one and the show hasn’t been able to fully recover ever since. Last year, they put their money on action, this year they’ve changed the scenery and placed the mole inside CIA headquarters. It’s all just windowdressing. What made the series great, was the constant ambivalence. Keeping the audience in the dark about what was going on, as well as keeping the characters heavily conflicted; Carrie and Brody didn’t quite know where they stood, should or were supposed to stand themselves. There was a constant threat, not because of someone’s plan for an attack, but because of whether someone would change their mind or not. Could be persuaded or not. The difference between a devastating bomb and a false alarm depended on somebody’s fickle state of mind. With Brody out of the picture, that dynamic, that very human unreliability is gone. What’s left is a well made, very traditional spy show, nothing more, nothing less.

Paris
With ‘New Normal’, Homeland is back in 24 territory. Everyone’s working together to stop a bomb. The Allison sideline is put on hold for the moment. Now we’ve got to worry about Berlin getting Paris’ed. That’s right, the show refers to the Paris attacks, in an attempt to be on top of the news. It’s a bit awkward, though, since first of all, it’s just one line. Second, they weren’t and probably won’t be mentioned again. And third, Allison speaks of Tokio and then, five seconds later, like an afterthought, brings up Paris.

Fluff
Anyway, the biggest problem with this imminent attack is we’ve seen it a hundred times already. It’s textbook. Bad guys in a van, weapon in the trunk, the CIA (or whatever agency the show in question focuses on) trying to figure out where they are; you can predict quite accurately how this is all going to play out. The only surprising thing is: Quinn is alive. He was foaming at the mouth, having spasms on the floor, but he’s fine. Sort of. It was a heartfelt moment when Carrie watched him die – in the video – but even more so when she found him and saw his hand move. Powerful stuff. These things are much more interesting than all the fluff we’ve had to deal with this season. Dare I say it, the human factor. Or love, of course.

Escape or Escape
Okay, so Allison is pulled out of interrogation to help prevent a catastrophe. Much to the dislike of Saul, understandably. Dar needs her help. He has put an agent on her, though. My guess is next week the terrorists will be caught, and then in the last episode, we’re back at Allison who’s either transported back to Langley (and escapes on her way there), or escapes before she gets on a plane, or frames Saul and Carrie in some way so they escape and there’s a nice open ending for season 6 to pick up on (like Saul and Carrie having drinks at Banana Joe’s).

Homeland: The Litvinov Ruse

Last week, in ‘All About Allison’, we got a little more information about Allison Carr (Miranda Otto). She’s not such a cold-hearted bitch as we may have thought. She falls in love (with a fake informant). She saves the enemy’s life (Carrie’s). Is Homeland trying to make things interesting again by putting a human face on the Russian spies?

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Accepting the Evidence
At this point, Homeland has to be careful not to become as exciting as a movie adaptation of one of John le Carré’s (A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) novels. But yes, that human face does create an interesting dynamic. It’s just not Allison’s face, but Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin). The moral compass, voice of reason of the show, whose feelings for her get in the way of accepting the evidence, thin as it may be.

The Drone
Carrie’s (Claire Danes) evidence just isn’t enough evidence for anyone who’s not Carrie or Saul. A glorified hunch, is what it is. They need substantial proof, which calls for some good old-fashioned espionage. With a drone. First they turn up the heat, enough to make Allison run. She’s burnt – or soon will be – so puts her exit tragedy into effect. It has a very Bourne-ish feel to it. Moving through Germany. Ordering airplane tickets for flights you don’t have any intention of taking. Catching subway trains only to get off immediately again. Catching a different one. Taking a car. Driving over to a Russian safe house in the middle of the woods. All the while being followed by a drone. She never spots it and neither does Ivan (Mark Ivanir), even though it seems to be dangling right in front of him. I mean, drone shots are used more and more these days, but please be clever about it. It’s not like they’re disguised as fluffy little clouds, are they? Are they though?

Spin
When Allison reconvenes with Ivan, it’s clear she’d been played. While the compound is being raided by the German police, they quickly have to come up with a plan. You just know it’s going to turn everything on its head again. She’s going to spin her little Carr Supremacy trip in such a way that she comes off as a great strategist. And so it happens. In the interrogation room, Allison claims she’s been getting her intel from Ivan. Intel that, in the last decade, lead to a lot of arrests. He’s an asset; not her Russian handler.

Feasible Explanation
Dar (F. Murray Abraham), convinced by Carrie and Saul, tilts his head a little; that means she’s gotten through to him. Given it’s the CIA, her explanation might just be feasible. You’d think there should be some kind of record of Ivan, like a classified document, for her eyes only, which doesn’t exist, of course, but I can only assume the CIA needs paperwork just as much as any other agency or company. I guess on Homeland, it’s perfectly okay to do things ‘off book’ for 10 years or more without informing anyone.

Wall Collage
Things are on their heads. Allison (and Ivan) might get the benefit of the doubt. Dar seems to take her side. Saul probably doesn’t know what to think, and Carrie knows it’s all bullshit. The next episode could very well start with her making another ‘wall collage’. That’d actually be cool.

The Random Adventures of Quinn
And then, that side plot. The Adventures of Quinn (Rupert Friend). What were they thinking? Really. He got back from Syria. Then goes working for Saul as a hitman. Saul puts names in his mailbox. Quinn kills them. No questions asked. Then Carrie’s name’s in it. Quinn saves Carrie. Gets shot. Can’t go to a hospital. Wants to end his own life. Gets saved himself. Is taken in by a stranger. Gets in contact with a terrorist cell. Helps them. The terrorists kill him. Come on now. Quinn’s story arc has been so incredibly random, to the point where the writers didn’t know what to do with him anymore and just put him in a gas chamber. It’s actually similar to the way Brody was killed off. You don’t feel shocked, or even lightly surprised. The emotion can best be described as: ‘Huh?’

Homeland: All About Allison

It’s episode 8 of season 5 and Homeland has officially run out of steam. After a short ‘previously on Homeland’ recap, we basically get another one. A full 10 minutes of new scenes, filled with old information to explain to the audience what has happened. And dragging up the past continues, with a flashback to Baghdad, 2005. When Carrie met Allison.

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Coloring
Homeland started out this year as the mysterious spy show we all know and love. That is until Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) was revealed as the mole. Since then, the series has been crawling quite dully from one plot point to the next. Because apprehending Allison, one way or another, is the goal Carrie’s (Claire Danes) working towards – even if she doesn’t realize it yet – and the story will be over when that happens, we, the audience, know it’s still a long way till the season finale. That’s when Allison will be A. shot, B. jailed or C. make a deal and walk.
Now it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks, coloring in the episodes. The manner in which that coloring occurs, either keeps the audience coming back for more, or not. At this point, for me, the only interesting thing about Homeland is watching how the writers are trying to avoid sliding into a drama rut. They do keep the car on the road, so far. No driving off cliffs Thelma & Louise style. But they’re awfully close to the edge.

A Bunch of Radicals, One Undercover Agent and a Tour Bus
I don’t even want to mention the ridiculous side story about Quinn (Rupert Friend). A terrorist cell just fell into his lap and now it’s a mission. He’s guiding a few radicals to Syria – or so he thought. He misjudged the writers, who’ve run out of ideas and threw him a silly plot twist. The people he aligned himself with are going back, to Berlin. So there was never any reason to keep Quinn alive in the first place. I guess, being a humorless hard-ass, makes for nice banter in their little tour bus. Anyway, even now, when he found out, he’s only just hit on the head and tied up. I suppose they’re planning on making him a scapegoat or something. Would they really be that stupid? And if I were to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, why do these characters have to be this stupid? Is there something I’m not seeing? Does this make for good drama?

The Informant!
Back to Carrie. She met Allison in Baghdad, when she took over for her. There’s mention of sand, beaches, Banana Joe’s, yada yada yada, o, and this CIA informant. Ahmed Nazari (Darwin Shaw, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Bible, Atlantis, Marco Polo). Turns out, he merely served as a test for Allison. The Russians wanted to know how far she’d go for love. One step too far, unfortunately.
Back in present time, Allison and Carrie meet, with a hitman having his sniper rifle ready. All he needs to see is Allison lighting up a cigarette for the go ahead. For some reason – I’m guessing their history together, that’s why we needed the flashbacks – Allison doesn’t. Carrie comes away scot-free.

Awkward Screensaver
Last week, Carrie nicked Nazari’s laptop and at the very end of this week’s episode, her partner nerd in crime Numan (Atheer Adel) hacks in. Nice screensaver, Nazari. Call it a professional defect, but Carrie thinks back to her first meeting with Allison, remembers Allison telling her Nazari was found dead in an explosion, puts Banana Joe’s into the equation et voilà. The picture on his computer was taken in Allison’s dream vacation location (a hint: Banana milkshake, made by a guy named Joe). That can’t be a coincidence. That must mean… Allison… Allison and Nazari… talked! More than that, of course; she’s a mole. Carrie looks at her watch: 4 episodes to go. Plenty of time.

Homeland: Oriole

‘Oriole’, or: Miss Mathison goes to Amsterdam. The seventh episode is about Carrie breaking and entering, Saul escaping and characters we thought we were done with, resurfacing.

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On the Edge of Fiction and Faction
After the (real life) attacks in Paris, on Friday, CBS decided to shuffle the episodes of Supergirl, saving the scheduled bomb-heavy one for another day. I guess it doesn’t matter it’s a cartoonish show about superheroes. If there’s one series that’s been seriously exploring the world of terrorism, it’s Homeland, which aired on Sunday, just like ABC’s Quantico. You can’t air these two shows out of order; they wouldn’t make sense anymore. You’d have to pull them from the schedule completely, but then the question is what do you broadcast? So I understand why everything went through as planned. Anyone not ready for Hollywood bullet salvos and ketchup bloodshed could just watch the episodes at a later time, like most people now do anyway.
That said, ‘Oriole’ did have a scene that balanced on the edge of fiction and faction. It was brief, but it brought me back to Paris, November 13, 2015 instantaneously. Masked men, suddenly appearing out of nowhere, holding guns and moving rapidly towards the camera.

A Noble Act or Contra-Productive?
Does that mean Homeland should’ve been pulled this weekend? I don’t think so. Even though the show unintentionally referred to the Paris attacks, I actually felt relieved – more than I normally would have – when the masked men turned out to be the good guys.
This poses an interesting question, concerning real life situations and escapism in the form of television drama. Could watching (or reading) fiction actually help, dealing with horrific atrocities like what happened on Friday? Do we need something of what we know is completely made up, to accept the reality of today and move on? Would changing the schedule not be a noble act, but actually contra-productive? I don’t know. I just know it’s stuff for psychologists and philosophers, and maybe even neurosurgeons. A similar question, and an easier one, I think, is whether or not television violence breeds real violence. The great minds of our time still aren’t out on that one.

Through the Backdoor
But then, the episode itself. Another one of those typical Homeland filler hours, in which everything’s basically at a standstill. Carrie’s got the CIA documents, but can’t crack them. There should be something in it that the Russians don’t want her to know. So she brings in reinforcements: Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic) and her hacker buddy Numan (Atheer Adel), characters that seemed to had overstayed their welcome, but got back into the game through the backdoor.

French Town
Numan finds something. Someone. In Amsterdam. So that’s where Carrie’s going. Why she ends up in a French town is beyond me, but I guess her car navigation system was off. Anyway, two bad guys chase her, one of her old contacts gets killed, but she manages to steal a laptop. Driving back to Berlin, she calls Allison. With Saul probably captured and shipped off to Langley by now, she’s Carrie’s last hope.

WWCD
But Saul has got friends, too. Friends who know how to stage a kidnapping. Saul escapes from CIA custody – a first – and has no idea what to do next. If I may make a suggestion: ask yourself what would Carrie do? She’d disguise herself. Wouldn’t that be something. The eighth episode starting with something that’d truly shock the audience; Saul shaving off his beard.

Homeland: Parabiosis

Parabiosis (noun) · the anatomical joining of two individuals, especially artificially in psychological research; that doesn’t tell us a whole lot about season 5, episode 6 of Homeland, does it? Are Carrie and Saul going to be hooked up to a machine together? Switch bodies? Are Mulder and Scully going to have a cameo?

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Scope
With the European refugee crisis and Edward Snowden both prominently mentioned in this season’s main titles, I was expecting Homeland to get a bit more current affairs than it has up till now. Sure, Carrie (Claire Danes) went to a refugee camp, there’s the hacked CIA documents that prove the United States were/are spying on Germany, but other than that, season 5 has been pretty small in scope, story-wise, global politics-wise.

Beard Caught in Net
The net is closing in on Saul (Mandy Patinkin). We already knew Allison (Miranda Otto) is the Russian spy, but we’re probably going to have to wait six more episodes before somebody puts one and two together. First it’s Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) who’ll be on to her, but won’t live to tell anyone about it. After covering her tracks best she can, Allison will eventually be exposed as the mole, by Saul, naturally. But right now, the actor with the best looking beard on television has no choice but to take his attention off his girlfriend and help his other girlfriend.

Destination Unknown
Carrie needs the leaked CIA files. There’s something in there about the Russians, who’ve put a hit out on her. Nobody knows what that is exactly, or how the information could help Carrie. Nevertheless, it’s her last straw. That means: try to convince Saul, who, strangely enough, hasn’t yet read the files. He’s been kind of busy, but still.
Their relationship isn’t in the best of places, and Saul sends Carrie away. She sees no other option than to go all Jack Bauer and disappear. Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch) agrees to giving her a jet and a destination unknown.

All About Saul
Saul discovers he’s being tailed. For some reason, the CIA has him under surveillance. Ask Dar, Allison says, washing her hands clean. When Dar indeed confirms that, in his eyes, Saul is still a liability, Homeland does what Homeland does best. Because Saul knows his days, no, hours are numbered, he’s got a tiny window left to do the right thing. In a tense scene, he downloads the leaked files and escapes the building. When he returns to his hotel room, it’s an even tenser moment, wherein… nothing happens. But this show knows how to build suspense. Just put the sound of a humming engine underneath it and you’re already halfway there. Saul walking through a room; ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the brilliance of Homeland.

Coats
He finds a way to get the memory stick to Carrie: through Düring. CIA agents show up, strip search them both, but come up empty handed. You’d think they’d check their coats, too, but I guess Saul knows the procedures inside out; the CIA would never check a coat for it being too predictable of a hiding place..? They do take Saul with them, so he has a ride back to Langley and six months of interrogation room grilling to look forward to.

Next Door
Carrie’s got what she wants, and Quinn’s got what he doesn’t: a new friend. He’s rescued by a good samaritan, who put some new blood in him and stitched him back up. Because that’s not entertaining enough, next door a terrorist cell is discussing an attack. Good thing Quinn knows how to handle himself, even when he can hardly walk. When their leader wants him dead, Quinn just makes a Kill Bill move and takes him out.