This Homeland review contains spoilers.
With a nudge-nudge and wink-wink episode title like “Better Call Saul,” it was pretty clear where Homeland was headed this week. Yep, it’s time to bring Saul Berenson into the fold about what is happening with Carrie and Quinn, and it is also the moment for this stew of betrayal and distrust to be placed on boiling!
… Except while Saul was indeed called, it wasn’t until the episode’s final five minutes during which we finally learned the grave truth that… Saul and Miriam are getting a divorce! All one of that dysfunctional marriage’s shippers were devastated. Otherwise, to see that storyline progress any further, you are going to have to wait another week, true believers.
And in many ways that sums up “Better Call Saul,” the first hour of benign filler from Homeland season 5. While last week was a rollercoaster of emotion for Carrie, and featured Claire Danes’ best work of this season so far, tonight’s episode hit the brakes following the assassination of Saul’s would-be Syrian strongman, and it has the heroes of the story mostly running in place. Sure, Carrie brings in her devoted and utterly doomed beau to help watch Peter Quinn, but that story of nursed pain feels almost as obligatory as when Nicholas Brody, so many moons ago, spent a whole episode recovering from his another gunshot wound.
The real meat of the hour belonged to the antagonists, whose motivations are unfortunately not nearly as nuanced as I had hoped. Last week, I speculated that while Allison Carr had ordered a hit on Carrie potentially because she thought Carrie was part of the hacking leak, and this was some form of twisted patriotism that went behind Saul’s back. Further, I also hoped that means she was not part of the bombing on the Syrian plane, simply because there was no gain in American interests from that general’s death. And wouldn’t it be great if we had a super neo-conservative spook who was at least attempting to help those by rubbing Carrie out?!
Alas, what I had feared would be the rational behind Allison Carr’s treachery came to pass tonight: Allison Carr is a double agent and mole working for the Russian foreign secret service, the SVR. So, she was indeed behind the explosion of the Syrian plane, and she is working solely at achieving Russian objectives of further infiltrating the upper-echelons of Langley.
To be sure, Homeland provides ambiguity to why Allison is a mole—she shows incredible amounts of remorse for her treasonous acts while appearing about to cry. Look at the conflict in her eyes as Dar Adal obliviously wretches in pain at the thought of Saul blowing up a Syrian general at the behest of the Israeli government (the type of bomb used by the SVR was intentionally constructed to look like Mossad’s handiwork).
We also do not know exactly how or when Allison was turned since she goes back over a decade with Carrie during their Baghdad days. And indeed, she also almost sheds a tear at the sight of Carrie’s apparent dead body from Quinn’s phone. Her relationship with her SVR handler likewise appears both romantic and paternalistic on the part of the male counterpart. Presumably, this could even be seen as a knowing echo of the Carrie and Brody dynamic from the second season.
Nevertheless, she is a mole. Just like Brody. And just like that Professor Boyd weasel from season 4. In short, Homeland is falling back on an increasingly tired trope that was previously exhausted ad nauseum during every season of 24. But while snickers about the ineffectualness of CTU’s HR people were always fun in 24, they’re far less delightful on Homeland. Here, the repetitiveness of the plot device is an albatross for a series that initially began with one foot seemingly planted in reality. Whether Homeland ever actually reflected our world is another matter, but its verisimilitude was one of its greatest appeals.
There is always the risk of double agents, traitors, and betrayers in the spy world. But the rarity is why Brody was such an interesting and mysterious enigma for Carrie and the audience during most of season 1. Now, they’re falling out of the sky to move the plot forward, and as such it makes it all seem as inane as a 24 narrative—except without the fun of Jack Bauer screaming at the top of his lungs.
Their actual plan to oust Saul by making him look like a traitor is mildly intriguing, but only because they make Dar Adal appear mindless as he follows the too-convenient breadcrumbs toward Saul while uncharacteristically confiding in Allison about his anguish.
The one part of the night that really worked was the digital hacker subplot that seemed so dippy until now. Essentially revealing himself to be a fan of Anonymous, right down to using a conveniently non-copyrighted but still Guy Fawkes-esque mask, our central hacker revealed likely Russian complicity in the murder of his friends and started a protest outside of the Russian embassy. Carrie having to play spy games with her erstwhile colleague in the press during this madness was a nice bit of tension ratcheting, even though we all knew at the end of the day that there is no new information to be gathered there. Rather, Carrie will have to find Saul. Like the title says. Too bad we have to wait another week to see if the plot will actually move more than an inch.
Oh, and Peter Quinn being stalked by a seemingly Good Samaritan that wants to take him to the hospital was a kind of fun inversion of a chase sequence. But whether our Samaritan is truly good or actually far more duplicitous, I doubt anyone fears we will not see Quinn rigged up and breathing somewhere next week.