This Homeland review contains spoilers.
On a weekend as tragic and internationally transformative as this one, watching a series like Homeland can be acutely uncomfortable due to the brutality of its very prescient subject—and the suddenly grotesque artifice inherent in its presentation. This is almost doubly true for this season, which sees one of its weakest subplots revolve around would-be refugee jihadists who toy with attacking a major European city.
Nevertheless, Homeland is a TV series and a work of fiction. And sometimes the best escape from real world demons are the in the kind that can only be summoned in our fantasies. Thus, if you are here reading this, you too wish to get lost in some of that dark magic. Alas then that tonight’s episode of Homeland, like so much of season 5, is light on that bewitching good stuff.
Perhaps the best place to begin is in with that most awkward of subplots: Peter Quinn and his lucky jihadist goldmine. Last week, I was mildly amused that the man who rescued Peter Quinn from certain death like the proverbial Good Samaritan was a Syrian refugee. Obviously, Homeland writers are aware of the frequent criticism bandied at their show for being racist, even before it was literally etched (or at least spray-painted) in stone. Depicting at least “one good Muslim” displayed at least a mild degree of self-awareness… even if he was associated with a singular and definite jihadist that wanted to commit holy war in first Berlin, and then Syria.
Yet to my chagrin, it appears that even after being helped by a Good Samaritan who happens to be cousins with a jihadist nobody wanted to follow (hence the lack of pushback that came with Quinn killing him), Peter Quinn is still surrounded by a nest of them–and they demand for him to lead them on the holy path to Syria (where they presumably hope to join forces with ISIS). The fact that such a group still includes a member who would help a sick and dying American** increasingly appears to be incredulous and even, at times, lazy writing.
This whole plot line strains plausibility almost as much as Peter Quinn rounding up a band of wannabe terrorists who nurse him back to health and beg him with threats to lead them into Syria. Of course, Peter Quinn is going to lead them into a death trap instead, but not before stopping to get a high five about it from Dar Adal this week.
The level of coincidence required to make this possible is almost as large as wide as the distance between Berlin and Amsterdam.
Furthermore, after getting halfway through season 5, it has become abundantly clear that Peter Quinn is being sidelined in the least interesting and most tangential storyline of the year. He knows people want Carrie dead and he knows that Saul Berenson’s private communication service/kill list has been infiltrated by the Russians. Yet, upon hearing that Saul Berenson is being framed a traitor and double agent for Israel, Peter Quinn does not react at all to the unofficial indictment? Instead, he is going off on his merry way to kill preposterous narrative distractions in “the desert like dogs?!”
Homeland season 5 has more episodes behind it than in its future, and other than saving Carrie’s life for a two-scene cliffhanger, Peter Quinn has been left with nothing of importance to do. This waste of resources is starting to sum up the whole season, which unless it takes a remarkable upswing in quality soon might actually outclass season 3 as Homeland’s worst year yet.
For further evidence, consider how the Saul/Dar Adal/Allison Carr storyline has continued to progress with such mediocrity. I have never warmed to Allison Carr being the predictable mole. Humanizing a mole like Brody seemed brilliant in the first two seasons, but since Allison is the series’ third, I’d honestly just have her be another Nina and let her snarl with clichéd villainy. At least that’s more entertaining, right 24 fans?
On that same page of hackneyed plotting, Dar Adal is behaving like a complete idiot. Besides assuming that the former CIA director he supported in direct contradiction of the U.S. Congress and his new boss is actually an Israeli mole, Dar Adal then lets Allison take said security leak to a hotel with any number of variables for escape. And this is solely so Allison can butter him up to find out what she wants (and she does, though it will be to Russia’s gain) and to facilitate Saul’s escape from CIA custody at the hands of Mossad. Again to reach these narrative objectives, poor scripting is being employed more readily than U.S. drones in the Persian Gulf.
There is absolutely no reason Saul needed to be in a hotel room to believe that Allison had turned off the surveillance equipment. But because of that remarkably dumb choice by Dar, he can “defect” to Israel. Whether it’s by choice via his supposed laundry phone call or some other means remains to be seen. Either way, Saul would appear off the series soon, because there is no way he could work for the CIA or Langley again after this Mossad stunt.
Is it damning that I no longer care?
In fact, the only thing I did care about was Carrie following the breadcrumbs toward Allison. I even started warming to Otto During, for whom the series appeared to have avoided the temptation of warping into an evil untrustworthy German. I particularly liked his comment about how he and Carrie are different from normal grounded folks. “You’re either born with wings or you’re not.”
Unfortunately, I relented my respect for the series too soon last week: in a dippy, predictable twist, he is in fact going to work against Carrie and the CIA’s interests. He implies to Carrie’s soon-to-be-ex that he finds she is unstable and in need of firing. However, it is obvious that he simply wants to use the stolen files that Carrie left in his care to leak through his foundation and journalist/blogger connections—because he is an evil liberal/leftist/Julian Assange type after all. Yawn.
Actually, forget about yawning. Yawning would imply this is boring—but it’s more stupefying once you consider that he had to have an inkling what Saul gave him before being carted off by the CIA, and yet he still let Carrie have it first. He could have opened the files for himself and never involved Carrie, who was about to leave the country.
Once more, this allows characters to contradict themselves every other scene in order to facilitate a painfully predictable plot—such as Carrie tracking down an Iraqi lawyer she thought dead in Amsterdam, only to arrive just in time to see the Russians black bag him. This happens despitethe Russians knowing a full 30-ish hours before that scene that she would find her way to Amsterdam. Nevertheless, they arrive second to Carrie and just late enough for the ex-CIA gal to steal the Iraqi’s laptop…. Oh and kill the obvious red shirt taxi driver who was working to become a doctor at night school. He might as well have told Carrie that he only has three days before retirement and has a kid on the way.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger where Carrie now predictably seeks Allison’s help, however, I imagine she’ll open up that laptop before getting that far. Whatever the case may be next week, Homeland has slid like the worse kind of mission creep into predictable, formulaic, and truly asinine storytelling. Even with five episodes left, I have major doubts that the season can be salvaged; this episode confirms the series is lost and has no exit strategy in sight. That once towering quality from those early seasons (particularly the first one) appears to be permanently MIA at this point.
**Last night I confused several characters in the Peter Quinn storyline as indicated above and have since modified the article to correctly reflect the events in the episode. Thank you to the commenter Scott for bringing this to our attention.