Homeland Season 6 Episode 2 Review: The Man in the Basement

Homeland thickens the fog of distrust between a new president and her intelligence community in this intriguing episode.

This Homeland review contains spoilers.

So you’re all still here? The sky has not fallen and the Trump Apocalypse has not occurred? Good. Then again, it’s Sunday and since we all know the presidency is a Monday through Friday job, who knows what the world will look like by the time the third episode of Homeland season 6 airs? But n the meantime, “The Man in the Basement” continues the positive growth first established by last week’s premiere, suggesting the series might be on an upswing as we enter a world far more reflective of what once seemed like sensationalistic fiction.

This week, Homeland hammered successfully on the two plot threads that really worked so well last week, suggesting the hooks of the year will indeed be chronicling the nightmare that is Peter Quinn’s new life, as well as observing cloak and dagger moves and countermoves between an ascendant president-elect and her unfriendly intelligence community. On the first score, watching what has become of Quinn is never easy or comfortable, but that is to the credit of the series. Like so many other wounded warriors, Quinn has sadly given into despair for now, sitting in his basement apartment listening to a Rush Limbaugh clone who all but said “Make America Great Again” and “America First.”

I doubt Quinn has hit rock bottom yet either, so it is difficult to ascertain if he’ll ever see the light again, but his role is to really show the cost of America’s foreign policy, whether in war or covert operations. Granted, Quinn grievously suffered so that thousands could live, and a terrorist attack in Berlin was thwarted. But for him, the cost is still high—and it’s one many Americans choose to ignore. It also allows Rupert Friend to show yet more dimension as an actor while finally giving something substantial for Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison to key into for the first time since season 4.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I still struggle with the Drone Queen becoming a leading advocate against CIA secrecy, but she is definitely someone who always was drawn to broken things that needed protection. It’s how she viewed America when she pushed to join the agency following the attacks on Sept. 11, and it is what truly first attracted her to Brody way back in season 1. I’m not sure Carrie and Quinn will ever have a romance again, but her need to care and save those that others have abandoned is what makes her drive so compelling.

Previously, I suspected Quinn wished Carrie had killed him in the hospital last season, and thus remains resentful now. And maybe he does, but he barely can remember his suffering or previous life, or the fact that he should’ve wanted to hug the returning Max like every viewer did following his season 5 absence. So even if he can’t recall his resentment, that death wish becomes all too real when he dismisses Carrie’s efforts to save him following his neurological poisoning.

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Carrie meanwhile is also trying to be protective of Sekou in what feels like the real central plot of season 6. And I remain open to seeing where this thread’s fraying string takes us. To be sure, Sekou is a fool, idolizing suicide bombers and sharing that idiocy on the internet. However, this episode confirmed that, at least as of now, he remains merely a dumb kid who got played. His buddy Assad was revealed to be the worst kind of snitch—the one who isn’t only a mole for the feds, but one whom will straight up lie about his mark. FBI Agent Ray Conlin was using Assad to entrap Sekou by offering him $5,000 as an incentive to seek out some supposed jihadi recruiter in Africa.

In reality, Sekou refused to meet with any jihadi, but Conlin shrugged, ruining a young man’s life so he could still get his purported mark, and put his name in the papers. This is a better plot development than Sekou just being a terrorist, and I hope Homeland does not try to pull the rug out from under us. It also allows Carrie to be the hard-ass we all know and love by being threatened to avoid Assad by Conlin, yet still using Sekou’s little sister (who Assad is dating) to lure him into a trap. I didn’t actually see Carrie apply that much pressure to break him, however, and the sequence played less like one of Carrie or Saul’s classic interrogation scenes, and more like a sequence out of Law & Order where if you ask any question three times, they’ll crumble so the plot can proceed.

Similarly, it’s frustratingly convenient that a spy like Carrie didn’t also bring a wire to tape the conversation. Even if it would be inadmissible in court, it’d be enough to make Conlin’s life hell and turn his investigation into a storm of innuendo if the right folks learned of his shortcuts. So again… we’ll see how this plot actually develops.

The other main plot is the one that Homeland showrunners could not have expected to be this timely. While they guessed wrong when they picked to have a madam president-elect, the idea of a skeptical political novice coming to power that the CIA distrusts is painfully appropriate.

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I especially enjoyed the sequence where Dar Adal brought President-Elect Keane’s right-hand man to his favorite downtown New York restaurant, showing that he knows the owner and suggesting they pulled people out of the debris together when the towers fell on 9/11. This, it turns out, is a lie, but it’s an informative one. The CIA feels justified in all actions, because they live in the shadow of the worst imaginable consequences when intelligence fails. It is a mindset that is challenged increasingly now, as 9/11 becomes more and more a historical event as opposed to a living, breathing trauma for everyone.

But that seems to justify even lying and trying to hustle the new presidential administration. It’s a nice semi-metaphor that distracts from the fact that in Homeland’s reality, there should be no concerns about the Iranian government lying or cheating on its nuclear deal with the U.S. since they live in a world where Saul Berenson has a Manchurian candidate named Javadi running the Iranian regime—kind of in the manner that Western intelligence communities now suspect President Trump to be compromised by Russia and the SVR.

Unfortunately, we must overlook that logical discrepancy on the show, because it creates narrative friction since Dar Adal wants to use this to allow the Americans to get in bed with the far more hawkish Israeli intelligence for an operation that would sting an Iranian official taking his nuclear weapons program offsite and into North Korea. It also explains the current state of affairs to a degree by depicting the type of paranoias that emerge when a new president and his/her spymasters have absolute distrust.

Because while this is simultaneously occurring, Saul makes an unannounced stop by Carrie’s office. It’s a great scene, as is any scene that allows Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin to play off one another. Saul is also incredibly rude to Carrie, accusing her of secretly advising the president-elect. While Saul makes the accusations in the crudest way, I doubt anyone fully believed Carrie’s answer—which makes me surprised Saul did.

Sure enough, Carrie is indeed working with President-Elect Keane as an unannounced anti-CIA counterweight to Adal and Berenson. And curiouser still, Dar Adal has Keane’s suite bugged and knows Carrie is working with his new executive enemy…. Yet, he withholds this information from Saul over an evening drink. Is it because he has always known Carrie is Saul’s blindspot, a protégé he’ll never truly disown even if they are ideologically opposed? Or is it because he thinks Saul is secretly in cahoots with Carrie to steer the new, supposedly naïve president’s agenda?

These are all elements at play at the end of this sequence, which makes it fascinating to see how distrust sows distrust in this series—and probably our own world too. I suspect that Dar Adal will use the intelligence community to go after Carrie hard for this, and what better way to attack sideways than trying to further bury Sekou for life under false accusations? It’s a new dawn with a new presidency, but there is no sunrise in sight on Homeland this year. I know the feeling, and am intrigued to continue scouring that distant horizon here.

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3.5 out of 5