This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Season 6 Episode 4
Let’s just say Homeland isn’t afraid to still shake things up once in a while. So it was in “A Flash of Light,” which like its title, changes everything in an instant. The suddenly shifting dynamics offer what is perhaps the most engaging hour of the past several seasons. Certainly the best we’ve thus far had in season 4.
The episode of course builds to when that light flashes, and Sekou proves to be everything he always was: a dumb angry kid who got swept up in forces beyond him… and, one way or another, destroyed by them. I think everyone predicted something was in the truck with Sekou after lingering camera shots of him boarding the vehicle, as well as the monotony of driving in rush hour traffic being given such foreboding prominence. But while I expected a spy or goon in the back, a bomb made so much more sense, and Homeland enters an alternate 2017 that might just inexplicably be more ominous than our own. There’s been another terror attack in the heart of Manhattan, and we all know this won’t end well. For anyone.
The rest of the hour before that chilling moment was also some of the strongest stuff the series has had in the past few years. The best of it involved Saul Berenson going “home,” as it were, to Israel.
What’s more striking than Saul never visiting his sister in 12 years? The not-so-shocking revelation that doing so was merely an act of cover. A con. I doubted that Saul had really been kidnapped by the enemy again during the last episode, not least of all because it would be too redundant to revisit season 4’s memorable linchpin. But it did make sense he was meeting someone. Yet, it was a nice surprise that that someone was Javadi. Admittedly, I began to suspect the series was willfully ignoring Javadi in order to spin a yarn built around Western suspicion and paranoia about Iran cheating on its nuclear deal.
While I still find it difficult to believe that Saul and Javadi have not organized a way for him to report easily to the CIA—after all, they have his balls in a vice—so as to avoid clandestine and dangerous operations like this one into the Lebanese border, they still at least have addressed the elephant in the room. If in Homeland’s universe, the Iranian Guard is secretly being made a puppet by the U.S., we’d have a better understanding of whether the Iranians were cheating or not. Still, we get to see Saul turn the screws, yet inexplicably treat his double agent as an old friend.
The perverseness of this relationship is only heightened by how Saul and his Mossad number who treat each other as old friends that not-so-secretly loathe the machinations of one another’s scheming. Saul, Saul’s sister, and Saul’s Mossad counterpart all know that he was there to meet someone who likely does not speak Hebrew, but they all pretend otherwise, including Mossad when they inform Saul, ever so innocently, that his flight has been cancelled because of a mechanical problem. “Unbelievable,” the American mutters. Indeed.
These are sequences where Mandy Patinkin is at his best. He must play the ever even-keeled Papa Bear of American intelligence, and convince friends that he always has their best interests at heart. And honestly, Saul does: He wants to both make sure the Iranians aren’t cheating while also protecting them from hawkish sensibilities in the West… if only to save American lives from another needless war. Even so, as Mossad lays out the options of Israelis if Iran did get a nuke… the episode’s civic lesson on Israeli political tensions was more disquieting than any sense of fevered sensationalism on Fox News.
Meanwhile, Carrie was better utilized here as her relationship with President-elect Keane came to its inevitable head. Up until now, Keane was what every liberal wishes an alternate reality version of a President Hillary Clinton might be like: She’s liberal, open-minded, and far less hawkish than the real HRC. However, she is still a politician and she is asking Carrie to blow a whistle on Dar Adal for political expediency.
Carrie is right to put her foot down. The fact that the president-elect promises she’d never see the inside of a cell (which is a shaky promise for a pardon if I’ve ever heard one) means Carrie should perhaps be warier of her visits to Keane’s office than she realizes. She should ask Edward Snowden how forthcoming presidents’ pardons are, either at the beginning or end of their administrations. Keane isn’t going to spend political capital saving a snitch who’d become the bane of the intelligence community. Further, this isn’t a matter of urgent national security; it’s because Dar Adal is leaking information like he’s a spook in the Trump administration, and Keane wants dirt to destroy him.
Then again, Dar likely hurt his chances by showing up at the elementary school of Carrie’s child. If anything, I suspect he’ll be the one to push her to singing. His threats are already clear. Noticing Carrie’s daughter, Dar smile, “Pretty child, striking hair.” After all this time, the ghost of Nicholas Brody might rear itself again in the ugliest way. If Carrie speaks out (privately or publicly) about Dar Adal, he’ll smear her as the former spook who fell in love with and married American traitor while becoming an Iranian puppet in the process.
This could go sideways real quick.
But of course, the most pivotal aspect in all this is the bomb that just went off in New York City. The last time that happened in the real world, Americans lost their minds—a fact Carrie explains to Sekou. Their confrontation was a powerful one since a former CIA agent was able to persuasively temper the rage of a Muslim youth who is romanticizing suicide bombers. In other words, it should have been absurd, yet it is instead decently written and beautifully acted by both performers, bringing a mutual humanity that each can acknowledge in an otherwise unbelievable context.
So the question remains, who placed the bomb that will undoubtedly turn Sekou into the face of infamy? The obvious red herring, in my opinion, is the fellow truck drivers who busted Sekou’s chops about being an FBI informant, getting him to do something as stupid as blowing the cover of a fed source on the internet. Whether they believed he was innocent or not, they knew he’d have much more power as a smoldering martyr on 2nd Avenue than he would as a reformed, more self-aware online personality.
But while that is a strong possibility, the fact that this is Homeland, I think they’ll be embracing a fictional version of what (disgracefully idiotic) 9/11 Truthers have long believed: It’s a false flag operation implemented by the U.S. government to instill fear and compliance in the American populace. Whether Dar Adal himself had something to do with it—thus further discrediting Keane’s potential golden-haired canary—I am not sure. But the feds didn’t want Sekou on the streets, and this could play into the show’s version of a slow coup orchestrated by American intelligence and the military against Keane. First step is getting the citizenry scared.
And in reality, if such an action actually occurred, we already know the chilling fallout, especially in a world where Elizabeth Keane is not president. Instead, we have an America where all Muslims, and especially refugees, are being conflated with terrorists. This would be the kind of fuel that would allow executive attacks on the judiciary to be taken off Twitter and into streets of policy.
Of course, the show is only a fiction. Nevertheless, I got genuine real world chills when I saw the grimly familiar sight of smoke billowing above the Manhattan skyline on a sunny weekday morning.
*** Commenters have correctly pointed out that the man who Quinn was trailing placed the bomb in the van. I missed that moment, but it confirms that, yes, this is likely a U.S. intelligence operations since he is also the spook who was spying on Carrie’s home the past several weeks since Dar Adal became suspicious.