This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 7 Episode 7
Well it is time for me to eat some humble pie. Last week, I speculated that Dante wasn’t a traitor, or at least a witting Russian agent, and only appeared to be so based on Carrie and Saul’s suspicions. It wasn’t because I particularly loved the character—although it is nice to have someone in Carrie’s circle who isn’t constantly judging and second-guessing her at all times—but I did think we have seen a few too many moles in the intelligence community on this series. But ooh boy, here we are with one more!
Indeed, while the circumstantial evidence around Dante probably wouldn’t hold up in court, and that fact of espionage was driven home this week when a broadly drawn judge scoffed at Saul’s conviction that Simone was a Russian agent, but this isn’t a jury box. When Dante, the man who was able to name Simone, just “happened” to be in the same five international destinations at the exact same time as his eventual “target,” and he also lied to Carrie from the drop about having a girlfriend who was bipolar, it is all enough to understand that in spy games, there is no such thing as coincidence. Much less a half-dozen of them.
So Dante is a traitor, and at least from Papa Bear Saul’s perspective, this knowledge makes the ending extra uncomfortable. Storming in with an off-the-books ass-kicking team to find Carrie nude in a post-coital (or mid) position while her daughter is being dragged out of the next room and thrown on top of her is not a great look for his one-time protégé. Then again, after her relationship with Brody, one could argue she has a type? And more seriously, she was the one who was able to uncover the intel on Dante that confirmed his treasonous activities, and a man like Saul, who has been himself ensnared by a honeypot, cannot exactly judge too harshly a protégé using that same tactic to get results on earning the trust (or buying at least some time) with the biggest person of interest.
So how exactly again did we get to that ending with Saul wordlessly staring at Carrie and daughter in an uncomfortable situation (partially of Saul’s own making)? Well…
It came about in another crackerjack hour of Homeland, which is having what could be its best year since the very first season. It is still only about the midpoint, so we’ll have to see how the next five episodes play out, as season 2 also had a stunning first half before losing some steam by the end. But nevertheless, things are moving a steady clip and the twists are coming fast and frantic while keeping me constantly off-base. Doing that while also avoiding too many scenes of Carrie Mathison running into a subway with a gun like the second coming of Jack Bauer is thus music to my ears.
The episode begins by picking up where we left off last time: Carrie and company are rummaging through Dante’s home and at first don’t appear to find anything. There is some nice nefarious tension set-up by the fact that Dante vaguely wakes up and appears to notice one of Carrie’s boys before passing out again, however this is merely convincing misdirection.
From that point on, we are left to speculate whether Dante actually was cognizant enough to see what was going on or if he was still playing the dope. There is an obvious uncomfortable chill when the man who may (or at the time may not) be a Russian spy invites Carrie and her daughter over for pancakes. Mind you, Carrie also had no problem getting intimate with Brody back in the day… but not with her daughter in the next room.
Of course this occurred due to another tedious blow up between Carrie and her sister. However, the characters at least admitted that their conversations are like Groundhog Day where they just repeat the same problems again and again. And Homeland, bless its writing room, has some wry amusement out of the fact that after Carrie is commanded to act like an adult, she runs up the suburban stairwell, fuming as if it’s still My So Called Life. And to be fair to Carrie’s sister and in-laws, our heroine knew she was trying to ensnare Dante that night for at least a whole afternoon in the lead-up to the deed. She could have easily told her sister that she would not be home that night for “business.” Sure, a fight would still ensue the following morning, but it is a bizarre choice done out of narrative plotting convenience that she would forget to tell her sister (and by extension her daughter) that she was “taking a night off.”
So this melodrama feels somewhat manufactured, right down to Carrie reminding us she won’t be up for any mother of the year awards as she snaps at Frannie for worrying about breakfast, but it is all in obvious service to put Carrie back into Dante’s apartment. So as manipulative as the plotting is this week, it does benefit the viewer with genuine suspense derived from how much Dante remembers and how much of it might be an act for him to keep tabs on her. At any moment, I was prepared for him to begin ransoming Frannie.
But that isn’t how the first scene of “Be Our Guest” plays out. Dante literally leaves Carrie alone in his home to snoop, while he goes and does some snooping of his own. If we can all agree that Dante is a traitor at this point in time, there is something seedy about him showing up at Carrie’s home. To be fair, I do think it is basic espionage work, and that he isn’t too suspicious (yet) of Carrie being onto him. His looking at her computer and papers is basic reconnaissance work and nothing in it gives him a clue that she is investigating him past basic due diligence of a source. Nonetheless, it is unsettling, even if it ends with the acquisition of Frannie’s bunny.
At least Carrie’s sister has a reason though to not think the woman who was working for a new president three months ago is “making things up” about doing her own investigations on the side. And it is those investigations that end up helping Saul out so much.
For the other narrative strand of the episode is Saul commandeering Max’s resources for his own. Saul is understandably irritated with Carrie and Max for unwittingly helping a Russian conspiracy endanger our democracy. But his flippant considerations of Max as an “irritant” feel strangely off-base, as he is aware Max is a strong asset for Carrie, and one that she has used not only on Brody, but in Pakistan and in uncovering O’Keefe’s complicity in trying to manipulate an electorate. And sure enough, it is only when a character we care about ends up, reluctantly, being part of Saul’s team that they get results.
This is in contrast to Saul who warns Wellington, and by extension the president, about Simone’s duplicity as a Russian spy. That subplot might also be the most incredulous moment of the night, wherein a POTUS is willing to overlook that her Chief of Staff has been compromised by a Russian spy and wants to keep him on retainer. Besides the level of betrayal and incompetence being likely off-putting to her as a leader, as a politician she like any of her ilk would go running for the hills away from a man who she believes at best invites the critique of naiveté to Russian manipulation, and at worst might still be labeled a murderer and fascist if Simone’s testimony plays out the way it is almost certain to. Wellington should be gone, and Keane demanding he stay continues to put me at a loss at how to read her this season.
At the beginning of season 7, she requested that Wellington make McClendon’s death “happen” even after a verdict was reached, and then acts not all that surprised when McClendon drops dead of a supposed heart attack that night. I understand we are supposed to realize we misjudged her, and this manipulation of appearances are the Russians’ bread and butter. Keane even quotes my review from last week: “Russians, Russians, Russians!”
But she has still shown proclivities to ignore the Constitution and enact full-scale purges. As such, it is difficult to truly evaluate whether this entire subplot is working. And frankly, it probably won’t be clear until the smoke clears from the season 7 finale. In the meantime, though, it is putting Saul in an interesting position.
Saul condemns Carrie as not exactly a trustworthy sort, which to be fair he is not whistling “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” over. Yet it is Carrie’s lead in figuring out that Dante was out of the country which led Max to compare his and Simone’s international travel schedules. It is also the final nail in the coffin that makes it clear Dante is complicit in a conspiracy to overthrow the government. As such, Carrie for all her “irritant” behavior, is just as valuable to Saul as Max. Alas, Homeland is going to play up the “Saul and Carrie distrust each other” game again, even though they have literally switched sides on Keane this season, and both are on the trail of the Russians. Carrie admittedly came at it “backward,” as Saul mentioned, but she did so while trying to get him out of a dank prison cell.
But their relationship is in no danger of warming up given that ending, which comes about from a perfectly logical set of problems for Carrie, yet from an outside vantage appear justifiably repellent to any sane person. Due to narrative contrivance, she needs a place to stay and this act of irrationality does give Carrie the perfect excuse to get back inside Dante’s apartment. Once there, her (or really Frannie’s) snooping leads her to finding out Dante was married, as well as the name and profession of his ex.
This in turn allows Carrie to do what she does best by extract damning information, such as Dante being out of the country when his desk job at the Bureau required him to never leave the district… and that he was unhealthily obsessed with Carrie, whom he blamed for the ruination of his career. Hardly the understandable shoulder to cry on we’ve seen the last seven weeks, eh?
When back in Dante’s apartment, he corners her with knowing that she reached out to his ex under false pretenses. Now luckily Dante apparently really is obsessed with Carrie, and at least is willing to consider that it is just out of romantic research that Carrie dug into his past. Of course if he is a traitor, he has to have other doubts as well about her surveillance. But that threat makes Carrie satisfying his initial lust a perfect way to buy another night and morning to figure out her next move. (She also is much better at manipulating him when Frannie is out of sight.)
But Saul doesn’t give her that. He doesn’t even have the courtesy when he sees via geo-imaging that she is having sex with him to, ahem, wait to knock. He bursts down the door and suddenly Carrie’s choices of last resort look reckless and crazed. And maybe on some level they are, because she did endanger Frannie by taking her into that apartment when it was unclear how aware Dante, a man who is likely a traitor and Russian spy, was about the previous night’s “activities.”
So Carrie is at perhaps a moral judgement low, which will only be deepened when Frannie tells her aunt and uncle about what happened last night. Still, she gets results, dammit! And I hope Saul’s ethical disgust with his ward can be rushed through its quick enough paces. She and Max chased the wrong lead, and it is backfiring in a dangerous way, but she also smoked out Dante in a matter of a few days for Saul, when if Carrie hadn’t been Dante and Simone’s unwitting asset, chances are Saul and Keane would be up FUBAR creek without a paddle. I’ll concede the point that Carrie is not exactly acting like an ideal (or good) mother. But dammit if she isn’t still a good agent. So roll your eyes, Saul, and get on the same page for the last five episodes.
Also, please wipe that smug, cat-that-ate-the-canary smile off Dante’s face next week, please. Thanks in advance.