Homeland: The Litvionv Ruse Review

Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson spring a trap for the mole in the best Homeland episode of the season.

This Homeland review contains spoilers.

Homeland as a TV series has become a lot like its tragic protagonist in many ways. Despite having delivered major victories (and avoided even bigger losses) for the CIA and U.S. government, Carrie Mathison is often discounted by her peers, colleagues, and even the U.S. Senate. Hell, even the audience distrusts her half the time. Homeland, meanwhile, had probably the best first season in premium cable history, as well as a strong sophomore effort that escalated its initial conceit.

Yet in spite of these early wins, the series’ increasingly erratic tone and quality has left viewers hot and cold. While season 3 offered a beautifully heartbreaking ending to Nicholas Brody’s journey, the 10 episodes or so preceding that closure were anything but beautiful. Season 4 also offered some series highs before delivering a truly unsatisfying conclusion.

So it is with season 5 that a once enamored fan like myself can now consider writing off the whole series. The spy games that have Carrie muddled in yet another conspiracy of double agents and duplicity have left me lukewarm, whereas Peter Quinn’s odyssey of narrative detours with the ISIS wannabes has been downright infuriating.

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And still, just when I am ready to wash my hands of the whole endeavor, an episode like “The Litvionv Ruse” delivers not just the best 60 minutes of the season, but also a genuinely tense hour of espionage thrills that does what we have almost forgotten was possible: it thoroughly entertains.

The reason for this is that unlike so much of the recent padded out hours of season 5, this episode moves like a bullet by establishing a central conflict that is long overdue for coming to a head—and then surprisingly twists it all on its head by the end.

In this case, Carrie Mathison has learned that Allison Carr is finally the mole and instead of waiting another 60 minutes before the narrative slightly moves the needle with her telling Saul about it, Ms. Mathison makes an immediate beeline to her erstwhile mentor and convinces him within minutes of Allison Carr’s treachery. This is especially satisfying since Saul has a romantic entanglement with Allison (that is unbeknownst to Carrie) and his skepticism is as vocal as his damnably on-point cynicism. Logic wins quickly, and Saul is soon enlisting the BND (Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service) to turn the screws on a sting operation at Allison’s expense.

The way this scenario is methodically executed by folks behaving out of self-interest and the utterly most ruthless sense of professionalism (a trait lacking in much of season 5) is heartwarming to behold. There are no scenes of Saul equivocating like a CW drama about Carrie’s trustworthiness due to senses of petty personal betrayals, nor is he conflicted enough to miss a beat when he seduces Allison for “one last night” while simultaneously bugging her phone and slipping a tracer into the seams of her purse.

Equally satisfying is the moment of Carrie’s discovery about Saul and Allison. Realizing that watching her having other boy toys on the side has caused papa bear some palpable embarrassment, Carrie does not run into the hall to comfort Saul but to mercilessly interrogate him on whether he tipped Allison off that she is being watched. Of course, we know Saul is too smart for that, but that kind of unapologetic bluntness is why Carrie was once the best heroine on TV. Maybe she still can be?

After some false starts, Allison inevitably takes the bait that the BND has a defecting Russian that will give away her machinations. It is a scary bit of modern spycraft, a whole chase sequence can occur without any boots on the ground. Allison looks over her shoulder repeatedly for the purported Popeye Doyle. Yet, there is neither spook nor assassin in her rearview. Like the eyes of God, she is never out of earshot from satellite, drone, or nigh omnipresent CCTV cameras. Without ever tipping their hand, the BND (and Carrie and Saul) can watch her seemingly nail shut her own coffin from the comfort of an office sofa and its complimentary teas.

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And so it is that Allison Carr is captured indisputably in the company of an SVR station chief. But what could have been the end of the season adds the kind of unexpected wrinkle that once upon a time made Homeland so fun to watch: Allison does not surrender when caught red-handed; she goes for a Hail Mary play by suggesting to a disgusted Dar Adal that she is not a traitor but rather has been using her SVR overseer as her own resource for intel out of the Kremlin.

It’s a preposterous twist on one-hand. She ran like a terrified rabbit right into the SVR’s arms after thinking her cover was blown—going so far as to hide in a safe house after ordering a first class ticket out of the country. But still, I imagine that the hint of complicit information sharing that Allison was first promised in a 2005 flashback will come into focus now. I’m sure she has gotten some nice tips from the SVR that helped her rise so quickly to station chief in Berlin.

Nevertheless, I cannot imagine the real CIA would be so gullible. After all, this revelation is far more damning than the vague suspicion that Saul Berenson helped Mossad bomb the CIA’s Syrian puppet general. Not only did she run, but she also is directly connected to the man whose death was faked in 2005—how many secret sources that look highly incriminating can she write off as assets?

But Dar Adal has never liked Carrie, and his crude interactions with Saul this season will never be easily (if ever) forgiven. This should come to a head next week when the CIA will have to be second-guessing who to trust. And that kind of paranoia offers so many storytelling possibilities—presuming of course that the SVR asset with diplomatic immunity would wish to risk his untouchable status in order to preserve Allison’s cover (highly unlikely in real life).

Whatever the case might be, I am generally intrigued and speculating at the possibilities for next week. That hasn’t happened with Homeland since season 4. It’s a forgotten but wholly welcome sensation.

… Oh, and Peter Quinn was predictably tested with wannabe ISIS’s new poison trap, which he was also equally predictably given the cure for in advance. It seems that even in season 5’s best episode, narrative victories cannot be clean ones.

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3.5 out of 5