This Homeland review contains spoilers.
The title of tonight’s Homeland is “The New Normal,” but clearly Showtime had no idea how prophetic those words would be. Indeed, a mere hour before the airing, there was a much more somber variation on this episode’s very prescient themes. President Barack Obama addressed the nation at 8pm (EST) and attempted to illuminate a muddied national dialogue that would inform much of what is happening on “The New Normal.”
Considering that this season was broken down many months prior to tonight, it would seem almost pointless to note the overlap between tonight’s episode and real world events. “The New Normal” is in fact already dated with the CIA dreading “another London or Madrid.” For the vast majority of the world that looked on in horror at Paris last month, it is far too late for that.
Nevertheless, the parallels are implicit as Carrie, Saul, and the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) are working to stop a catastrophe that’s political repercussions we are already feeling off-screen. As Dar Adal says, “You could argue that’s what they want here—to draw us into another hot war in the Middle East.” Yes, this would very much be ideal for ISIS. And the U.S. president just had to go on to primetime television to tell hundreds of millions of Americans exactly that—and why the saber-rattling coming out of the opposition party’s presidential primary race plays into the kind of hotheaded reaction Adal and Saul fear, whether on Showtime or real world CNN reporting.
The genuine contrast makes “The New Normal” all the more unsettling, because this apparently is our new normal. The West is on the precipice of falling in slow-motion toward another Middle East quagmire; but the fear precipitating such a descent is based on very real, insidious dangers. The fictional Pentagon in Homeland even crystallizes this by stating that they aren’t going to warn Berliners, because it would “give these assholes license to send our cities” into a panic on a weekly basis. There’s another scary thought we might be on the edge of making a reality.
It’s these nightmares that causes the episode to work. As loathsome as I have found Peter Quinn’s storyline all season long—and I still cringe at the idea of him stumbling onto a jihadist plot to blow up Berlin with chemical warfare by coughing at the docks—it has made a shrewd point that almost causes season 5’s belabored pace to be worth it: the spy games of the old Cold War have been superseded by the shadowy machinations of a new one.
The same day that Obama said loudly we are at war with ISIS, the entire “good” plotline of season 5 has been mooted by reality. While it doesn’t excuse how boring the Peter Quinn elements have been, the CIA vs. the SVR, and the U.S. vs. Russia (with Allison Carr in the middle) seems fairly pointless when faced with the existential threat of zealots that want to gas Berlin because of moronic dogma.
In this context, despite Dar Adal thankfully seeing through Allison Carr’s self-evident desperation and lying, it makes total sense that they would use her as a resource while under lock and key. Whether she is a Russian double agent or not, nobody wants to see the perpetual middle-ground town of Berlin gassed by thugs from the Stone Age.
It is also a clever development, because Saul has to bear the brunt of this unfortunate utilitarian logic. After all, he was her patsy. Thus the scene where Saul almost strangles Allison and calls her a sociopath is one of the best of the season. The only other time I can think of Saul losing his cool like this was when Brody made an unwanted step of violence toward Carrie in season 2 (well that and when Carrie failed to kill him in a botched rescue operation last year).
Allison says that Saul is the angriest man she has ever met, but I don’t believe it. Saul is about as close to Gandhi as you are wont to get at Langley. So to see her set him off is a special kind of evil.
Homeland is trying to toy with audience expectations by having an underling say that the CIA Berlin station believes Allison is innocent but that’s just fumes. This hour refreshingly began with Saul, Adal, and the BND scoffing at Allison’s sob story, and I don’t see that changing now. In fact, if I were to make a prediction, it’d be that the older woman walking a dog and watching Allison smoke a cigarette outside is with the SVR, and she will either kidnap Allison in order to bring her back to Moscow in the season finale… or put a bullet in her.
But lest the focus is too heavily balanced toward Allison and Saul’s dynamic, the hour also marked a good week for Claire Danes. Carrie is ostensibly out of the loop now that Carr is in custody, yet the revelation that Quinn has been picked up by Syrian jidhadists in Berlin understandably drags Carrie once more into the fold.
While crying sequences are as second nature to Danes as ordering drone strikes are to Carrie, these moments this week are both supremely effective. The second one in particular—where she watches the video of Peter Quinn choking in unedited agony—is a powerfully telling piece of work for Danes and her small screen alter-ego. She watches a man she might have once loved appear to die, and after shedding some tears she immediately and without hesitation asks the tape to be wound back in case there is something she missed. That cold professionalism offset by pools of humanity is the defining staple of Danes’ heroine.
The hour ends with Carrie and Quinn’s other ex-flame from the BND discovering where the terrorists were hiding, not to mention Peter’s still barely breathing body.
It is a nice bit of closure before we ramp up for the final two episodes. And yet as good as everything that I have talked about has been, I am wary of giving this hour four stars. Because ultimately, everything that is happening within the terrorist cell that Peter Quinn dropped into continues a ringing false note. Carrie says it better than I ever could when she said to Dar Adal, “Fell in with them? How? It doesn’t make any sense!”
I couldn’t have said it better Carrie if I spent another thousand words dissecting this lame subplot again.
But in spite of all this frustration, the storyline is paying off in dividends tonight and will hopefully continue to create strong hours in season 5’s upcoming final two episodes. So it is harder to be as damning this evening. Albeit, I am still not crazy about “the foundation” sequences.
I will confess that my certainty about Otto During’s duplicity increasingly appears unfounded. His compulsion to call Saul Berenson about his client who knows something of the terrorist attack on Berlin discredits my theory that he wants to leak all of Carrie’s intel on the Internet. Still why is he trying to replace her?
If the series is cleverly outsmarting my narrative predictions, then bravo. But these scenes were also squandered on Laura Sutton being a painfully oblivious cliché of bleeding heart liberals. There are people like this out there, but to see it used as a plot device where she slows the ability to track terrorists in Berlin planning an imminent attack even after she sees them seemingly execute a man on TV strains credulity.
Yet ultimately I will say that for tonight’s episode, these elements are more nitpicks due to a rather unsatisfying season 5 rather than problems with what was individually a solid hour of espionage television. “The New Normal” hits close to home in a variety of uncomfortable ways. It does what Homeland should do, and leaves me as cautiously hopeful about the final two hours as Carrie is over Peter Quinn’s half-dead body.
Let’s see where Carrie and Saul take us in the final two episodes before reflecting on the season as a whole. In the meantime, tonight delivered more than any showrunner could have guessed even just days ago with its reverberating echo.