“Homeland’’s” ninth episode, “There’s Something Else Going On,” was a combustible mix of action, nail-biting tension and plot twists and turns. In the middle of all this, the show has made its way back to holding a mirror up to U.S. foreign policy actions to examine them in the harsh glare of a naked fluorescent light.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven’t seen the Nov. 23 episode of “Homeland.”
There was a lot to chew on in this week’s episode surrounding the high drama of the hostage exchange, the Faustian bargain agreed to in the previous seg of swapping five of Haqqani’s most ruthless lieutenants for ex-CIA chief Saul Berenson.
Nothing was more chilling than the brief shot from Saul’s point of view inside the burlap hood he wore as the Haqqani’s goons muscled him from place to place. You can’t see this and not think immediately of journalist James Foley and other ISIS victims who have been beheaded for the cameras in recent months. You can’t help but shudder and think that the fuzzy perspective of squinting at light coming in through burlap threads must’ve been something close to the last thing they saw before their deaths. In an instant, “Homeland” reminded me that I’m privileged to have been able to make the choice not to watch those horrific videos.
Nothing was more heartbreaking than the earlier scene with Saul comforting the boy’s troubled sleep. Pure humanity, in a whisper. Only an actor of Mandy Patinkin’s skill could have pulled that off.
Like Patinkin, Claire Danes was also again in a class by herself — thanks to the superb script by Chip Johannessen and Patrick Harbinson and the taut direction of Seith Mann. The wordless high point of Danes’ performance this week was her quivering jaw during her telephone conversation with Mira, aka Mrs. Berenson.
This episode brought into full focus the theme that has been building since the season premiere. The three key characters — Saul, Carrie and Rupert Friend’s Quinn — have realized that the “war” against terrorism is pretty much hopeless. It makes good people justify doing terrible things in the name of stopping other bad people from doing worse things. Except is there much worse than dropping a bomb on civilians at a wedding party? It doesn’t excuse, but helps explain the motivation for why pre-teen boys are being trained to strap on suicide bomb vests to strike back at the infidels.
Saul’s protest of the prisoner exchange — his decision to sit down on the tarmac in the crosshairs of machine guns on either side — was his last-ditch, non-violent demonstration taking a stand on principle. He didn’t want to be a pawn to allow dangerous men to go free. He’s sickened by the whole chess game.
This episode also brought into stark relief another running theme of the series since it began in 2011: the love affair of Carrie and Saul. Seeing her talk him off the ledge, so to speak, and rubbing his back in a soothing maternal fashion was perhaps the strongest image we have seen to date of the deep connection between those two. They’re the two most guarded people in the world, but they do have each other. “No more dying,” she implores. For Carrie, the entire Saul escapade is a mission to do for this love of her life what she couldn’t do for Brody: save him.
The exchange between Carrie and Saul on the tarmac is wrenching when Carrie sees that Saul has become inured to the fact that a boy’s life would be sacrificed for his protest.
“He’s a child,” Carrie tells Saul.
“They put the vest on him, not us,” he replies.
“So that makes it OK? Do you know who you sound like? Them. Fourteen years of war and this is what it’s come to? Asking a child to blow you to kingdom come? And for what? … This is not who we are. This is not who you are.”
From the start of the episode, it was clear that the process of betraying Saul’s wishes in the previous week’s episode — letting him get re-captured by the Taliban rather than allowing him to put a bullet in his own head — had the effect of sobering Carrie up in a way that made her see things crystal-clear.
This episode also seemed to go out of its way to question the truth of stated tenets of U.S. foreign policy. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. Except for when it suits us. We no longer detain people indiscriminately with no stated charges for indefinite periods in places that no one can find on the map. Except for when it suits us — as Carrie made clear in her interrogation of traitor Dennis Boyd. (I have no doubt he’s a nice guy, but it sure seems that Mark Moses was born to play slimy characters.)
“We don’t do that anymore. That policy was repudiated,” Boyd sniffs at Carrie. “Publicly,” she snaps back. “You are a traitor and I’m the f–ing CIA.”
There were wonderful aesthetic touches throughout in this episode. One of them was the quick contrast of Carrie and Quinn looking over the Taliban prisoners in the harsh daytime sun with the blueish tint of the dim light in Carrie’s interrogation room scene with Boyd.
The episode ends with a big scary boom aimed at our heroes and an even bigger threat snaking its way into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. But for me the real cliffhanger of the episode came in that tense embrace of Carrie and Saul at the prisoner exchange.
“I want to go home,” Carrie told him tearfully, just before he relents and lets her lift him to his feet.
Did she mean it?