Spoiler alert: Do not read unless you’ve watched episode 507 of “Homeland,” titled “Oriole.”
There are shows where the characters know more than we, the viewers, do, and we strain to decipher the clues — and then there are shows where we’re privy to more information, and we wait for the characters to catch up.
Both approaches can be alternately thrilling and yet frustrating — and none ever more so than this season of “Homeland,” as we wait for our heroes to figure out that CIA Berlin station chief Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) is the Big Bad.
In this week’s action-packed episode (written by Alex Gansa and Patrick Harbinson and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter), all roads lead to the duplicitous station chief. We get to see the many faces of Allison, and she reveals each in turn to the men in her life.
She’s most herself with her Russian lover/handler Ivan, in the tense rendezvous that opens the episode. But he isn’t entirely convinced by her fear that Carrie (Claire Danes) might still be alive. “There’s only one person Saul would go so far out on a limb for,” she tells him. “I saw a photo, not a body.”
Perhaps, he allows, mollifying her with a shocking reveal for us: “You’ve been playing these men for years,” he says. Years? Just how long has this deception been going on? Turns out they’ve been playing a long, long con. “You represent the greatest operation in military intelligence in f—king history,” he divulges later in the episode. His SVR bosses want her to be director of the CIA, and it’s clear they’re not going to let anything derail it.
Next up on Allison’s target list is Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). He doesn’t buy her clumsy pitch that Saul had left the thumb drive with the documents behind. Counters Allison, “Just because I’m sleeping with him doesn’t mean I’d perjure myself to protect him.” But perhaps Dar was never really meant to: Allison’s true goal was to get Saul back to the hotel, on their own turf so he would confess that Carrie was in fact still alive.
Finally, there’s Saul (Mandy Patinkin): her main mission. It’s still a bit mind-blogging that he doesn’t suspect her at all — especially after that awkward conversation in the car back in episode 5, after the plane exploded. That seemed a clear signal that she had her own agenda (“Don’t forget your bag,” she said dismissively before delivering a cold, cold kiss) — and Saul had seemed to pick up on it.
After she tells him “I’m loyal, most of the time anyway” (oh, the irony!), she coaxes a confession out of him — and then has an immediate meltdown in front of him. Some spy she is. Still, nothing from Saul. Not a flicker. Just a offhand, “You, OK?” In his defense, he’s focused on self-preservation — as we’ll soon see — but his sharp brain has to be working overtime. He can’t have forgotten that he figured out last week there was a mole in the CIA and about Carrie’s warning that someone is trying to kill her. If he didn’t put her name in that kill box — and he knows he didn’t — then who did? That he doesn’t react at all when Allison breaks down in front of him simply strains credulity.
But Saul has his own agenda — and it isn’t to get his laundry delivered to Langley. After a final, epic confrontation with Dar — “She has finally brought you down like I always said she would” seethes Dar (just which “she” is well worth asking) — Saul sets his escape plan in motion. As he’s being escorted from the hotel, masked gunmen seize him, throw him in a van, and deliver him into the arms of his Israeli friend Etai. “So what exactly are we doing here?” asks Etai. “I don’t know, I’ve never defected before,” replies Saul. Cue gasps. We know this was a move of desperation for a man with no options — but Dar Adal will believe he was right all along about Saul secretly working for the Israelis.
Meanwhile, Carrie’s been busily digging through the files — and she’s found the smoking gun: the document the Russians wanted buried. It leads her to an old source in Baghdad who called her “Oriole” — who tried to warn her months ago that someone everyone thought was dead is indeed alive.
Inexplicably, she enlists journalist Laura Sutton — a known whistleblower — for help to track him down. Not only does Carrie famously loves constructing walls to solve mysteries, but the two women have never really gotten along. Indeed, the two soon face off when Laura demands to see all of the files. Laura appeals to their boss Otto for an overrule, but before they can come to any resolution, the hacker Laura brought along (our old pal Numan, who’s devastated to learn his buddy has been killed by the SVR) finds the missing man — and Carrie runs off in pursuit.
A pause here to reflect on Otto During. I was going to comment last week about how he almost seemed too good — too willing to do whatever Carrie asked without question. At last he finally revealed that he’s got something up his sleeve, though evidently it’s a knife to stab Carrie in the back. “We made a mistake hiring her,” he tells Jonas (who randomly shows up to check on Carrie), adding that she’s “unbalanced” and that they won’t be renewing her contract. No question During’s going to give the files to Laura. He certainly tipped his hand when Carrie said, “You seem pretty virtuous to me,” and he replied, “Oh, but I’m not.” Indeed. But does he have his own motive for betraying her? (And another question: Will the inevitable public release of files paint Carrie as a traitor, along with Saul?)
Carrie quickly tracks down her prey in Amsterdam, but before she can confront him, she runs into some mercenaries sent by Allison’s Russian friends. She barely escapes — her poor accomplice gets his throat slit in thanks — but she manages to grab a computer on the way out.
Rattled by the experience, with limited options of her own, Carrie places a call to Allison of all people. “I have to ask you some questions about your time (in Baghdad) before I arrived,” she tells her. If enlisting Laura was a questionable choice of allies, this certainly tops it. Carrie would have to suspect the leak was in the Baghdad bureau — and no one should be trusted.
Here’s a thought: What if this is all a set-up, a long con to trap Allison? “Homeland” has pulled season-long twists over on us before. It’s starting to feel too easy for Allison to get away with this deceit — too quick for Dar to let her talk to Saul; too pat for Saul to confess to her; too suspicious for Carrie to call her for help. Maybe they are all just self-involved — or maybe they are laying traps for her to lead them to the Russians. Allison herself warned us about Carrie in her conversation with Ivan: “Will you stop underestimating her?” We certainly won’t.
Either way, next week’s episode is titled “All About Allison” — so the chess match is about to get a lot more interesting, with the two queens, Carrie and Allison, about to face off.
A few notes:
• Quinn’s back in the game: He may not be completely healed, but he’s still as mentally sharp as ever. He’s like a cat playing with mice, toying mercilessly with the jihadis who rescued him last week. Allison could take some poker face lessons from him. He’s got a new mission — and Dar couldn’t be more thrilled.
• During’s wifi password is “pope francis”: That can’t just be a throwaway line. During Otto and Carrie’s tete a tete, he says, “I always found it difficult being a Catholic.”
• No one drops an F bomb better than Mandy Patinkin, and he lets them fly with a fury this week. That final “F— off” to Dar was a classic. Can’t wait to see their reunion.