The action in episode eight of “Homeland” seems to take a sharp turn toward the end game of season five’s storyline. And once again, a “Homeland” episode written months ago is eerily mirroring recent headlines.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you have not seen the Nov. 22 episode of “Homeland,” “All About Allison.”
There were a couple of big reveals in this very busy episode, “All About Allison,” written by co-exec producer Ron Nyswaner and helmed by Dan Attias. Most ominously, it’s made clear that the ragtag guerrillas Quinn inadvertently hooked up with are planning a chemical warfare attack on Berlin or thereabouts. Coming nine days after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris left 129 dead, the idea of a major European city being the target of unspeakable violence is all too chilling.
And we finally get some important back story on Allison. Not only the details of how she came into the clutches of Ivan, the grim-faced Russian intelligence agent, but also why she turned. In a word: handbags. Allison has a taste for the finer things, and she has grand career ambitions, even though she seems burned out on the day-to-day grind of being a CIA agent. She appears to work out her frustration through online shopping, which is no crime (who among us could cast the first stone?) unless you’re doing it with other people’s slush money in the hopes of one day stealing off to St. Lucia to drown yourself in Daiquiris and luxury goods.
Miranda Otto was fantastic in the episode, letting her cool exterior melt just enough for us to get a glimpse inside. She’s complicated but also really shallow. She’s by no means as driven by messianic idealism as Carrie and Saul.
We are treated to a flashback that shows us how Carrie and Allison first met in 2005, when Carrie succeeded Allison at the Baghdad station. Nicholas Brody even makes a fleeting cameo appearance via a framed head shot hanging on the wall of the Baghdad station along with other missing military personnel under the proclamation “Let’s Bring Them Home.” Ah, Carrie.
Interesting to learn from the flashback that Carrie is introduced to her Baghdad comrades as what sounds like Carrie Orser. That name came up in last week’s episode too as Carrie met with her old Iraqi source. A garden-variety pseudonym? Or a bigger clue?
Also telling from the flashback is that Carrie’s look has barely changed in 10 years — off-the-rack business suits, wash-and-wear haircut — while Allison is much more polished and coiffed in the present day. In the flashback we see Allison as being more star struck than a good spy probably should be, with her framed photo-op pictures with Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other star diplomats.
Back in 2005, Ivan catches Allison red-handed in a scheme to escape to the Caribbean with boxes of cash with her Iraqi informant, Ahmed Nazari. Were Allison and Ahmed already lovers? Was she just using Ahmed to smuggle out millions of dollars? And what is the state of their relationship now? So many questions. What we do know is that this is same one-time CIA source dubbed Acrobat that Carrie discovered last week was not dead even though he was thought to have been killed in a bombing, as we see in the flashback. Ivan plays to Allison’s greed and ambition by offering to swap intelligence information with her that will make her look good and rise through the ranks. As we know, at some point this relationship turns romantic, because apparently “Alishka,” as Ivan calls her, can’t help herself.
Another intriguing Allison tidbit from the flashback comes when she’s shocked to find out she’s just been caught in a bear trap set by Ivan. She lets loose a foul exclamation in Hebrew slang of Arabic derivation: “Ya manyak,” which translates to “you a———.” That seems significant for her character — though I can’t figure out why just yet.
With all the back and forth between Allison and Carrie in various time periods, the pair’s meeting in the outdoor cafe where Carrie is in the crosshairs of a sniper didn’t have all that much tension. It wasn’t the most interesting exchange between the two them in this hour. And the decision to hold back the bullet with Carrie’s name on it felt like a cheap-ish trick. Presumably Allison was satisfied by Carrie’s request for information that she didn’t know enough yet to cause her trouble. But wouldn’t Allison want to remove the threat entirely while she had the chance? Maybe she just didn’t want to get blood splatters all over her silk blouse.
Saul, meanwhile, gets a lesson in having his bluff called. At the end of last week’s episode he’s rescued from being sent back to the U.S. to a CIA gulag by Mossad agents who bring him to Etai. Of course, all of this talk about defecting to Israel was just a feint, Saul jokes with his old pal, until a very intense female Mossad operative (I think her name was Tovah?) hustles into the room and stops Saul from going on his merry way to find Carrie. Because let’s face it, by now Saul has to have some suspicions about Allison. It’s the only link to all the strangeness that makes sense, and Saul ain’t dumb.
Don’t know the guest actress’ name but she was great in a brief but intense appearance that left you with the feeling that she’ll be back. Etai proves that his bond of friendship with Saul is made of steel, as he risks retribution from his masters by sneaking Saul out of his house before the CIA’s Dar Adal arrives to take him out. At first I questioned whether that was plausible but Adal has lost patience with a situation that can only make him look bad.
The cinematography in this episode was so well done. Carrie and Allison both looked incredibly haggard in their present-day scenes, bathed in the most unflattering lights. That helped provide contrast to the scenes that were supposed to depict both women 10 years earlier.
This episode didn’t have a whole lot of Mandy Patinkin but it had one priceless moment that is destined for a GIF. Saul shaking himself awake after Etai rouses him to hit the road was a masterpiece of jowl movements. Claire Danes also gave us a few chin quivers that are worthy additions to Carrie Mathison Facial Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
One big question that is clearly coming to a head — what’s up with Otto During? What’s his motivation, and has his view of Carrie really changed? A great human moment for Carrie in this episode came toward the end when she plaintively asks Otto if Jonas has inquired about her. Somehow I think before the end of this season Jonas is going to realize that there’s no crazy ex-girlfriend quite so crazy as an ex named Carrie Mathison.