“Homeland” delivered its strongest episode of season six to date last week with the paranoia-fueled romp “Alt.Truth.” This week’s installment, “Sock Puppets,” falls on the other end of the quality spectrum thanks to plot developments that are too hokey to be believed.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen the March 19 episode of “Homeland.”
Claire Danes’ performance in the opening sequence is the best thing that “Sock Puppets,” written by Chip Johannessen and Evan Wright and directed by Dan Attias, has to offer.
Danes’ Carrie Mathison is meeting with a psychiatrist-type, an evaluation that is necessary before she can schedule a supervised visit with her daughter, Franny, who was taken away by a New York City child welfare agency a few episodes back.
The scene opens as if it’s an interrogation room, with Carrie shot from the shoulders up against a dismal-gray background. Eventually the camera pulls back and we see her sitting in a classic shrink-office setting, talking to a man with a salt-and-pepper beard about her “intense” relationships with both Franny’s father and Peter Quinn. It’s a remarkably candid moment for Carrie, especially with a stranger. She’s open about the fact that at first Franny’s red hair was a painful reminder that her daughter’s father, Nicholas Brody, is gone in part because Carrie pushed him into a doomed mission in Iran. It’s impossible to watch that scene and not think of the shocking moment from season four when Carrie was bathing infant Franny.
After this, sad to say the episode goes downhill. Fast.
Dar Adal pulls a double-cross on the Iranian major-general Majid Javadi who pulled a double-cross on Carrie and Saul last week, making them look like fools in front of President-elect Keane. Javadi thinks Adal is going to help him get a wad of cash and safe passage out of the United States so he can get lost somewhere now that he’s been outed in his native land as a double-agent.
But Adal’s real plan is to deliver Javadi to his friends in Mossad who are in league with Adal’s effort to convince Keane that Iran is cheating on the nuclear agreement.
We’re expected to believe that as Javadi is being subdued by Mossad agents in his hotel suite, he has the time to take out his phone, ring up Carrie and shout about how he “should have stuck with Carrie and Saul” while the Mossad dudes stuff him in a laundry bin.
Carrie quickly rings up Saul, who has the call tracked. Carrie and Saul high-tail it to Javadi’s hotel suite, where they miraculously find Javadi’s phone at the bottom of the laundry bin. The phone conveniently has more video evidence that Iran is not cheating on the deal and that Mossad and the CIA are in on the plot to make it look like Iran is violating the agreement. Somehow, the Mossad agents forgot to take Javadi’s phone when they were scooping up their prey.
Going from bad to worse, we suddenly cut to Carrie and Saul standing stern-faced in front of Keane, playing the video evidence for the President-elect. This is the same woman who declared last week that she “never should have listened” to Carrie after Javadi pulled a fast one and lied about Iran’s nefarious parallel program in North Korea when Carrie and Saul thought he was going to tell her just the opposite.
Keane had just met with Adal to offer a fist-bump and a mea culpa for her doubts about the CIA and Iran’s ambition. She tells Adal the whole story of the Carrie-Saul-Javadi farce — and Adal acts like it’s the first he’s heard of it. Keane even invites him to suggest candidates for a tough-on-defense Secretary of State candidate. After all this, Keane barely blinks and now embraces Carrie and Saul’s version of events. They also tell her about the Sekou bombing theory, that the delivery van bomb was planted to stir up renewed fears of terrorism to combat her agenda to toning down the post-9/11 police state. Reversing course again, Keane declares Adal to be “an obsequious little s—” and vows to shut down his extracurricular adventures.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s mental state has deteriorated even further after last week’s shootout at the upstate New York cabin where he was stashed by Adal. We find him sitting next to dead Astrid, her body propped up on the couch with a blanket over her as if she’s taking a nap. He waits until the local cops are literally busting through the door to hobble his way out to the car to get away. But not before dabbing his finger in Astrid’s bloody chest and wiping it on his lip. He heads back into the big city on a mission to confront Adal. When Quinn finds him, Adal sidesteps a bullet in his face by declaring his “love” for his protege. He gets pistol-whipped instead, and then — thanks to an ill-conceived phone call to Burly Knit Cap guy who murdered Astrid — Quinn lurches off to find him.
Finally, Max the computer genius continues his support of Carrie and Saul’s rogue mission by applying for a job at the “black box” data processing center where the dearly departed FBI Agent Ray Conlin visited before meeting his untimely death several episodes ago. Who comes out to grill Max on his resume and its gaps but the Diet Coke-swilling Brett O’Keefe, the conservative firebrand who prepped a “fake news” assault on President-elect Keane’s son that still has yet to surface.
It turns out the vague menace at the center is a fake news farm — a roomful of partisan Internet trolls clicking away at keyboards to maintain hundreds of fake online personas, aka “sock puppets,” to push a radical-right political agenda. Max has all the keystroke skills to help them move the goods. It’s a creepy place full of stone-faced millennials and a Nurse Ratched-type overseer.
The second-best scene of this episode is some vicious banter between Saul and Carrie on a park bench. Keane and her incoming head of the Justice Department have decided that the only way to bring Adal down is not by pursuing the mounting evidence of his treasonous campaign regarding Iran but for failure to disclose the big security breach from last season that hit the CIA’s Berlin station. Of course, that would mean throwing career shade on Saul and his blindspot last season with Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), who turned out to be a Russian double agent. Carrie has a Big Dilemma to tackle in the remaining three episodes of this season.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have been f—–g a Russian mole,” Carrie snaps as Saul laments the irreparable damage to his career if she goes on the record about Berlin. “Coming from someone who f—-d a guy in a suicide vest, that means a lot,” Saul snaps back. Nicholas Brody sure does cast a long shadow on this show. In the midst of their battling, Carrie gets the news that she can finally see Franny the following day at 3 p.m.
It wouldn’t be “Homeland” if some big, scary national security emergency doesn’t come up in the next 24 hours to possibly derail Carrie from making this meeting. It will surely be a test of whether Carrie heeded the advice from the psychiatrist about how to think about her work-life balance. As any parent who’s ever rescheduled their lives, moved heaven and earth, and fought traffic with a stick to make it in time for the school concert (or play or game or science fair or honors presentation) knows all too well, sometimes the kid “has to come first.”
Weak episodes of great shows are glaring in their shortcomings because the bar is so high. But nobody bats a thousand. Undoubtedly, “Homeland” will return to form by the time the curtain falls on season six.