From the moment Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) first met President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) in Homeland's season-six premiere episode, “Fair Game,” he's been convinced that she poses a threat to American sovereignty. It's appropriate, then, that when he tunes into Keane's latest interview with ABC reporter Martha Raddatz, she's opening up about her soldier son and their differing opinions on the war that would later claim his life: “He was doing what he believed was right, and I was doing what I believed was right.”
Out of that difference of belief is born the most compelling of villains; after all, only a psychopath believes themselves to be anything other than good. Homeland isn't interested in such absolutes, and even the vulgar, out-of-uniform General McClendon (Robert Knepper) may be a hero in his own eyes; he calls Keane a “cunt” and chafes at the opportunity to bring her down, and he may be the type to detonate a bomb on American soil if it helps to legitimize what's seen as an necessary, existential war against Iran.
In the end, heroes are defined by history and perspective, and even crude or cruel individuals are remembered more by their overall accomplishments than by their individual actions, however odious. This is the psychological lens through which “Imminent Risk” operates, using new characters—a member of C.I.A.'s counterintelligence team, a caseworker for Children's Protective Services—to show us how easily even supposed “heroes” like Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) can be turned into villains when viewed from the outside.
Take, for instance, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), the former black-ops agent who was recruited so long ago by Dar. In a scene that darkly reflects the season-one episode “The Weekend,” Quinn reluctantly recuperates in a fetching lakeside cabin with his former lover, the German intelligence officer Astrid (Nina Hoss), and comes to understand that his freedom is part of a deal that's been worked out by Dar. If he stays off the radar, he can be a national security asset, but he'll be a national security risk if he returns to New York. “Do I look like a f-f-fucking risk to you?” he stammers at Astrid, his face a perfectly bruised and mangled reflection of his damaged body.
What Quinn knows is, sadly, irrelevant. All that matters is what others see when they look at him. He may be able to limp away from Astrid of his own volition, but he's helpless against claims that he isn't mentally well, like the moment where Astrid quickly explains his condition to a man who drives up to them and initially volunteers to drive Quinn into town. This is the point where Quinn realizes he's lost control of his own narrative, with the camera lingering on his haunted eyes and Astrid a controlling blur in the background.
The episode plunges head-on into the murkiness of doubt that even the show’s heroes act like villains.
Courtesy of an impromptu visit from Dar, he's also stripped of the last good thought he had, as he learns that it was Carrie's choice to wake him from his coma (in last season's “Our Man in Damascus”) that led via cerebral hemorrhage to his current mental state. As Dar puts it, recontextualizing the perspective: “You think she's been taking care of you all these months out of love? It sounds a lot more like guilt if you ask me.” Cruel as it may be for Dar to crush Quinn's dreams, Ron Nyswaner's script focuses on what Dar believes is a righteous cause, regardless of its villainous effect: You can hear the affection he still has for Quinn (which prevents him from outright killing his former asset), and when he speaks about the hold Carrie has over both Quinn and Saul (Mandy Patinkin), he sounds like a spurned lover. He's doing what he believes is right, or at least what he maintains is necessary.
Such justifications from Dar also dictate how he handles another potentially sticky situation: an upcoming meeting between Saul and Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), the head of Iranian intelligence, secretly visiting America under a false name. To prevent this meeting from “unraveling” his plans, Dar requests that the C.I.A's deputy of counterintelligence (Orlagh Cassidy) “debrief” (i.e., lightly interrogate) Saul about his time in the West Bank, conveniently delaying him under a kindly veneer. Dar has less courteous intentions for Javadi, placing him in the clutches of the fanatic Nasser (Anthony Azizi), a former comrade of Javadi's who relishes pulling out the man's fingernails almost as much as bragging about how the C.I.A. has sold Javadi out.
The entire scenario shows just how far Dar is willing to go to protect the false-flag operation he's cooked up with Mossad about Iran: He'll subject a deep cover C.I.A. asset to torture, but he seems almost apologetic about detaining Saul. If the phone call he places to the Watch-Cap-Wearing Man (C.J. Wilson) is any indication of his meddling in previous episodes, he has no problem ordering the murder of an F.B.I. agent like Ray Conlin (in last week's “The Return”) but seems reluctant to physically harm Carrie.
Then again, death might be less cruel than what Dar subjects Carrie to: an audit from Children's Protective Services, courtesy of one of their caseworkers, Kristine Sloaness (Marin Hinkle). To viewers who've spent significant time with Carrie, Kristine may seem like a witch-hunting villain, a false-faced operative who guts people with a calming smile. The kicker here, however, is that nothing Kristine says to the judge ruling on Carrie's capacity as a guardian is a lie. Even one of Carrie's closest confidants, Max (Maury Sterling), who installs video surveillance on her property, can't fully understand why she doesn't go to the police, so is it any wonder that those who don't know her history with Quinn would question why she'd leave a child in the care of a mentally disturbed war veteran? Although we've seen Carrie remain cool under pressure, what do we honestly expect a judge to think upon hearing that a woman under medication for bipolar disorder is expressing paranoid concerns and sleeping in her daughter's room with a loaded gun?
Unable to talk to her daughter, Carrie even begins to doubt herself; we can readily see the palpable fear in her eyes as she insists that she's a good mother, as it becomes harder for her to suggest that, given her own conspiratorial fears, Franny is fine: “Traumatized is a strong word,” says Carrie to Kristine at one point. Again, people don't see themselves as the villains, and when Carrie is labeled the titular “imminent risk,” her child stripped from her custody, it's no wonder that she relapses into her old habits, downing that unopened, once-celebratory bottle of champagne in her refrigerator.
This episode sees Homeland at its most compelling, plunging so completely head-on into the murkiness of doubt that even the show's heroes act like villains. By the end of “Imminent Risk,” Carrie is drunkenly crossing an ethical line by asking Keane to intervene with C.P.S. on her behalf, going so far as to bring up Keane's own lost child. Even Saul is compromised: He now knows, thanks to the escaped Javadi, that Mossad has been making up the story about Iran's parallel nuclear program. But he's also stuck helping the murderous, erratic Javadi clean up the dead body of a loyal soldier, Amir Bastami (Alain Washnevsky): “No loose ends. You taught me that, Saul.” Regardless of Saul's intentions to expose a traitorous rot at the center of the C.I.A., is it really safe to bring a man like Javadi anywhere near President-elect Keane, or is Saul just as bad at trying to be a hero as everyone else?
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