“Yesterday you told me I should be worried about the ISI,” Aayan (Suraj Sharma) shouts in the early stages of “About a Boy,” as Carrie (Claire Danes) tries to scare him into staying in the safe house. “Now, today, you’re telling me I should be worried about the C.I.A.!” “You should be worried,” she replies, “about both.” True enough: With the same terse, fragmented structure as “Iron in the Fire,” tonight’s episode of Homeland ably frames its accelerating narrative as a clash between competing intelligence agencies, one that threatens to ensnare unsuspecting innocents. “Lie, manipulate, exploit,” Fara (Nazanin Boniadi) comments, glossing the rules of the game. “We’re using the enemy’s own way to bring him down,” Quinn (Rupert Friend) confirms. “That is the job.”
Lying in bed next to Carrie the morning after she takes his virginity, Aayan seems innocent indeed, lifting the sheet to catch another glimpse of her naked body. Carrie’s eyeing Aayan too, but for strategic, not romantic, reasons: His recruitment is her sole purpose. The intensity of her commitment, we learn from her conversation with Saul (Mandy Patinkin), is related to the ticking clock; it’s only a matter of time before Aayan realizes he’s been duped. “Three days? To develop that kind of trust?” Saul says. “That’s a tall fuckin’ order.” But Carrie, ever mercurial, is a skilled interpreter of the human thermostat, and by responding to each fluctuation in Aayan’s mood, she eventually manages to win his allegiance. Indeed, as she recounted her role in Brody’s death without breaking her cover, I remembered that Carrie’s ability to gain people’s trust stems not from her aptitude for deception, but from her dexterity with the truth. She draws in Aayan as she drew in Brody, treating each as a fellow troubled soul, but in doing so she once again risks finding herself the victim of her own ruse. Her slow, still embrace with Aayan in the episode’s final image is a consummation of sorts, and perhaps a warning: She’s never able to stay above the emotional fray for very long.
Fara, too, appears innocent—in her case, innocent of the ugliness that accompanies espionage. Having come to Islamabad to pose as a journalist, she finds herself on a stakeout with Quinn, worrying over the sniper rifle he unpacks along with his camera. Seeing her brave a series of increasingly dangerous assignments has been one of Homeland’s foremost pleasures this season, as Fara’s discomfort with moral compromises of counterterrorism comes up against a spark of unforeseen excitement. Following the cleric she spotted with Haissam Haqqani last week, she and Quinn strike a compelling figure together. She’s stronger than she appears, approaching a checkpoint on the road to the tribal areas to place a tracker on the cleric’s car, while he’s softer, more humane, than his gruff bearing would suggest. It’s a fitting combination. As Quinn winds down his career in the agency and Fara plunges headlong into the deep end, their moments together in “About a Boy” have the feeling of a handoff from veteran to novice. “You’re in it now,” he says at the beginning of the stakeout. “And guess what? You’re good at it.”
Fara’s attempt to attach the tracker is thwarted, which is unfortunate because Saul’s in the trunk, and Carrie’s too busy “crapp[ing] the bed” and “fucking a child” (thanks, Quinn) to request a drone. How he got there is the latest salvo in the shadow war between ISI and C.I.A., and given Carrie’s relationship with Saul it promises to unleash the full measure of her wrath. Preparing to leave Islamabad, Saul sees Farhad Ghazi, the man who orchestrated Sandy Bachman’s murder, at the security checkpoint, and ultimately follows him into the men’s room. It turns out to have been a ploy all along: Tasleem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur), the ISI agent handling Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses), knew that Saul would take the bait, and now he’s on the road to who knows where. Qureshi, by turns brusque, calculating, and charming, is a Carrie-esque figure, and I anticipate their seemingly inevitable encounter will be a stemwinder.
In the meantime, she turns up in the bar where Dennis is tying one on just in time to keep him from spilling the beans to John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe), who brings the soused professor back to his exasperated wife. “There’s a theory,” Ambassador Martha Boyd (Laila Robins) tells Redmond, within earshot of Dennis. “Men secretly fear their wives are crazy, and women secretly fear their husbands are losers.” As I wrote last week, the animosity between the Boyds drives Dennis to a fateful decision, and he uses the key he received from Qureshi to break into Carrie’s Embassy-compound apartment and snap photographs related to her two deepest vulnerabilities: her daughter, and her illness. Maybe the unsuspecting innocents of “About a Boy” aren’t so innocent after all.
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