What the fucking fuck?
So exclaims C.I.A. director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) as the shit hits the fan in the riveting “There’s Something Else Going On,” an hour of looming catastrophe that counts among Homeland’s finest. Sanding down the narrative detritus accumulated over the course of four seasons until all that remains is the lonely image of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) stranded on an airfield’s tarmac, the episode returns the series to the relationship with which it began, between the old hand and his brilliant protégé. In this sense, Lockhart’s words express not only the shock of seeing Haissam Haqqani’s (Numan Acar) conspiracy come to fruition, but also the understanding to which Homeland has been building all season. On the ground and at the U.S. embassy, in offices, interrogation rooms, operations centers, and prison cells, “There’s Something Else Going On” confronts the terror of fighting a war with no victor.
Both the prisoner exchange negotiated by Haqqani, the C.I.A., and the ISI to secure Saul’s release and the investigation of Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses) excavate the deep structure of American power and the blowback it generates, forcing Carrie and her former boss to ask, finally, if the price is one they’re willing to pay. “Fourteen years of war and this is what it’s come to?” she says, imploring him with wild, tear-filled eyes. “Asking a child to blow you to kingdom come and for what? For fucking what? This is not who we are. This is not who you are.” Carrie’s vacillations on this point, an evolving assessment of means and ends that witnesses her willing to sacrifice Saul to punish Haqqani (“From A to B and Back Again”) and to betray Saul’s own wishes to save his life (“Halfway to a Donut”), reflect Homeland’s refusal to draw a bright line between the justifiable and the reprehensible. As ever, Carrie’s choices occur in the absence of moral and strategic clarity, pieced together from spotty intelligence, rapid analysis, limited resources, ideology, politics, emotion, and intuition—always already compromised, in other words, by the original sin of the War on Terror, which was to frame the actions of the United States as somehow separable from their consequences.
In short, Homeland functions as a closed system in which American might fosters radical resistance, which in turn leads to further intervention, which only deepens the anti-American resolve. Against Nicholas Brody, Abu Nazir, and Haissam Haqqani, Carrie and Saul wage a Sisyphean struggle, with each temporary success dwarfed by the larger failure, and “There’s Something Else Going On” elicits their acknowledgment that such an arrangement is madness. As Carrie, with an assist from John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe), attempts to pry a confession from Dennis Boyd, it’s startling to see how empty her bluster has become. “You are a traitor, and I am the fucking C.I.A.,” she says at one point, mocking the Constitution in the process, but the extralegal impunity she implies is nothing more than a ruse. Indeed, the episode refers to the U.S.’s suspect counterterrorism tactics (drone strikes, black sites, illegal surveillance, torture) not as necessary lapses of principle, but as the driving force behind the attacks they’re designed to prevent.
Thus Carrie’s moral grandstanding comes up against her own complicity in the circular machinery of terror. (“You think we behave badly?” she says, playing video of Sandy Bachman’s murder for Dennis Boyd. “This is how the other side behaves.”) Her conversation with Saul’s wife, Mira (Sarita Choudhury), is a potent reminder that we’ve hitched ourselves to a heroine whose ruthlessness matches that of her adversaries. As Mira suggests, the C.I.A. considers human lives “expendable,” and Carrie, though she may not realize it, toes the party line. “Mira, listen to me, do not worry,” Carrie assures her. “Lockhart is not running the exchange tomorrow. I am.” “I’m talking about you,” Mira replies.
Both Carrie and Saul embody the contradiction at the heart of the War on Terror, in which sympathy for those destroyed enables further destruction and the participants grieve the dead by causing death. Carrie reacts to Aayan’s murder by ordering an airstrike; Saul rages against the injustice of a young boy in a suicide vest by crying out for its detonation; Haqqani plans to expose American crimes by invading the U.S. embassy. By the end of “There’s Something Else Going On,” in which Dennis confesses to his wife, Ambassador Martha Boyd (Laila Robins), that he has been reporting to the ISI’s Tasneem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur), Aasar Khan (Raza Jaffrey) risks his position in the ISI by passing information to Carrie, RPGs rain down on Carrie and Saul’s convoy, and Haqqani’s men stand poised to mount their most devastating attack yet, this season’s Alice in Wonderland conceit seems inadequate to express the essential meaninglessness of it all. Lockhart’s more vulgar, desperate, and terrifying construction is much closer to the truth: What the fucking fuck?
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