It’s no surprise that Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) survived his exposure to sarin gas, as last week’s episode of Homeland lingered on the wavering faith of his jailor, Qasim (Alireza Bayram), and explained how atrophine could be used as a counteragent. Nor is it shocking that, having found a way to save Quinn, the writers quickly come up with a means for his rescue, this time by way of a fancy algorithm that Carrie (Claire Danes) and Astrid (Nina Hoss) are able to run off the little information they have about Quinn’s captor, Bibi (Rene Ifrah), and the particular type of mosaic tiling on the floor outside Peter’s cell. These events are unlikely, and Homeland falters when it focuses on the contrivances of its big-picture plotting, but they lead “New Normal” to a powerful ending, as Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) sit silently beside one another in the hospital, watching Quinn’s intubated body. Terrorists may be about to unleash an attack somewhere in Berlin, but it’s this small-picture human element that matters most.
The best scenes occur when the characters work against their own interests—specifically, when they’re allowed to be erratic as opposed to deliberate. Saul clearly has aspirations of getting Allison (Miranda Otto) to confess to being a traitor when he convinces Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) to give him one final shot at her, but the smugness with which Allison deflects his questions, claiming that the long-dead David Estes knew about her operation, causes him to snap, lifting her by the throat against a wall. “What do you think happened to them?” he asks, listing the various operatives who’ve died as a result of her actions, to say nothing of her attempts on Carrie’s life. “You are a fucking sociopath,” he roars, before Dar’s agents can pull him off her. He’s breathing heavily as they drag him to another room, and that’s not the tone of an interrogator so much as the anguish of a betrayed lover lashing back at a person who managed to wound him in a place—his heart—that he’d thought was fully protected.
It’s a wise choice, too, to have both Carrie and Astrid, two tightly composed intelligence operatives who love Quinn, analyze the video of demands released by ISIS. As a citizen, watching the edited footage released over the news, Carrie is horrified by the sight of Quinn being exposed to the sarin gas. Even as objective operatives, both Carrie and Astrid have trouble watching the unedited video, and yet they press on, driven by the need to find some hidden clue. Only their mutual support (at one point they clench hands) gets them through repeated viewings of the thing they’d least like to watch, with Astrid offering Carrie absolution for what she sees as her part in Quinn’s abduction: “Quinn never did anything he didn’t want to, that’s the truth.”
Another successful pairing is the one between cousins and would-be terrorists Bibi and Qasim. On one level, they’re still stuck advancing a philosophical discussion of the righteousness and effectivity of their cause, with Bibi explaining that “They might not listen to us this time, or the next, but the time after that, sooner than they think, they will realize that denying us will cost them more than they are willing to pay” and Qasim questioning whether he wishes to serve a cause that is willing to make people—innocent or not—pay that much.
But “New Normal” puts Bibi’s dedication to the test when his colleague, Utku (Erol Afsin), finds a broken atrophine canister, proof that a member of their cell helped the American to survive. Body language and subtext suggests that Bibi knows, almost immediately, that his intellectual cousin was the traitor, but he helps Qasim cover it up, pinning the blame on Zaheer (Tamer Arslan). The only complaint about this well-acted sequence is that Homeland needlessly makes this all explicit at the episode’s end. “You switched my kit,” says Qasim. “Because you’re blood, and Zaheer is not,” replies Bibi, though this much was already obvious when he chose to shoot a loyal spiritual brother.
And then there’s the plight of Faisan Marwan (Ercan Durmaz), the first of the Plötzensee prisoners Germany was embarrassed into releasing who hasn’t turned out to actually be an extremist. Instead, as discovered by the During Foundation’s lawyer, Jonas (Alexander Fehling), he was the owner of an electronics store whose wares happened to be purchased by people who called Syria. As Laura (Sarah Sokolovic) sarcastically puts it, he was suddenly “a terrorist mastermind supplying communications equipment to a network of jihadis.”
That said, Marwan reveals that while imprisoned alongside Hajik (the terrorist Quinn killed in self-defense at the end of “Parabiosis”), he overheard something about a planned attack in Berlin, and suddenly everything changes. (The reaction shots from Laura and Jonas are outstanding; viewers can practically see the conversations that they’re flashing back to, be it Astrid’s warning to Laura in “The Tradition of Hospitality” or any of Carrie’s conspiracy theories.)
In light of ISIS’s televised threat, the question of what Marwan might not even realize he knows ideologically divides Sarah and Jonas: Do they have a responsibility to their client, who’s already been grossly mistreated, or to the government? Implied, too, is whether Marwan—who claims to have loyally followed the contract between state and citizen—has an obligation to volunteer himself. It’s the same basic ticking-time-bomb scenario that’s comprises the dramatic meat of most shows that deal with stopping terrorist plots, but it’s elevated here because Marwan is depicted from the get-go as a human first, not just some plot device.
Marwan is a victim, and it’s easy to sympathize with him, whereas it’s hard to get entirely behind a government that keeps doing wrong, even if it’s for the right reasons. Sarah points out two clear examples, first in how the U.S. responded to 9/11 (“We wanted to get the bastards who hurt us. So we did. We started two wars, tens of thousands of people died, on both sides. And for what?”) and in how Germany is currently responding to the threat by rounding up Muslims, “anyone with a skullcap.” Otto During (Sebastian Koch) hopes to find compromise between his two employees by directly reaching out to Saul and asking for his word that Marwan will not be arrested and interrogated only in the presence of his lawyer.
Sarah scoffs at such a deal, and she’s right to be suspicious. After all, there’s an underlying thesis behind “New Normal,” and it makes Bibi’s “sooner than they think” expectation come across as naïve. The citizens are no more in a position to force the government to give into ISIS’s demands than are the local populations of the areas in which ISIS has taken control. In a video conference with their higher-ups in the government, Dar and Saul ask whether they should identify Berlin as the target: “The idea was raised and rejected,” the suit replies. “We can’t give these assholes license to send our cities into mass panic whenever they feel like it. It’s the new normal, gentlemen.” As with Quinn’s survival, then, here’s another non-surprise: Marwan is bustled off at the episode’s end—sans lawyer—by two vans full of angry German agents. Both ideologies will continue to advance their causes, regardless of the cost to humanity. Given that sort of dire struggle, the only winner may be a series like Homeland, which finds a way to dramatize it.
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