“Our Man in Damascus” takes place over the course of five hours, as the BND and C.I.A. race to find and defuse a canister of Sarin gas that’s been placed somewhere in Berlin. In the episode’s strongest sections, Carrie (Claire Danes) methodically sorts through the various clues dropped throughout the season, and in its weaker stretches, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and his largely incompetent C.I.A. agents rush through a spread of undeveloped and inconsistent characters, demonstrating the dangers of “extraordinary measures.” The cool, tense logic of the former is at loggerheads with the hot, reckless action of the latter. (Perhaps the title of the episode hints at that, given the shift of “Our Man in Damascus” from the deliberate pace of prior episodes, so redolent of a LeCarre novel, and toward the entertainment of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, which pokes fun at how stupid intelligence agencies can be.)
To some extent, the episode’s fast pace turns many of these complaints into nitpicks, though pacing is a short-term solution that doesn’t address some of the consistently lazy habits the writers continue to employ. Allison (Miranda Otto) remains an inconsistent character; the ease with which she murders her babysitter, C.I.A. agent Conrad Fuller (Morocco Omari), is at odds with the lengths to which she’s previously gone to avoid direct bloodshed. Russia’s motive for asking Allison to help the ISIS attack succeed is also thinly explained by her new handler, who suggests that “civilization is facing an existential threat; the West needs a wake-up call.”
Moreover, there’s no logical reason why Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) would accept Allison’s evidence of the supposed terror target, especially after Carrie offers up evidence to the contrary. It’s exciting that all of these events lead to Carrie, alone, heroically rushing after a terrorist in a Berlin train station tunnel, but after the adrenaline of the scene wears off, it’s disappointing to have to think of all the bad habits that got us to this point.
Homeland does pay off a lot of loose ends in this episode, as Carrie once again confronts Al-Amin (George Georgiou), the Hezbollah militant who helped her in “Separation Anxiety,” and through him finds Hussein (Mehdi Nebbou), the independent good Samaritan and doctor turned slumlord who patched Quinn up in “Parabiosis.” This takes her to the flat of Qasim (Alireza Bayram), cousin of the terror cell’s leader, Bibi (Rene Ifrah), and it’s there that she’s able to determine—from the urban planning literature and selfies—that the attack is actually happening in a train station and not, as Allison claims, an airport.
The majority of Homeland’s remaining plots are either swiftly abandoned or muddled in the chaos of the pending attack. Saul, for instance, rushes to the BND to check on Faisal Marwan (Ercan Durmaz) after Otto During (Sebastian Koch) reminds him that he’d given his personal word that Marwan would be treated fairly. Instead of helping Marwan, however, Saul’s insistence that Marwan must know something leads the frightened man to leap out of a window, opting for certain death rather than the uncertainty of once again being falsely imprisoned by the German government.
For a moment, Saul seems shaken and uncertain about his purpose, as his threats drove a man to suicide, but Saul simply washes his hands of the whole affair and tells Astrid (Nina Hoss) to clean things up: “I think I’ve had enough for one day.” This resigned hand-flailing comes across as if the writers, too, have simply given up, and while it might be fine to leave Marwan as a feebly sketched victim (these types of shows are filled with such stock characters), it’s a disservice to the audience to so flippantly gloss over Saul’s reaction.
Further muddling the narrative are the latest shenanigans from Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic), whose latest demands for government transparency are almost comically naïve, given that her last ones directly enabled this terrorist threat. Laura even admits to her on-air interviewer that she has no argument to make against the government’s desperate actions. “Of course it’s tough,” she says. “Everyone’s scared. I’m scared. But that can’t make us forget who we are.” This is a regurgitation of the same thing she’s said all season, a lazy way for the show’s writers to once again emphasize their thesis.
It’s also the same thing that happens in a particularly contrived scene between Qasim and Dr. Aziz (Rachid Sabitri) that does nothing to advance the plot. Instead, it’s just a veiled opportunity for the writers to criticize foreign policies as Aziz explains that he, an atheist, is helping the Islamic State not for the caliphate, but for personal accountability (he hasn’t forgiven the “good Germans” who took him in for unequivocally supporting Israel’s 2006 bombing of his Lebanese homeland). Both his and Laura’s arguments feel like discarded remnants from a collegiate thesis; their beliefs certainly ring of truth, but they feel emotionally inert in how they’re delivered, perhaps because these threads seem so disconnected from the main plot that powers this season of the series.
A more effective condemnation of the C.I.A.’s methods is shown in the opening scene, when Saul and Carrie convince a reluctant doctor to wake Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) from his coma, despite the risk of “massive seizures, cerebral hemorrhage, death.” Quinn is a well-developed, much-loved character on Homeland, and the actions his own friends take against him in order to get answers speak louder than any of Laura’s plaintive words.
In fact, the whole scene is informed by the things that are unsaid: the pitiable sight of Quinn struggling to breathe when the tube is removed from his trachea; the emotional crack in Carrie’s voice as she tries to talk Quinn back into consciousness (“I’m here waiting for you”) that she’s forced to turn into a series of all-business demands for actionable intelligence (“Where’s the target?”). If Quinn were able to answer, that might somehow justify the C.I.A.’s actions; it’s telling, then, that the writers choose not to let the C.I.A. off the hook. Quinn opens his mouth, as if to speak, but instead vomits blood and goes into respiratory arrest.
In other words, Homeland should talk less, and trust that intimate scenes will serve to demonstrate or explain the larger themes. It’s not the threat spoken by Allison’s handler that flips her; it’s the way her fellow C.I.A. and BND operatives stare at her during a briefing as if she’s a dead spy walking. Qasim doesn’t need to tell Dr. Aziz that he’s wavering: His inability to seal one of the train station gates after catching sight of both a young woman wearing a hijab and a father carrying his young daughter does that for us. The most vital bits of drama are sometimes best left unsaid.
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