From Gandhi to Mandela, wise men have often said something to the effect of a nation’s greatness being measured not by how it treats its strongest, but by its weakest members. That concept takes on special meaning in the context of this week’s episode of Homeland, “The Tradition of Hospitality,” in which Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) escorts her boss, the wealthy philanthropist Otto During (Sebastian Koch), to a refugee camp along the Lebanese/Syrian border. Throughout, director Lesli Linka Glatter chooses shots that emphasize the separation between the haves and have-nots as well as the connections between sleek, industrious Germany and ancient, ruined Lebanon.
For one, the cadaverous, gaping space that Carrie walks through en route to a meeting with Waleed (Assaad Bouab), the Hezbollah general guaranteeing her safety in Lebanon, brings the grandiose emptiness of the church Carrie’s been praying in to mind. For another, while During’s intentions may be pure (though his insistence on taking care of some questionable business deals while in the area suggests otherwise), at the literal end of the day, he’s attending a rooftop soiree at Beirut’s swankiest hotel, quivering at the sound of gunfire from the streets below, even though Carrie assures him it’s probably just the way the locals on the ground celebrate a wedding.
Despite the influx of nearly a thousand needy souls per day, both Colonel Haugen (Tobias Santelmann) and the camp’s shadow commander, Waleed, make special concessions to ensure that During is well-treated during his visit. The refugee camp is a mess, with Haugen only able to point out a sliver-thin “safe zone” and even Waleed admitting the camp is “overrun by scum” like Al-Qaeda. A nation, then, that fails its neediest is far from great, and should realize it’s almost impossible to force order on desperate (and disparate) people. Carrie, the former Drone Queen of Afghanistan, has spent enough time away from that bird’s-eye view to understand this. In fact, one of this season’s greatest strengths is the way it uses spycraft to inform the narrative. Rather than rushing headlong through plot, the writers spend time cautiously letting a scenario unfold, giving over to action instead of character only when absolutely necessary—as when Carrie’s team spots a suicide bomber (and later, an IED).
An echo of this scene can be seen, to some degree, when Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic), the reporter who leaked news of the U.S.’s backdoor agreement to extra-legally spy on the Germans for Germany, is arrested by the German equivalent of the C.I.A.. To begin with, Laura is abducted from the street in broad daylight in basically the same fashion Hezbollah took Carrie in the season premiere. She’s then threatened with deportation, despite the fact that, of the two people in the interrogation room, she’s not the one who was caught breaking the law, but is the one willing to defend the privacy and rights of her sources (i.e., citizens). As Laura points out, if Germany’s resources are stretched so thin that they can’t legally protect their citizens, then why were they able to send five men to arrest her, of all people? Just as a nation can be judged on how it treats the poor, so, too, can it be judged on the people it prioritizes as threats—in this case, a childish hacker with the name Gabehcuod, and a journalist.
It helps that there’s a lot of Carrie in Laura’s character to help bind these two admittedly loose parallels together. Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), the Berlin station chief for the C.I.A., is right that Laura would let the world burn, but not necessarily in pursuit of a Pulitzer Prize so much as out of dedication to a higher purpose: the truth. There’s a bit of irony, too, in the way that people like Allison and her supervisor, the C.I.A.’s Europe liaison, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), criticize others for doing the very things they later do when it personally affects them. Our hospitality, the series suggests, extends only so far as it remains comfortable, and so for all the cordiality with which Saul informs Allison that she’s going to have to take the fall for the leak that’s exposed the Germans (rightly so, as she was monitoring traffic as the breach occurred), she in turn suggests to Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) that it’s Saul who ought to be ousted from Germany.
These scenes, however, are the weakest part of Homeland, because they seem distracted and routine, disconnected from any real emotional investment. This is particularly true of scenes involving Saul’s disavowed wetworks operative, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), who’s all business. There’s a thin tie to the overall plot, in that he spends the episode tracking a mild-mannered fundamentalist who’s preying on young, damaged girls and turning them into suicide bombers. “When Allah chooses us for important work, we must submit,” she says, and the smile of relief that washes over her listener’s face is frightening—that our countries can be so inhospitable at times that it takes little more than a moment of kindness to convince someone that nihilism and a fast-track to paradise is the only option. Her death at the hands of Quinn—or his pistol—is meaningless though; there will always be another name in the dead-drop, another target. It’s the equivalent of spinning wheels, and it’s hard for Homeland to make this point effectively when Quinn has nobody to interact with.
By contrast, then, Homeland is firing on all cylinders when it focuses on what all of this endless terrorism means to the individual players, particularly Carrie. When she reminisces about her first posting to Beirut (in 2004), she wistfully tells During that she wasn’t terrified of the unrest: “I was younger. And I was alone. There wasn’t anyone waiting for me back at home.” There’s that sense of hospitality again, the idea that a country is made great, if not defined, by service to others. Carrie’s no longer simply putting her own life in danger so much as she’s looking toward her future and the safety of others, and so she declines During’s very expensive wine (she’s nine months sober!) and anchors herself with a late-night call to her boyfriend, Jonas (Alexander Fehling), one of the two people waiting for her back at home.
At the same time, she’s perhaps too affected by the traumas of her past to move forward. Violence excites Carrie to a certain extent, maybe because it reminds her of her freedom and youth, just as some fetishists are triggered by objects and scenarios that remind them of their first sexual awakening. Although she saves During from a multi-part terrorist attack, she stays behind in Lebanon, driven by a need to get a sense for what happened in the refugee camp. Her sobbing in the bathroom is the sign of a self-obsessed adrenaline junkie relapsing; she even calls out in prayer, giving herself over to a higher power: “Oh, please, please, God help me.” This is the shambolic Carrie who’s left after her many years of service, and her country’s greatness is deeply tarnished for not taking better care of her and its other fallen heroes. If Carrie, and not During, was indeed the intended target of the twin bombings in the camp, then she may be doomed: We’ve seen the sort of hospitality afforded to refugees.
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