Watching Homeland sometimes feels like trying to crack the Enigma code: Viewers are left very much in the dark to the overall plot, and Clare Danes’s performance as Carrie Mathison remains the single unshifting cipher from which to get one’s bearings. Consequently, when Carrie’s the center of the show, Homeland is an outstanding and methodically paced LeCarre-like thriller. At best, the other characters are used as blunt tools for political debate and critique, particularly when dealing with Carrie’s colleagues, like the During Foundation’s philanthropic founder, Otto During (Sebastian Koch). At worst, they end up like Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), who’s been pared down from a character with romantic feelings for Carrie into a blank workhorse of an assassin, a man who now thinks nothing of kidnapping the nine-year-old son of Carrie’s boyfriend, Jonas (Alexander Fehling), in a ploy to lure Carrie into the open. When the C.I.A.’s Berlin Station Chief, Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), climbs into bed with the C.I.A.’s European liaison, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), it’s shocking not because it’s implausible, but because it doesn’t fit with the fight they’ve been having in which each tries to have the other take the fall for the data breach that occurred in Germany.
In the long game, these scenes may add up, but right now, they exist in the bland narrative vacuum that comes from telling as opposed to showing. Granted, there’s a lot of crosstalk and maneuvering, such that it can be difficult to figure out what’s actually true, but Homeland doesn’t benefit from explicit scenes, like the dry videoconference between Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Saul that exists solely to confirm that the C.I.A. is trying to effect regime change, despite Saul’s earlier assurances to the Israeli ambassador that they most certainly aren’t. If it turns out that Carrie is still working for the C.I.A., as every character assumes, it’ll be a disappointment and betrayal her growth this season. (It’s also a card they’ve played before.)
Incidentally, it’s not impossible for Homeland to develop character and plot simultaneously: You can see the internal struggle between personal safety and public integrity when Numan (Atheer Adel), the man who accidentally hacked the C.I.A., attempts to leak the remainder of the information to reporter Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic). There’s even a brief moment of sorrow shared between the two based on the fact that both are expats, unable to return to their homelands: They’re motivated by the violations of free speech that left them isolated. Even when the files turn out to have been tampered with by Numan’s partner (Sven Schekler), who tries to make a deal with a Russian diplomat, there’s more to his unctuous actions than just the triumph of capitalism over the truth.
Likewise, the quality of acting on Homeland is such that even when the series is overcome with obvious polemic, it holds up. For instance, when Saul visits Otto so that he can question Carrie about her meeting with Hezbollah in the previous episode (the one that may or may not have led to a terrorist attack in Lebanon), the two men get into a debate about American exceptionalism, and how smudged the line is between social and terrorist causes, depending on where you’re standing. “One must always distinguish between legitimate revolt against occupation and outright terrorism,” Otto reminds Saul. “Is firing rockets against civilian targets legitimate, in your opinion?” screams Saul in the most ironic line of the episode, given that under Carrie’s watch in Kabul last season, at least 167 civilians were killed via drone strike.
That statistic—the death toll—is what “Super Powers” revolves around, for while the title might refer literally to the blithe actions of the United States, Germany, et al., it might also refer to religious ones. In an effort to protect her daughter from the unseen terrorist threat that targeted Carrie in Lebanon (the opening scene here, with Carrie standing by her sleeping child, is filmed through the lens of a horror movie’s foreboding calm), she chooses to stop taking her lithium so that she can make the most of the sweet spot of perception granted before her bipolar disorder overwhelms her. Her righteous revelation, spurred on by hallucinations of Aayan (Suraj Sharma), the medical student she seduced and led to his death in last season’s “From A to B and Back Again,” and a relapse into the drunkenness, is that the angels have come for her. “You can’t atone for that much blood,” she says to Jonas as she rocks back and forth in a circle of the photos of her victims, a mosaic of casualties. When she lashes out at him, tells him how he must think of her, he doesn’t correct her when she calls herself a war criminal.
As Carrie spirals downward, Danes goes through Dante’s Inferno’s worth of emotions and sins, from her initial confession to Jonas—whom she has asked to help monitor her—that she’s actually already been off the lithium for three days, to her abandonment of her daughter, and to the almost frenetic lust that overwhelms her: “Did I mention the sex is better?” And it’s not so much that being off the lithium helps her see better so much as it allows her to feel more, to take down the barriers that have been blinding her heart to what’s been in front of her the whole time. Jonas says he doesn’t know how she lives with herself, but viewers know: heavily medicated, with vodka fresh out of the freezer, and, as Otto accused Saul of earlier, by focusing only on the flaws of others and never your own.
Carrie’s final scenes of the episode are ugly ones: She’s cruel to Jonas and self-absorbed, but she’s also not wrong. She correctly identifies that Jonas’s son is being used as a pawn, even if it’s cruel to say as much to a panicked father, and manages to put a bullet into Quinn when he shows up to apprehend her. But Carrie’s been alone this whole season, and both literally and figuratively, has no super power to fall back on; the episode ends with her being drugged and once again abducted, her agency removed by the agency.
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