For a series that’s ostensibly about carefully and laboriously handling and processing intelligence, Homeland has spent more time than usual this season dealing with coincidences. Thankfully, this week’s installment, “Parabiosis,” demonstrates that it’s possible for the series to have both an implausible cake and analytically eat it too.
The man seen helping an extremely woozy and anemic Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) in “Better Call Saul” turns out to be a genuinely nice guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Hussein (Mehdi Nebbou) appears to have no ulterior motives in patching Quinn up, and even goes so far to give him some of his own blood; for him, it’s a way to honor his wife’s legacy, to do Allah’s work, and to continue to practice medicine, even if Germany won’t honor his Syrian license.
However, as Hussein is a property manager with ties to the Islamic community, his apartment happens to be the one which Hajik Zayd (Jarreth Merz), one of the Muslims who Germany had to release after their evidence against them was revealed to have been illegally obtained, has chosen as his base of operation. It’s here that Quinn overhears Hajik plotting a retributory attack against the Germans based on his mortifying experience in their custody—the very thing that Astrid warned Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic) would happen after Laura published her exposé on the leaked C.I.A. documents back in “The Tradition of Hospitality.” And yet, “Parabiosis” serves as a hopeful parallel to that episode, for Hussein continues to defend Quinn and probably would do so even if he knew that Quinn’s wetwork in Syria might have collaterally led to the bombing of his clinic.
Quinn is still a problematic character, mainly because he’s a passive, order-following plot device who’s used to set the rest of the show’s intrigue into play. But in his self-contained half of the episode, as a man struggling to come to terms with his past after having essentially being saved from suicide (similar to Carrie’s conversation with the avenging “angels” in “Super Powers”), Quinn is forced to take responsibility for himself. This version of the character, No Shits Quinn, now has a redemptive arc: shamed, perhaps, by the way Hussein selflessly (and feebly) offers to protect him with little more than a kitchen knife, or figuratively transformed by Hussein’s blood transfusion.
Either way, Quinn appears to be done being a puppet. When Hajik accuses him of being a spy, he neither confirms nor denies it, and instead turns the room against Hajik by suggesting the man’s terrorist plot is nothing more than a coward’s attempt to be re-arrested before having to martyr himself for his cause. Whether Hajik’s plot succeeds or not is irrelevant to this version of Quinn: When he tells Hajik that his plan doesn’t make sense, he’s also acknowledging that most of his own actions over the last several years don’t add up. (This is the very thing he told a room full of U.S. politicians in “Separation Anxiety.”)
That said, Quinn isn’t willing to lie down and die either. As he attempts to leave, passively supported by Hussein and even Hajik’s own men, Hajik brutishly snarls, “I’m gonna cut off your prick and shove it down your throat.” It’s markedly uncivil, but even wounded, Quinn manages to defend himself, killing Hajik in the process. There’s a bit of political commentary here too. With the loudest, craziest voice in the room now “martyred,” the reinjured Quinn is invited to spend another night: “You’ll be safe now.” In other words, there are plenty of people who disagree with the terrorists, but who are cowed into submitting to them. Rational behavior cannot exist in a vacuum of coercion.
The remainder of “Parabiosis” benefits from addressing its coincidences head-on, thanks to the brief reunion of Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin). Their meeting doesn’t initially go well: Saul, acting irrationally for a rare change, is still too angry to process the information Carrie is feeding him (“Want to tell me why the Russians give a shit whether you’re alive or dead?”) and remains stone-faced even after learning someone attempted to subvert his and Quinn’s kill-box operation to murder Carrie. “I risked my life coming here,” she says. “Well, you shouldn’t have,” he replies.
But as Saul returns to his hotel, he notices that he’s in fact being tailed, and that Carrie couldn’t have had access to the bombing of General Youssef’s plane that occurred in “Why Is This Night Different?” While he doesn’t quite realize that his lover and subordinate, Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), is the one leaking information and manipulating Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) into having him surveilled, his Carrie-fueled paranoia momentarily revitalizes him.
As Saul stands in the doorway of an interview room, staring at the endless bureaucratic polygraphs he’ll have to take because Dar still blames him for a leak (of terrorist names) he made to the Israelis 30 years ago, he realizes the trust being withheld by Dar, his former best friend, is the same that he’s obstinately refusing to grant Carrie, who’s never actually been wrong in the long term. So instead of throwing Carrie under the bus to Dar, revealing she’s still alive (and blowing that cover to the mole at the Berlin station), he sacrifices his career for her, using the last of his juice to once again hack the C.I.A. and re-steal the documents Carrie was hoping to obtain. (For irony’s sake, he steals the files from the same analyst who lost them in the first place.)
As Saul smuggles those files to Carrie’s boss, Otto During (Sebastian Koch), he intentionally allows Allison and Dar to trace him, so that he ends up back in C.I.A. custody, with nothing leading back to Carrie. As an additional bonus, During gets to chastise the C.I.A., which illegally barges into the private German club at which he’s meeting Saul, and demands to search During, though they have no authority to do so. Even though the C.I.A. is right (Saul has smuggled classified documents to him), this example serves to solidify the larger message Homeland has been making about privacy: A right thing done in the wrong way ends up becoming wrong.
Carrie’s scenes have always benefited from having as little to do with coincidence as possible, and that continues to be the case in “Parabiosis.” Just as her past actions have led her to be abandoned by her father figure (Saul) and by Quinn, a man who would sooner die than allow Carrie to see harm, she now faces a reckoning with her boyfriend, Jonas (Alexander Fehling), and the normal life that’s irreconcilable with her C.I.A. history.
Jonas has been blessedly consistent throughout this season in that he’s exactly what he seems, without any twists or complications to distract from his emotional arc with Carrie. To him, Quinn’s self-sacrifice makes little sense, and because he doesn’t know the extent of Carrie’s classified past, he can only focus on the results of her actions and larger-than-life accusations: an unhinged detox from her lithium, the coldly mercenary decision to ignore Jonas’s kidnapped son, her terrible wig, and the grimy, blood-soaked room that she’s currently hiding in. Every relationship, like the one Carrie thought she had with Saul, hinges on trust, and Carrie simply cannot casually extend that to Jonas when he asks her to go with him to the authorities. None of this is unexpected: It’s amazing, in truth, that Jonas has gone as far outside of his humdrum comfort zone for Carrie as he has.
With all avenues apparently closed off to her, Carrie continues to follow the consequences of her actions, not their coincidences. She begs During for a plane with “12 hours of fuel, plus reserves” that she can use to disappear with, and During reluctantly acquiesces after she heartbreakingly tells him: “I am the problem. I bring down everyone around me. I have this opportunity now to just go away and take the problems with me.” (If last week’s episode, all but name-checked Breaking Bad, this particular scene echoes its final season.) None of this is easy for Carrie, and the camera lingers over her agonized yet determined face as she flips through photos of her daughter before methodically wiping them from her phone. She even asks the driver to take a slight detour so that she can gaze longingly through the window at the sight of Jonas mundanely doing the dishes, a life that she’s now convinced she’ll never have.
But just as Quinn was saved by the divine intervention of a religious Samaritan at the end of “Better Call Saul,” so, too, does Carrie find deliverance—and purpose—in the flash drive During delivers to her on the tarmac. A closer look at the many emotions flickering through Carrie’s quivering chin as she takes the package though (relief paired with fear is most visible) reveals it’s Saul’s faith in her that restores her sense of purpose. She might not have Jonas or Quinn, but she’s not alone. That desperate need for someone to understand and stand beside us: That’s parabiosis.
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