The F.B.I., in full riot gear, breaks down the door to an apartment in the projects of New York City, screaming at a mother (Zainab Jah) and her daughter (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut) to get down on the ground, the stove left unattended. The target is Seikou Bah (J. Mallory McCree), an intelligent, tech-savvy Muslim teenager who’s been posting videos online that are critical of the United States government; when the family refuses to answer questions from the icy agent Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) without a lawyer present, he abusively kicks them out of the apartment in the cold and dark of midnight so that his team can execute their search warrant. Under Keith Gordon’s efficient direction, this entire sequence takes little over two minutes, and it’s a jarring (and potentially critical) acknowledgment of the increasingly jingoistic actions America takes in order to protect itself.
As Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) and her ally, Professor Reda Hashem (Patrick Sabongui), soon discover in their work as defenders against Muslim-American discrimination, Seikou is being charged with “material support of terrorism,” thanks to the jihadist tracts he’s translated online. The episode’s most chilling moment comes as Seikou realizes how little protected speech and his lack of a violent past matter in light of such fearful and preemptive accusations; as an example, Carrie asks him to consider why it’s been so long since he last heard his imam question the legality of Guantanamo. This is where Homeland differentiates itself from the stockpile villains of predecessor 24 and the more cartoonishly Bond-like foes of Strike Back: It provides a plausible dissent and voice for those who’ve been silenced.
Seikou is a righteously enraged teen, seething over the political deportation of his father 14 years earlier. Gordon’s direction filters much of that argument through the shaky lens of a camera phone, putting Seikou’s reckless questioning about the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane and Faizal Shahzad’s attempted bombing of Times Square in 2010 in proper context against the cold and precise press conference later held by Conlin and the F.B.I.. Seikou’s (and Homeland’s) thesis is that “There’s two sides to every story,” and his intellectual—as opposed to violent—call to action brings the series onto the same extremely fertile ground as in the first season, once more finding the same sort of indoctrinated yet sympathetic, radicalized yet charismatic character it once had in Brody. (In that light, it hardly even matters if Seikou is innocent or not.)
Homeland also benefits from an unexpected parallel between the disenfranchised dissent of Seikou and the empowered doubts of president-elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Like Seikou, Keane is filled with questions about America’s foreign policies, but whereas Seikou can be preemptively imprisoned, C.I.A. director Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) can only weakly splutter that they’re “containing the enemy” when Keane objects to his reed-thin intel: “If the war isn’t winnable, what are we still doing there?” Dar, a war hawk through and through, really can’t understand that someone might genuinely want to limit his ability to launch unsanctioned drone strikes. This detail is to the show’s benefit, as it quickly introduces conflict with both his more curmudgeonly and analytic associate, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), and the president-elect, both of whom he end-runs by meeting in secret with General McClendon (Robert Knepper).
Just as Seikou is meant to stand in for a large number of citizens suffering from religious persecution and wrongful imprisonment, former black-ops agent Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) now bears the weight of telling the story of the many disabled and disaffected former soldiers being mistreated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But whereas Seikou’s plot is capable of seizing the narrative and is easily connected to the many scenes spinning around it, Quinn’s tale is disconnected: To counteract the pain and embarrassment of his wartime injuries, he’s sneaking off to smoke crack and sleep with hookers. These scenes are incredibly lazy and heavy-handed, especially when this former black-ops agent is mugged by a skinny, sniffling punk (Bobby Moreno), as if Friend weren’t already doing magnificent work to sell Quinn’s physical and mental state, from the retardation of his motor skills and halting syllables to the way he seems to be wishing for the floor to swallow him whole each time Carrie gives him a pitying look.
That said, Quinn’s instability serves to place a tidy, metaphorical bow on “Fair Game,” as Carrie, her heart breaking for the man, decides to take him out of the indignity of the VA hospital and into her Brooklyn brownstone. Quinn has saved her life multiple times, and he’s a part of her family; yet, with her young daughter in the house, she locks the door connecting Quinn’s downstairs unit to her own more spacious apartment. Trust, even for those we may perhaps love, only goes so far against fear.
For more Homeland recaps, click here.