Tonight’s episode of Homeland, “R for Romeo,” divides its characters into three factions. First there are those who dwell in the light, like President-elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), and believe that truth is generally the best policy. Then there are those, like Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), who insist on working from the shadows, distrustful and sneering of the common people. Finally, and most dangerously, there are those, like Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), the zealous producer and host of the alt-right talk show Real Truth, who genuinely believe themselves to be doing good, even as they descend into the blackest depths of hatred.
Whereas previous Homeland villains like Abu Nazir and Haissam Haqqani took responsibility for their actions, justifying their terrorism against an immoral occupier, O’Keefe stares directly into Keane’s eyes and cannot understand why she might find him and his 15 million rabid followers to be deplorable. An impromptu interview between O’Keefe and the president-elect forms the central conceit of “R for Romeo”: Is there anything that can change those people? The answer is right there in the episode’s title. For all that Keane believes about the truth being enough to get through to people (“You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts”), she soon learns that emotions—particularly love—often trump truth.
The episode opens with Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) and Carrie standing in the darkness, on the verge of assassinating the Watch-Cap-Wearing Man (C.J. Wilson). Carrie, who’s of late been all about redeeming herself in the light through public reform on Keane’s campaign and private legal aid through the During Foundation, is delighted to learn that the real Medina Medley van is still (inexplicably) parked in the safe house. As Carrie explains to Quinn, he no longer needs to pull the trigger, as they now have enough evidence to bring to the solicitor general, George Pallis (David Thornton).
Quinn, however, isn’t interested in coming out of the darkness; if anything, he prefers to retreat further into it. When Carrie confronts him over his blasé death wish, mentioning how she visited him in the hospital and lost her daughter, he lashes back with the information Dar gave him in “Imminent Risk.” Everything that Carrie has done for him since Berlin has been out of guilt, and when words begin to fail him, Quinn resorts to the animalistic language of a Tennessee Williams play: “You made me a fucking monkey,” he shouts, screeching and hooting over her excuses as he lumbers through the attic. It’s a powerful scene, one that’s complemented by the follow-up the next day, as Quinn sets out to kill the Watch-Cap-Wearing Man and leaves Carrie with the key and security code to the safe house. There are no imaginary animals to mask their emotions as they stand there in the morning glow, just a woman desperately explaining that “It’s not just the mission, it never has been” and a man ravaged by rage, insisting that she let him go.
Sadly, Homeland can’t leave well enough alone and soon falls back on narrative shortcuts to reach a reconciliation between Carrie and Quinn. It’s improbable that Carrie would not be more suspicious of the safe house’s alarm already being inactive, a clear sign that someone is still inside. It’s also impossible that Quinn would know exactly when to enter the house, having used Carrie as bait to lure out his target. And much as it may be satisfying to viewers to watch Quinn avenge Astrid with a slow, close-range killing of her assassin, caving his face in with the butt of a gun, it seems unlikely that Carrie would not try harder to keep this suspect alive.
Each one of these events seems scripted for dramatic effect, which suggests that portions of Quinn’s conversation with Carrie were merely performative. Worse, they create an emotional imbalance with the earlier scenes; Quinn abruptly forgives Carrie, insisting that he’s no better than the man he just murdered (having been trained as part of the same unit). It may be true that Carrie didn’t break Quinn so much as she caused his exterior to match his deadened interior, but that’s something that would have been preferable for audiences to conclude from watching Quinn’s growth—not to have thrust on them by a sloppy action sequence and some strenuously poetic dialogue. Friend’s reserved delivery manages to salvage Quinn’s arc, because it suggests there’s still something deeper within Quinn’s nihilism, that he’s a man being dragged by uncontrollable feelings of love to both acts of darkness and light.
Perhaps some things that do need to be spelled out. This is the function Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) plays in the episode, as he brings the evidence sent to Carrie’s laptop by Max (Maury Sterling) to Keane’s attention, definitively linking at least a rogue faction of the C.I.A. to the funding of O’Keefe’s domestic propaganda machine. Saul’s familiarity with these tactics helps to bring things full circle when he notes that the socially engineered protests and disinformation goes “all the way back to Iran in the ’50s. And it did not end well for the elected regime.” But at least this exposition is balanced by Keane’s well-intentioned convictions, the desire to represent and at least reach out to all Americans, even the ones who hate her. Nobody has ever been depicted on Homeland as loving America more openly and honestly than Keane, which is why she seems almost shell-shocked after being exposed to an angry caller on O’Keefe’s show who accuses her son of “running like a girl.” When a fence-jumping protester is sideswiped by Keane’s motorcade, Homeland horrifically and poetically shows how the president-elect’s idealized view of her country comes crashing into its insane reality.
Most shocking of all, perhaps, may be the way in which Dar’s apparently genuine love for Quinn causes him to compromise—or at least question—his own actions, so much so that he surreptitiously helps Max to escape from O’Keefe’s bunker. Dar doesn’t have ulterior motives for Max (as he points out, “If I’d wanted you hurt, you’d be hurt already”), but he does need Max’s off-the-grid hacking skills so that he can find out why he saw a picture of Quinn on O’Keefe’s computer. What Dar realizes is that O’Keefe is painting an unflattering digital portrait of Quinn, creating false evidence that will link Quinn to a planned assassination of Keane. This is an especially cruel blow to Quinn’s reputation, especially since he’s at that very moment using his knowledge of his former unit’s tactics to warn Carrie that an operation is about to be carried out on the East Coast (“Romeo” indicates a time zone).
These twin revelations alone are enough of a cliffhanger for “R for Romeo.” They’re organic and they set the stakes as high as they’ve ever been for next week’s finale. And yet, Homeland can’t seem to leave well enough alone, suggesting not only that Pallis is actually on the secret cabal’s payroll, but also setting off another explosion, one that destroys all the evidence at the safe house but doesn’t injure Carrie or Quinn. After six seasons, and in the midst of one of its better episodes, you’d think the series would know that just as you shouldn’t rush love, you also shouldn’t rush your story.
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