At the start of “The Man in the Basement,” both Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) and Homeland are trapped in basements of their own making. Both have lost their connection to the outside world, and are wrapped up in scenarios of what Shakespeare once deemed “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” For Quinn, this means sitting in a dark room, drowning out the concerns of his housemate and caretaker Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) by listening to right-wing conspiracy theorists, looking to make order from the chaos of his life. For Homeland, this means burying itself in small character moments that stand miles apart from the show’s political thriller roots.
It’s shocking to see Quinn collapse in the middle of a supermarket, the result of his stubborn attempt to assert independence by refusing to take his anti-seizure medicine, and it’s heartwarming to see Carrie come home from a long day at work to find a sketch drawn by her young daughter, Franny (Claire and McKenna Keane), but such moments can be found on any television show. Realistic as it may be for Carrie to suggests to her former mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), that she has more important things to do than worry about the fate of the world, the series on which she plays Nurse Ratched to an embittered war veteran is a spinoff, not the Homeland of yore.
Thankfully, it turns out that Carrie’s been lying to Saul, and has been secretly consulting with Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), the president-elect of the United States. This revelation not only immediately expands the show’s scope and gives Carrie an immediate purpose, but also raises its stakes, as it leads Carrie to recommend that Saul be sent to oversee the reportedly failing nuclear deal in Iran. More importantly, on a deeply intimate level, the episode has Quinn ask and Carrie answer the question of why he was saved. As she sits beside his bed, the two having just viewed the video of Quinn being exposed to sarin gas, she says, “You know why.” She might not be able to say “I love(d) you,” but the tears streaming from her face make it clear.
Homeland is all too comfortable playing the long game, and individual seasons can often move at a glacial pace, which is why it’s reassuring to see the series so quickly move Quinn past his ponderous silent treatment of Carrie and his coffee-cup-flinging tantrums. Quinn is obviously in pain, but the choice to focus so heavily on his suffering—no matter how stylishly director Keith Gordon presents the character’s blurry POV—means that the show’s fortunes are tied up in Quinn’s. So long as he remains stuck in a rut, so does Homeland. To escape such repetition, Chip Johannessen (a longtime writer for the series) reintroduces an old associate of Carrie’s, Max (Maury Sterling), who, in his role as glorified babysitter, quickly cuts through all the bullshit, from Quinn’s sense of hopelessness (he’s given up showering as he’ll just get dirty again) to his self-pity (“I’m a fucking mutant, of course I’m not okay”). Homeland does itself no favors by delaying the inevitable; Quinn and Carrie needed to talk, and now they have.
The other major development in “The Man in the Basement,” beyond Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) cannily choosing not to tell Saul that Carrie’s been lying to him, comes from Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree), the young, could-be terrorist whom Carrie and Reda Hashem (Patrick Sabongui) are defending. Here, Sekou lashes out upon learning that the F.B.I.’s best offer is seven years in prison, despite the fact that he hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s been advised not to testify, and the one person who might clear his name, his supposed friend, Sahd (Leo Manzari), doesn’t have to take the stand: Sahd’s actually an F.B.I. informant, his identity protected by the catch-all that is “national security.” “How am I supposed to get out?” Sekou yells, feeling the Kafkaesque walls closing in, and this sentiment eerily echoes Quinn’s own frustrations with his circumstances.
Quinn suffered major damage after his exposure to sarin gas, and while it’s unlikely that he’ll ever return to his former state, he can at least move forward with his life, such as it is. Perhaps this is what motivates Carrie to defy a court order, utilizing Sekou’s sister, Simone (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), to essentially honeypot the F.B.I.’s witness, Sahd, into the open. Whatever the reason, this scene serves as a reassurance that no matter how many times Homeland changes the paradigm or setting, Carrie’s intrinsic character, predicated on an inability to follow orders, is unlikely to change. It also gives her a worthy adversary in Sahd’s handler, Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) of the F.B.I., who appears to be deliberately manipulating evidence in order to stoke the terrorism-related fears of the press and public. Dar worries that President-elect Keane might want to tear down all the protective countermeasures that the C.I.A., among other government bodies, have established. Here’s as clear-cut an example of injustice as Homeland has ever shown to suggest that, well, maybe she should.
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