Up until the literally explosive final two minutes of “A Flash of Light,” Homeland’s sixth season has taken a radically different approach to its narrative. Rather than dealing with an immediate threat, the series has revolved around the hypothetical threat of a nuclear attack, one that’s at worst still several years down the road. Instead of establishing an obvious villain, the series has criticized the F.B.I. for essentially inventing homegrown terrorists like Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree) and suggested that Mossad might also be fabricating threats with the use of false-flag operatives like Iranian moneyman Farhad Nafisi (Bernard White). The people doing all the threatening in this episode are the ones who’re supposed to be the good guys: the C.I.A.’s Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), casually accosting Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) as she picks her daughter up from school, and the Israeli government’s Etai Luskin (Allan Corduner), politely detaining Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) on his way back to America from the West Bank.
The bomb that detonates in mid-Manhattan in the final minutes of “A Flash of Light” introduces a real threat that will require an immediate response. It also suggests that there are some things that cannot be prepared for. Earlier, Etai lectures Saul on the need to take constant action against an existential threat like Iran, as it only takes an instant for a nuclear bomb to destroy Israel. Homeland uses this explosion to repudiate Etai’s philosophy, as the bomb is never shown, and its existence wasn’t even on the F.B.I.’s radar. In the end, the blast is depicted exactly as Etai describes it: a sudden flash of light.
For nearly 20 seconds, the episode lingers on a white screen, muffling the sounds of screaming, a decision that wisely eschews the exploitative, visceral manipulations of shows like Designated Survivor that delight in bringing our worst fears to life. In “A Flash of Light,” we’re asked to share the shock and horror on idealistic Saul’s face as Etai gives him the news: “You’re needed back home. There’s been an attack in New York.” That final shot is taken from a numbing distance, an overhead view of Manhattan, a plume of black smoke rising from its center like some sort of metaphorical heart of darkness.
That gaping wound left in the middle of Manhattan by Sekou’s van is what Homeland has always been about. It’s the ugliness of war laid bare, and it’s not all that different from the sort of graphic imagery that Sekou’s been posting to his website in an attempt to shock people out of their complacency—their unconscious support of Middle Eastern policies that serve only to propagate such violence. But whereas Sekou’s video blogs are a rambling series of unconnected facts swept up in anger, “A Flash of Light” is clear, measured, and deliberate in its critique of American policies.
The latest episode of Homeland is clear, measured, and deliberate in its critique of American policies.
The episode’s most pivotal scene is a secret meeting between Saul and Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), the head of Iranian Intelligence. Saul’s plan is to press Majid, whom he and Carrie secretly and forcefully recruited way back in season three of the series, for the truth about whether Iran is pursuing a parallel nuclear program through North Korea, but Majid bitterly tells him that the truth doesn’t matter, that it cannot be prepared for. “Half your country will wake up tomorrow convinced that we’re cheating, and half of mine will wake up chanting ’Death to America.’” It’s eerily prescient of America’s current fixation on “alternative facts,” and for all that Saul and his protégée Carrie may earnestly believe they can make people believe, Homeland understands that people are going to see whatever they want to see.
In this case, it won’t matter that the only victim actually shown, Sekou, was a 20-year-old delivery boy jamming along to the hip-hop blaring from his car’s radio, as surprised by the explosion as viewers are. The truth is fragile and often illusory; all that will matter to many is that Sekou was a suspected terrorist recently released by the F.B.I. because of “insufficient evidence.”
Such factual reconstruction is called hindsight bias, and Patrick Harbinson’s script is designed to give every scene, every bit of dialogue, a new layer in the light of those last two minutes. This is more than just the sort of plot-based mystery gimmick employed by Quantico, which keeps pointing the finger at a new target each week. Instead, Homeland leaves it to us to leap to our own conclusions, to figure out who to blame for this act of terror.
Could it have been Dar, who indignantly reassesses President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) after she tells him to stop peddling his “politically motivated horseshit” about Iran? Might it have been the mysterious third party whom Quinn (Rupert Friend) caught surveilling Carrie’s apartment and whom he trailed to the Medina Medley shipping company that Sekou worked for? Worse, might it have been that so-called “friend” and co-worker of Sekou’s who showed up at his homecoming party simply to accuse him of being a government snitch? (When this colleague tells Sekou that nobody gets out from under the F.B.I., he’s demonstrating just how much damage even a false accusation can cause.) Homeland doesn’t provide an easy outlet or rush to judgment for audiences, and by making us sit with our suspicions, at least until next week, the implication is that Keane and Saul’s more contemplative approaches are more appropriate than Dar and Carrie’s impetuous actions.
Carrie in particular comes off poorly in retrospect, as if she’s succumbing again to tunnel vision. It’s true that she managed to get Sekou out of jail where her legal partner, Reda Hashem (Patrick Sabongui), failed, but he’s not wrong to question the long-term consequences of the extralegal pressures she applied. The way in which Sekou has been set up immediately turns her prideful “A win is a win, can’t we just leave it at that?” into an arrogant lie, and though she rails against Dar (“You had your turn, 50 fucking years of it, and look where we are now”), she seems to be making the same mistakes in possibly giving Keane confidential information (“leverage”) against him.
Carrie may be Homeland’s protagonist, but she isn’t always its hero, and there’s no evidence that a C.I.A. led by someone like Carrie as opposed to Dar would have stopped this attack. This is why the truth doesn’t matter to Majid. So long as people fear one another, and they always will, then that flash of light that gives this episode its title, whether it’s an attack or merely a dangerous, suspicious idea, will be just around the corner.
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