In a perfectly logical and reasonable world, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) would immediately make the connection between the footage of the exploded Medina Medley van at the epicenter of an explosion in New York City and the photos he’d taken the night before, of the man across the street who he believes has been surveilling Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). But how much room is left for logic in the wake of a major terrorist attack?
According to “Casus Belli,” there is none. Tonight’s Homeland episode doesn’t begin with a measured response to, or analysis of, the attack, but with the vitriolic monologue of an Alex Jones-like radio/TV host (Jake Weber) who, heavy on emotion and light on fact, eagerly lays the blame for the incident on the soft policies of President-elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Paranoia rules the day, so much so that Keane has been whisked around from location to location for her protection; she spends most of the episode without a phone or a television at her disposal, and—once separated from her chief of staff, Rob (Hill Harper)—is cut off from any actionable information. By episode’s end, Carrie is more literally left in the dark, furtively peeking out of a window inside her home, suspicious of the unknown shadows lurking under the mostly closed blinds of the building across the way.
“Casus Belli” moves with alarming alacrity, hurtling forward without giving its characters a chance to reconsider their positions or de-escalate tensions. Director Alex Graves intensifies this feeling by leaning hand on disorientation and shock, as when he places the camera tightly in the middle of a mob or whips the camera between characters. Writer Chip Johannessen also plays into this mood by presenting much of the episode from Quinn’s perspective. The man’s black-ops history has already left him particularly susceptible to conspiracies, and we’ve seen how his love for Carrie can override his sense of reason. He’s well-intentioned in wanting to protect her daughter, Franny (Claire and McKenna Keane), from the mob of protesters and reporters gathered outside of Carrie’s home, but his fear drives him to extremes.
Concerned that the chaos outside the brownstone has been orchestrated as a means of cleaning up loose ends, Quinn forcefully interrogates a female reporter before flinging her down the building’s front steps. Worse, he shoots a rock-throwing rioter, and after refusing to let the nanny, Latisha (Elena Hurst), leave with Franny, the police are forced to treat the standoff as a hostage situation, even when Carrie insists that it’s all a misunderstanding.
This clash between paranoia and truth is familiar and fertile territory for Homeland. The series once spent an entire season questioning whether Carrie’s suspicions were genuine or the product of her bipolar disorder. “Casus Belli,” though, compresses that entire cycle into a taut 45 minutes, and this time with the off-his-meds Quinn trying to prevent a planned attack on his own person that only he believes is real.
That the episode doesn’t end in bloodshed is due entirely to Carrie’s intervention, a desire to atone for any part she might have played in the attack on New York City (her client, after all, is the suspected bomber) and a desperate need to prevent anyone else from being hurt. This goes way beyond maternal instinct. When Carrie realizes that the police are going to storm her home, guns potentially blazing, she tells Latisha and Franny to hide in the bathtub. It’s as if she knew that she would have to use her body to shield Quinn from being killed on the spot.
As they say, it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you, and every inch of “Casus Belli” hints that there is in fact a third party responsible for the attack the feds believe Sekou to have orchestrated. Even the episode’s Latin title suggests that the bombing was designed to create “a situation that justifies a war.” When Carrie warns her NSA contact, Roger (Ian Kahn), that he should expect some internal heat, given that she used a recording of his to coerce F.B.I. agent Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) into releasing Sekou, she discovers he wasn’t the one who sent it to her. This, coupled with Quinn’s surveillance photos, indicates that someone has been using Carrie since the moment she crossed paths with Sekou in “Fair Game.”
This long con of Carrie is subtle and well-earned, which is why it’s irritating that so much of the episode is spent overtly hinting at the possibility of Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham)—who we know has been watching Carrie and has access to the NSA—having had some kind of involvement in the attack on New York. Almost every other character is given a humanizing reaction to the attack. It’s in Carrie, after seeking out Sekou’s mother, Aby (Zainab Jah), struggling to hide her remorse as she hugs the woman. And it’s in the shell-shocked expression on Quinn’s face as he sits with Franny and her stuffed animals, a moment that calls to mind George W. Bush’s blank retreat into a children’s book when given the news of the 9/11 attacks. Even agent Conlin, a minor character thus far, is given room for both righteous indignation and personal vindication as he blames Carrie for setting Sekou free.
By comparison, Dar’s almost comically profound lack of empathy marks him as, at best, opportunistic or, at worst, psychopathic; he practically twirls his moustache—okay, goatee—as he suggests to the sequestered, powerless Keane that she “thank God [Sekou] never reached his destination,” scaring her into thinking she was the target. Even if he isn’t directly responsible for the attack (which somehow, conveniently, only killed two people), he’s clearly happy that it happened, as evinced by the smugness with which he greets Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) at the airport, gloating that Kean’s becoming more receptive. “To you?” asks Saul. “To reality,” says Dar.
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