On his third tour overseas, Andrew Keane’s (Ryan Shibley) unit was overrun by a barrage of sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades. This soldier died a hero, a fact that’s been inconvenient to Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and his cabal of war hawks, because it’s given President-elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) a righteous, audience-pleasing “gold-star mother” narrative in the media. Tonight’s episode of Homeland, “Alt.Truth,” eerily and effectively depicts how such stories can be readily orchestrated and flipped on a dime, and rarely for the better good. It’s in Real Truth host Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber) manipulating the reality of Andrew’s demise, running a sort of retcon game for his right-wing audience; in Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub) shamelessly turning on his country, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), and the truth for personal gain; and Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) again suffering the consequences of taking stock of the wrong truth behind his paranoia.
Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) got a dose of alternate facts in “Imminent Risk” last week, as basic information about her was twisted out of context so as to make her lose custody of her daughter. At the start of “Alt.Truth,” she’s still reeling from this loss of self, the way that she’s been reduced to a two-word label: “Unfit mother.” Thankfully, she’s pulled out of the depths of her “black do” depression by her old friend and mentor, Saul: “Hey, you,” he says, gently, giving her a different mirror through which to see herself.
Carrie and Saul’s conversation exudes the sort of ease and familiarity—so pointedly missing up to this point in Homeland’s sixth season—that they at least require to feed an exchange of trust. Watch for the remorseful twitch in Carrie’s cheek as she, embarrassed by her previous doubts, confesses to Saul that she didn’t know which side he was on. For Carrie, such vulnerability only comes about in the face of actual truth, and soon she and Saul have pieced together the season’s entire conspiracy, from the false-flag political theater being carried out by Mossad and a treasonous branch of the C.I.A. to the bombing in Manhattan, which looks less and less likely to have been detonated by a Muslim extremist—if, that is, anybody bothers to look at the actual facts and not just the convenient, media-friendly narrative.
By contrast, the relationship between Quinn and Astrid (Nina Hoss) is defined more by icy silence and distrust, at least on his part. Each time Astrid tries to pull Quinn out of his sullen funk, he retreats further into paranoia, unable to believe that she would come all the way from Germany just because Dar called her on his behalf. “We fucked each other because we were lonely. That doesn’t make us friends,” Quinn lashes out, and those words stagger Astrid more than when he sucker-punches her in the gut. Soon he’s driving off with her car, trying to track down the Watch-Cap-Wearing Man (C.J. Wilson) who’s been spying on him and who he believes to have spotted at a local supermarket. Instead, Quinn winds up hitting a complete stranger over the head with a tire iron, leading to the first moment of the season where he’s expressed genuine regret, as he desperately rushes back to the cabin to beg for Astrid’s forgiveness—though it’s offered in his uniquely terrible way.
It’s here, unfortunately, that “Alt.Truth” gets a little too ambitious, for just as Quinn comes to terms with the reality of his new life, as he realizes that Astrid—unlike Carrie—is actually in love with him, it turns out that he was in fact right to be suspicious about the man he thought he saw in the supermarket. Not of Astrid, but of Dar’s convenient little cabin, to which Dar’s associate, the Watch-Cap-Wearing Man, has tracked Quinn, grazing him from afar with bullet fire. What follows feels more like a rushed and twisted parable from Tales from the Crypt than an earned moment of Homeland-style pathos. Astrid bravely rushes out to her car, under fire, so that she can return fire, while Quinn, dazed from the gunshot and already slurry from his medical condition, cannot manage to tell her that—in a moment of agonizing distrust—he earlier found her gun and unloaded all of its bullets. At best, Astrid’s death and Quinn’s narrow escape provides a clear warning about how far alternative facts will get you: a gun is either loaded or it’s not, and you can tell any story you want about it but only up until you have to pull the trigger.
This same warning is perhaps made more realistically by the remainder of the episode. Saul believes that he’s come to Keane armed to the teeth with the truth about Dar’s double-dealing, but he never thinks to check his weapon of choice: Javadi. Saul assumes that, with Javadi’s cover blown, “there’s no need for him to prevaricate about anything anymore,” and in doing so ignores the many warnings Javadi has given him about his over-idealistic view of their relationship. Javadi cares only about himself, so instead of confirming Saul’s suspicions, he regurgitates Dar’s lies. “I bet on a horse,” he tells Saul of his decision to ally with Dar. “In the end, I went with the sure thing.” When Javadi pushes Saul onto the ground, he stays down for a while. It’s a rare moment of fragility for this man, maybe even an intentional visual metaphor for the delicate nature of the truth. It’s also a natural extension of what Javadi tells Carrie about Saul enroute to the meeting: “It’s a very painful moment when we realize we no longer make the weather.”
“Alt.Truth,” though, hits its overriding theme more precisely in a pair of scenes that serve as quasi-bookends, both involving O’Keefe blatantly manufacturing a swiftboat-style attack ad against Keane. In a world abundant in threats of terrorism and murder, the average American is unlikely to ever come face to face with how Quinn’s life-or-death scenario in the woods or Saul and Carrie’s high-stakes intelligence briefings work to clarify the truth of geopolitical turmoil. Alternative facts, on the other hand, are everywhere, and it’s horrifying to see how this sausage, so to speak, is made. As the episode opens, O’Keefe is convincing Rudy (Chris Coy), an ex-G.I. who served with the president-elect’s son, to come on his show. To do so, he brushes aside Rudy’s concerns about Andrew Keane’s memory and even force-feeds him the actual line that he wants him to speak: that heroic Andrew was actually “the opposite of a hero.” A coward isn’t the opposite of a hero, but that’s the episode’s point: reality holds up poorly under a biased lens.
Near the end of “Alt.Truth,” viewers not only see the result of his manipulations, but the way in which both O’Keefe and his ally, Dar, crow at the ways in which the inconvenient truth has been excised from the footage. Gone is Rudy’s disclaimer about the confusion of the night in question, and gone is the moment where it’s revealed that Andrew was running toward an injured soldier rather away from battle. The truth has been melted away, re-forged into a type of psychic bullet, and there’s little doubt that Dar will pull that trigger. The only question that remains is whether his audience—the American people—are capable of unloading that gun.
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