Within each of us there is a battle between the self that was and the self that wants to be; between the old hurts and the hopes so bright and new we can barely look at them. But endlessly pursuing redemption, atonement, a clean slate is just its own form of self-infection, it’s a childish oversimplification. We are not ourselves on our best day or our best moment, but all the versions of ourselves that ever were. It is our honor to carry those past selves with us — a truth that’s a pleasure to see in action, but especially with characters we’ve known and loved for so long.
In one of the juicier confrontations — and there are a few — in Jan. 29’s third episode of Season 6, “The Covenant,” Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) calls Carrie (Claire Danes) “a dog with a bone.” Of course that’s why we love Carrie — and why it’s hard not to cringe when she starts baring her teeth: Ol’ Mad Dog Mathison has barked up plenty of wrong trees.
To be fair, that’s part of the spy — and retired spy — game, which is what makes “Homeland” so “Homeland”-y. Her tenacity often has her chasing her own tail — or appearing to do so — making it impossible not to relish those moments when she stops with the tail-chasing, and manages to take a chunk out of the baddie’s ass instead of her own. You could say that she’s just fighting to reverse time and get the blood off her hands — much as her three-year pursuit of Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) was intended to turn back the clock to before 9/11 — but, in spite of herself (or rather, at the behest of her best self) she could never really let it be that easy.
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This week’s installment raises the stakes all around, but the fallout of Carrie’s secret meeting with informant Saad () looks like the sharpest and pointiest one. Saad reported Carrie to Conlin, taking Sekou’s (J. Mallory McCree) plea bargain off the table by the prosecution. This means the minimum sentence goes from fifteen years to seven — and it’s all on Carrie’s head. She overstepped, she fell back into CIA Carrie’s mindset, the cloak and dagger and the clandestine meetup… And it may just cost this kid a few decades.
Another classic-Carrie manipulative visit to her former FBI friend Roger (James Mount) eventually produces an illicit taped recording of Conlin pressuring Saad to help set Sekou up, but to questionable avail: While the recording itself is inadmissable, she throws it in Conlin’s face effectively enough. Given how early it is in the season, it’s not likely Conlin will roll over and play dead, or drop the charges, so soon. You want to do the “You go, girl!” fist pump watching Carrie walk away from Conlin, along with her little smile we love so much — but we’ve witnessed her descent from Go Girl to Gone Girl a few too many times to cheer with much enthusiasm. (And the tension’s pretty dynamic: more than a little worrisome, given this is like the first season Carrie hasn’t used “sleep with the asset” as her immediate go-to.)
Meanwhile, Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) in Abu Dhabi with Israeli intelligence, investigating the Iranian arms deal. Apprehending a key Iranian player suspected of working with North Korea on a parallel nuclear program, Saul finds evidence there’s more to man he’s now blackmailing: A cigarette pack left behind that the Iranian appeared to take away with him. Did Israel take him out after pretending to let him go? Is he spying on Saul’s operation — making the whole thing a trap? Oh, these spies and their shell games! He tells the Israel team over and over that he believes in de-escalation and disarmament — another reason Carrie trusts him to get this done; they dovetail here and only here — but in the end, he’s just telling himself that he can see past war, that he’s better or stronger or wiser than they are. But in the end, he’s more like Dar than he could ever admit.
Ultimately, it’s Saul’s visit to his estranged sister that typifies the episode, by truly digging down into one of “Homeland’s” primary themes: Where to draw the line between faith and fanaticism. He accuses his sister of changing after marrying her hardliner Zionist husband, and abandoning her blood family for a cause he can’t condone. Saul simply can’t condone the illogical foundation that a life of faith must be built upon — which info adds a second level to his often high-stress reactions whenever Palestine comes up — but she counters by insisting that having a tight-knit community and newfound family bound by shared faith is what has infused her life with meaning. Her choice provided her with an identity crafted by deliberate conviction, not mindless conformity or cowardice — and to really twist the knife (however gently), she points out that Saul’s only got his cold hard logic to keep him warm at night.
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The scene examines why it’s so hard to bridge the gap between logic and emotion: Because most people are committed to their polarity, one or the other, versus an approach of fluidity. Interestingly, Carrie’s bipolarity has been playing out against this backdrop of the human condition as she tries — inadvertantly, intuitively, or otherwise — to bridge that gap; she’s a walking reminder of what rocky terrain that middle ground really is. There’s not a moment’s rest in the middle, when the pull of polarity is so strong on either side.
…Oh, and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham)? He’s confirmed that Carrie is President-elect Keane’s (Elizabeth Marvel) secret adviser, which we’re sure he’ll use to further undermine the trust and love between Carrie and Saul that’s proven over the years capable of surviving anything. The dynamic (which we’ve only technically seen once onscreen, but informs every decision and permeates every moment — whether involving the President, the Iran deal, even Saul’s old-home peace with Dar are consciously and unconsciously playing out against the public/private divide that Carrie and Saul now represent.
Quinn’s return to form — now that he’s reached the “flashback” phase of his PTSD — involves visiting the pimp who robbed him for a quick beatdown… Then taking a gun to the shadows, where we leave him lurking. Quinn’s a pretty dark dude, but gripping a gun and staring twitchily at the apartment across the street is… Probably more old-school Quinn than Carrie is ready to deal with right now. But there’s a poetry to their reversal: As Carrie tries valiantly to beat her sword into a ploughshare, we roll Quinn back to the days before he gave up killing.
But then, he’s always been willing to shoulder her burdens, hasn’t he? Maybe that’s what this will turn out to be — and as bad as that sounds, given the positive steps Carrie’s been making, it would somehow be better to see her working the pulleys and levers than ever see him back in Dar’s clutches.
“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.
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