A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Homeland this episode revels in a concrete sense of frustration, a desperation even as a plethora of characters find themselves constricted, their wings seemingly cut off as they gaze longingly towards the sky. Oriole is a quick-moving episode of the spy drama’s fifth season, even though at times it feels quite a bit like it is simultaneously not moving very much at all. There’s a narrative requirement for any espionage story to work and that requirement often hinges upon acquiring a central mystery whose threads strike out in various directions and when they start to snap back into place, the entire puzzle becomes revelatory in its clarity. While last season (still the second-best season as of this point) was a bit more open in its mysteries and emotional constructions, season five is too enshrouded in mystery to connect nearly as well. It is still sharply written, performed, and directed, but there’s a real sense of an emotional disconnect that frankly shouldn’t be there. With episode eight, that could all certainly change, but the show at this juncture is keeping things so tightly bound to its chest that its relationship with its audience is increasingly feeling like a one-sided relationship.
Allison begins the episode in terror, racking her mind over and over again as to why Saul would go to the trouble of garnering a copy of the leaked documents in such a clandestine manner. In a quick meeting with Ivan where he was concerned about NATO’s exercises over the Baltic, Allison’s mind consistently clicks towards a singular answer: Carrie. There would be no other person Saul would go out on such a limb for, that much she understands keenly. Ivan assures her that Carrie is dead and that she is simply too anxious over the entire matter. Allison acquiesces in that moment, but behind her eyes there is a constant fear and trepidation that is proven to be absolutely correct. I’m a bit bemused by Saul, if all honestly can be displayed at this juncture. He’s become such a different person despite slowly transitioning to Carrie’s side that little threads of his personality have splintered off in ways that truly seem to be unsettling. The most questionable action this hour he took (not in a moral sense, mind you, but simply on a character level) was his conversation with Allison in the hotel bathroom. First of all, if the two were really being listened into, him yelling profanities and running water from the faucet wouldn’t accomplish much. Two, when he reveals to Allison that he took the documents for Carrie, Allison becomes sick and Saul’s suspicions don’t seem to rise whatsoever.
Relationships have become fairly complicated this season and not just the Saul and Allison conundrum. There at least is perhaps some semblance of trust amidst a sea of treachery (it still rings a bit false). By far the most illuminating character this hour in terms of character relationship development was Düring, who has so far largely remained in the shadows, unless it was to voice his opinion on foreign affairs and philanthropy. Carrie reminiscences sadly about Jonas and her splitting, the last seemingly normal thread of her existence snapping away. Düring’s response is a bit unexpected, if surprising. He notes that his own first wife was much like Jonas in the sense that she was quite grounded and far more earthbound than he was. She was calm, collected, and able to see things in a sense of realism that escaped Otto. Up until this point, Otto at best seemed like a man atoning for the sins of his family, a man who understood the complex geopolitics of the Middle East and how it ties into the larger global sphere, and a man who had some real sense of code and honor. Otto so far at worst seemed like a semi-oblivious wealthy man who gets a bit too caught up in all of the attention he garners with his philanthropic work, sometimes at the expense of more vital circumstances occurring right around him. Carrie understandably lays the ending for their conversation with a rumination on how Otto is a good man, something he responds to with a quiet and simple “I’m not.” I’m intrigued by Otto’s mystery and I hope that he doesn’t turn into another staple villain (I have faith that the writers are above this).
The most interesting choice by Homeland was to go far back into Carrie’s Baghdad days, to that era of the iconic opening sequence that began the series. Season five has been excellent at roping in various threads and characters from all of the previous seasons, crafting an immensely immersible world where the interconnectivity gives real heft to the espionage at the center of all of it. The title most directly references a codename Carrie had in one of her Iraq missions, a codename that turns up in the most unexpected of places: the cache of leaked documents Saul had indirectly handed over to her. The quiet phrase “Touchstone seeks Oriole”, besides getting my espionage love heightened significantly, pivots towards a key relationship Carrie had fostered with a man named Samir. Samir had become a vital judge in the Iraqi court system, a job that visibly and understandably strained him beyond measure. He had tried contacting Carrie, but her being out of the CIA put that contact a bit out of reach. As it turns out, there was a shady lawyer Carrie was sure was dead but he is living a cozy life in Amsterdam in a case that has shades of the real life Iraqi “informant” Ahmed Chalabi, whose connections were dangerous enough to murder her contact Esam, who of course was just about to get his life together. Homeland may be struggling emotionally, but there is plenty to admire in the byzantine web pulling in so many players together. It’s not every day, after all, where Saul defects from the CIA and arrives in the arms of Israel.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I will not spend the rest of my life in prison.”
+“You’ve played these men for years.”
+The beautiful opening shot onto Carrie in Düring’s study
+Some of the file data: Qatar; Russia; Javadi losing control of ground troops (hmm…)
+Carrie would go to her cabin by the lake and never leave. I get that.
+“Just because I’m sleeping with him doesn’t mean I’d perjure myself to protect him.”
+“Oh Lord, make me good, but not yet.”
+“Will you stop underestimating her?”
+“We’ll be waiting for her in Amsterdam.” They’re really getting the mileage out of their European location, aren’t they?
+“We made a mistake in hiring her.” Hmm, what does this mean in contrast to Otto’s conversation earlier?
+/-Otto’s password is “Pope Francis”. It’s hilarious but also a bit less secure than I would have expected.
Episode Title: Oriole
Written by: Alex Gansa & Patrick Harbinson
Directed by: Lesli Linka Glatter
Image Courtesy: Showtime