The Untenable Calm
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The concept of normalcy is a frustrating one. It is an inherently vague concept, designed like its kin to mean something but rarely meaning anything at all. When someone is told of this strange concept, there’s more often than not a question of some sort attached. To make matters considerably more irritable, attached to that question itself is a judgmental idea of what normalcy is supposed to be. Just listen the next time someone suggests the concept of normalcy. Yet there are also those rarest of times when someone mentions an instance of normalcy and everyone immediately understands what is being asked, what is known. When the head of the BND mentions to Saul the new normal of their state of intelligence, the expressions of Saul and Dar Adal make it as known as it could possibly have been that they knew exactly the circumstances they were facing and their seeming helplessness despite being in tremendous positions of power. The new normal they face is a terrifying one, made all the more so by the extremity of the circumstances it embodies. The terrorist attack embodied in Bibi’s copying of the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks (thankfully acknowledged in the dialogue from Allison) is not the new normal, but the reality of those threats is. Saul and Dar Adal’s motion of issuing mass warnings to the public is dismissed by the BND head on the note that they simply couldn’t do that every time such a threat presented itself. Causing a mass panic each and every single time these circumstances arose could not become the new normal. It would simply be far too chaotic to manage.
Allison’s ruse at the end of last week’s thrilling episode would logically work for about thirty seconds, however, considering that the recruitment and maintenance of assets actually takes a significant amount of time and resources. Handling an asset within the SVR would be exponentially more difficult and it would certainly be reported several chains up, with the director of the CIA being perfectly within reason of knowing. Saul brings up that exact point, him along with Carrie and Astrid being quite sure that Allison’s story is complete crap. Allison tries to cover herself by noting that she had notified David Estes, who is now conveniently dead. She simply shrugs when Saul questions her why Estes never reported it, to which she claims she could not answer for Estes at all. She simply reported it and carried on her work. Saul snaps angrily and almost throttles Allison, his emotional being getting the better of him. For Saul, it isn’t as much about Allison being a turncoat that makes his angry. What truly makes him furious is that he feels that his own judgment, which is his most vital aspect of self as an intelligence officer, was thoroughly thrown under the bus by someone whom he had trusted so much. He essentially pulled the same construct as Carrie did with Brody. When she believed that she had truly been wrong about him, she went and garnered electric shock therapy, understanding that she couldn’t live her life like that anymore. But Brody wasn’t an upper level officer in the CIA with information relating to all of their operations.
Dar Adal, whose increasing role is providing the season with a considerable boost, has other considerations. He doesn’t completely buy Allison’s story here, either, but he is the man who made a deal with Haqqani after he had attacked the American Embassy in Islamabad because it was beneficial. The best thing about Dar Adal and F. Murray Abraham’s performance in the role is that his complexity is inherently the most intriguing thing about him. Having made those decisions that were not blessed by moral clarity as he had put it, Allison’s ruse is something he takes seriously, regardless of how much he personally invests in it. And more so than Allison’s own story, Dar Adal is taking into consideration the amount of political damage this would do to the agency at large. It’s a frustrating point from him from a certain point of view, as the audience clearly wants Dar Adal to swoop onto Allison like a hawk and lock her away forever. But reality doesn’t work in a fashion that is concurrent with justice. Allison being revealed as a traitor and then prosecuting it would bring about an absolute tumult of chaos on the agency. Politically, the upper echelons of the CIA would be wiped out career-wise and the amount of blowback against such a deep penetration could easily result in the agency’s complete dissolution. Their reputation, which is already dubious, would garner the affliction of incompetence and American-Russian relations, already at such odds, would deteriorate even further.
The rest of the episode is a bit dismembered, centering around two different threads. The first is Quinn, whose sarin video is broadcast to the entire world, with the threat that if the UN didn’t recognize the Islamic State within the next twenty-four hours, a European city would be under attack. Astrid and Carrie team up to find Quinn using various methodologies and I’m quite glad that the show didn’t dwell on their respective romantic pasts with Quinn in this storyline. They’re two professionals on a job and the show largely kept it there. As expected, Quinn is found in a comatose state, but at least he has a chance to survive, as limited as those chances may be. I still don’t entirely care for Quinn this season (mostly because only Qasim functions as legitimate character in the whole storyline), but the final shot of him sitting with Carrie and Saul was a nice touch. The less irritating section was the part of the episode revolving around a man named Faisal, who was brought into the Düring Foundation for representation. Jailed for owning an electronic store where men who happened to be jihadists brought cell phones and such, he represents the human element of those who bear the brunt of the injustice when it comes to the War on Terror. He happened to overhear something about an attack on Berlin while in prison, but he wasn’t sure if it was true or the jihadis in the next cell were simply being boisterous. Otto, worried about the Quinn video, makes Saul promise that Faisal would get proper treatment with Jonas as a witness. Cue the black cars and the gutting of said promise. It’s a bleak moment that mirrors A Most Wanted Man quite strongly, but it’s a realistic one, an evidence of the very real, new normal in existence.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“It defies logic.”
+“Or your wig, as your case may be.”
“Yeah, at least I don’t have to wear that anymore.” Truth to that.
+“You are a fucking sociopath.”
+Dar breaking just the slightest bit over Quinn’s video. F. Murray Abraham’s performance in this bit ought to earn him an Emmy nomination.
+Carrie’s reaction to watching the uncensored Quinn video
+“Quinn never did anything he didn’t want to.”
+/- Laura’s speech about how the American response to 9/11 became a part of the cycle of violence was good, but the character has been written so poorly it just fades away into her caricature of a person.
Episode Title: New Normal
Written by: Meredith Stiehm & Charlotte Stoudt
Directed by: Dan Attias
Image Courtesy: IGN