A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Homeland’s fifth season has been something of an enigma in both good ways and bad. The disillusionment Carrie grasped when Saul accepted Dar Adal’s deal with Haqqani separating her from the agency was a great move for the story and the character, allowing her to be more circumspect outside of those circumstances. Yet her character notably works the absolute best when she is within her role of an agent and her ability to piece disparate threads together is incredible (the occasional plot contrivance aside). The experiment in episode three where she believed, arguably more so than ever before, that the key to her genius was her manic bipolar disorder and that experiment ended up working as a complete fiasco. But Carrie has always exhibited more competency, whether in a good way or an exasperated one, when she is off of her meds and is able to look at various threads and piece them together in ways no one else can. That’s why the shot of her running into the tunnel is so thrilling, because Carrie can inspire that amount of confidence in the most unexpected of fashions. Whatever happens in next week’s finale is up in the air, outside of Claire Danes’s note that the fifth season will end in a fairly dramatic fashion as opposed to the season four ender, but Damascus was an episode that was vital to the viability of the series after the hobbling middle threatened to remove too much investment within the storylines or even the characters themselves.
Our Man in Damascus most directly references the book revolving around Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who had infiltrated the Syrian political and military network between 1961 and 1965. He developed a series of incredibly tight relationships, infiltrating the byzantine labyrinth of Syrian politics to become the Chief Advisor to the Minister of Defense. He was eventually caught with the help of Soviet spy technology and despite the pressure from the international community and Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, he was executed by public hanging in Damascus 1965. It was a heightened penetration of Syrian forces mirrored in Allison’s penetration of the Central Intelligence Agency, which in turn provides the dichotomies of providing this episode with its strongest and weakest points. Allison went from cool and collected to turncoat to someone whose very world was being snatched right beneath her feet to a woman in charge of her extremely dire circumstances. Allison, from the very beginning, was an individual who valued her own self-preservation above everything else. She is no patriot like Cohen but someone who would sell out the lives of thousands of innocent Germans in order to plot her own escape, beginning with what she ought to know was a poorly constructed story of the triple shootout involving Dr. Aziz.
That shootout was just one of the tense sequences constructed in the episode. Allison arrives with the orders of not interfering with Dr. Aziz’s network, but theoretically Allison sees an out for herself as her situation had become enormously compromised. The visit from Erna Richter of the SVR made it clear that she was not going to receive any further assignments. On one hand, the CIA would never completely trust her and on the other, the Russians would be wary of the intelligence she had garnered. Allison thusly needed to find some way for the attack to go forward while retaining some semblance of a cover for the CIA that could by her some time. She decided to go with a double murder at Dr. Aziz’s office, shooting her bodyguard Conrad and then Dr. Aziz before putting a bullet right in the scapular region. Any decent forensics team would be able to deduce that her story of the professor stealing a gun from her roughly 6’ 4” bodyguard is nonsense right off the bat, to say nothing of the residue. It makes sense that amidst the chaos of the impending terrorist attack, Allison wouldn’t exactly be the priority right at that second, even if Saul is intelligent enough to see right past her ludicrous lies. She notes that the doctor told her before getting shot that the terror attack was going to take place at the Berlin airport at 5 p.m. that evening, giving her the perfect out. It’s a deplorable act and easily the lowest we’ve seen Allison sink to, but it is a morbidly clever one if nothing else.
The most intriguing development in Damascus was what Erna Richter told Allison in the bathroom. There was absolutely no reason why Erna couldn’t have simply told her the information in question on the audio file, but it happened to be one of those television moments that Homeland and every other drama occasionally stumbles into, so whatever. Erna informs Allison without any hint of irony that Moscow feels that Washington had gotten too soft on radical Islam, that the West needed a true wake up call against this existential threat. It’s an alarming thought, truly, that people think this as an actual valid line of thinking. It’s even more alarming when governments actively espouse this line of thinking and simply allow for an easier path to a mass murder of civilians. Yet this submission to violence in no way actually removes radicals from the line of power, it draws more people to it. Dr. Aziz notes to Qasim that he’s an atheist but the reason he is helping Bibi is because Germany supported Israel after an attack on the Palestinians. Violence simply begets more violence and the cycle goes on and on and on until someone learned to forgive and understand the larger picture. Qasim in a way is emblematic of that circumstance, leaving the door he was supposed to lock open because he couldn’t bear to look into the eyes of a Muslim woman and then later a white father holding an infant in his arms. It’s not strange that empathy arises in the most arduous of circumstances. It is saddening, however, that we allow it to die so often, again and again and again.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Carrie pushing Quinn to the point of death for info.
+Carrie meeting with the Hezbollah commander. I’m not loving everything about this season, but it’s ability to spin so many various threads together in the right moments (for the most part) has been wining me over constantly.
+“Make it spearmint – he’s Moroccan. Plenty of sugar.”
+“Has any of it worked?” Laura still remains a problematic character, even if the Homeland writers didn’t intend it this way, but her speech about how stupefying the War on Terror really embodies what is perhaps the series’s strongest thesis.
+Marwan’s storyline was so tragic. Here was a immigrant man who made a small but happy living for himself, thrown into tragedy for what he looked like and who simply happened to buy products from his shop. Then at the thought of enduring more humiliation despite telling the truth constantly, he kills himself. If that isn’t an indictment of how the War on Terror is conducted on the home front, I don’t know what is.
+/-The phone not immediately sending a signal is a bit of a contrivance, although my phone seems to pick random moments to not work, so there’s that.
-Why is Allison allowed to sit in that meeting? I get that they’re in a bit of a time constraint, but seriously.
Episode Title: Our Man in Damascus
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: Seith Mann
Image Courtesy: Showtime