Claire Danes (Photo: Showtime)

Homeland is so hot right now. Not in terms of, like, viewership or critical acclaim or anything like that. But for a show nearing the end of its anemic sixth season, it’s arguably never been more prescient or relevant to the current state of politics. The scene from “Sock Puppets,” in which Max learns the inner-workings of Brett O’Keefe’s disinformation factory, was excerpted for segments on cable news shows, and even made it to this morning’s Meet The Press. Why? Because a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian infiltration of the 2016 election yielded testimony that, save for some Hollywood sheen, described O’Keefe’s propaganda operation with chilling accuracy. Homeland hasn’t gotten this kind of mainstream attention since it was television’s most talked about drama.

Between the high-profile shout-outs and the fuel injection provided by “The Flag House,” Homeland set itself up for a brief, joyless victory lap, but “R Is For Romeo” isn’t the course correction the season needs. It’s one of the season’s more effective episodes, if only because its tense confrontations, violent altercations, and surprise explosions are more compelling than the polarized views on the efficacy of the Iran nuclear deal. But “Romeo” is also pretty maddening, since the writers have no choice but to drill deeper into a conspiracy that seems phonier and goofier the more its details are explained. Homeland is in a really odd state of limbo right now, managing somehow to be television’s keenest political drama as well as its dumbest one.

The closing shot of “The Flag House” suggested a more exciting opening to the following episode, but instead, it begins with Carrie convincing Quinn not to assassinate Mystery Neighbor. Besides, they have quite a bit to talk about, since the last Carrie heard, Quinn was still boarded up in Bellevue. Carrie has no idea where Quinn’s been spending his time since the showdown at her brownstone, and she has no idea Astrid is dead. While they’re catching up, Quinn also mentions that he knows the role Carrie played in creating his neurological condition, thanks to the tip from Dar Adal. He blames her for causing his stroke, and he’s of the opinion that all the agony he’s experienced lately grew out of Carrie’s fateful decision to stir him out of his coma to get information on the Berlin attack.

Homeland is usually pretty good at explaining its characters’ unruly emotions and inconsistent behavior, but the scenes between Carrie and Quinn feel empty despite the best efforts of Claire Danes and Rupert Friend. Their entire relationship is built on shared passion for the work they used to do. Now neither of them is actively involved in the agency, though for Carrie it’s by choice, and for Quinn it’s by circumstance. But it seems odd to make Quinn so angry at Carrie for making a tough call at his expense. When Carrie tells Quinn she convinced herself that jolting him out of the coma was what he would have wanted her to do, her argument makes sense. According to everything we’ve been told about Quinn over the years, that’s exactly what he would have wanted her to do. Quinn is the same person, lest we forget, that shot Carrie in the arm with a sniper rifle to prevent her from jeopardizing an operation. What emotionally bonds Carrie and Quinn is their mutual willingness to ignore emotional bonds in service of the mission.

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Alas, Carrie and Quinn are different people now. Carrie is reticent to make any big moves, opting instead to wait until the house is unoccupied and search for clues, including the actual van Sekou Bah was supposed to be making deliveries in. Meanwhile, Quinn is so furious over Astrid’s death, when he gets the jump on Mystery Neighbor, he can’t contain his rage despite an active threat that doesn’t end if this one guy’s head is caved in. Carrie makes a weak attempt to stop Quinn from hollowing the guy’s head out, but she doesn’t trying as hard as she could, considering the guy has much more value alive than dead. If not for the discovery of the van in the garage, Quinn might not have been able to secure immunity from his growing list of crimes.

Quinn’s revenge on Mystery Neighbor should have felt more satisfying, but it’s hard to cheer the death of an antagonist whose true agenda and alliances are still so poorly defined. And having Quinn kill him rather than question him feels too mechanical in light of the episode’s other events. Once back-up arrives, Carrie and Quinn have more time to investigate the house, where they discover a dry-erase board containing remnants of half-erased clues. When they figure out the board refers to a schedule of events to come, Carrie tries in vain to get more information about why President-Elect Keane is now holed up in a secure location with “reinforcements” on the way. As she struggles to communicate with Rob Emmons, the tactical team sets off a bomb before Carrie can tell Rob that Keane is in grave danger.

F. Murray Abraham and Maury Sterling

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These would all be pretty interesting developments were they not the fruit of a poisoned tree, in this case, the weird conspiracy around O’Keefe, his radio show, his army of sock puppets, and whatever he has in store for Quinn. Part of the problem with this season is that it hasn’t had a distinct villain with clear motivations. For all of Dar Adal’s scheming and manipulation, there’s still nothing behind it besides intellectual differences with the incoming president and an addiction to chicanery. Then you have O’Keefe, whose radio empire is the public face of something far more sinister, something that appears to be an assassination attempt on the president-elect. Worse still, Dar and Max discover what looks like a plot to frame Quinn for whatever is about to go down.

The pieces, God bless them, try to come together the best they can, but the closer everything lands to the feet of Brett O’Keefe, the sillier the whole thing becomes. O’Keefe is more than just an alt-right radio personality with Alex Jones’ fire-and-brimstone voice, Steve Bannon’s sartorial indifference, and Donald Trump’s addiction to Diet Coke. He’s apparently an ideologue so obsessed with taking down President-Elect Keane that he’s willing to go far beyond just besmirching her son’s good name or face off against her on his show. He’s apparently willing to actually murder her and use Quinn as the fall guy just as he pinned the bombing on Sekou Bah. Turns out radio is still far more powerful a medium than any of us realized.

Stray observations

  • The explosion at the house was easy to telegraph, but Seith Mann’s direction brought the moment to life in spite of itself.
  • Apparently O’Keefe’s operation is known as the Office of Policy Coordination.
  • The mercenary cell wouldn’t have tipped off Carrie and Quinn had they erased the whiteboard as conscientiously as Saul was shredding those documents earlier in the season. Routine office chores can have wide-reaching ramifications on Homeland.
  • Here’s an interesting piece from The New Republic about this season’s direction.
  • Hey Homeland producers, Sue Grafton called, and while she didn’t make any specific requests, she did express broad concern about the episode title and its similarity to her Kinsey Millhone novel series.
  • Heads-up: Expect to wait til morning for the finale review. Showtime doesn’t provide screeners for finales.

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