The fifth season of Homeland is exploring some fascinating and satisfying themes, but exploring those themes requires an execution that isn’t always fascinating and satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying season five, though if I had to rank the seasons, I’d place this one second to last, just ahead of season three, based on what I’ve seen so far. But this meditation on privacy and isolation in the digital age has meant the characters have had to skulk around privately and isolate themselves. The Berlin reboot is a thoughtful and imaginative reshuffling of the Homeland deck, and the fundamentals of the show are still sound enough that I like that Homeland is in a place where it can try something radically new to see if it sticks. Halfway through, the season still feels improvisational, sometimes in a good way, other times not. “Parabiosis” neatly summarizes the catch-22 the show faces as its commitment to new ideas saps the show of some of what makes it great.

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Saul is the focus of the episode, which was expected after the tide turned against him within the agency in “Better Call Saul.” Dar Adal ordered him tailed, unable to shake suspicions about Saul’s relationship with Mossad agent Etai, who was inconveniently spotted traveling in Geneva under an assumed name when the jet carrying the general and his family exploded. As a lifelong intelligence agent, Saul has no problem picking up on the black sedans tailing him, and when he realizes the agency is spying on him, he starts coming apart at the seams. Saul, the new brusque, Realpolitik version, is in the tough position of having to swallow his own medicine. He was so bullish about the illegal spy program with the BND, he was adamant the program continue even after the data breach. He’s slowly inched closer to Dar’s mercenary approach to the work, such that he wasn’t even terribly bothered upon finding out Allison tried to put his head on a stake. But even though Dar is proceeding exactly the way Saul would if the tables were turned, that doesn’t make it any easier to psychologically withstand the complete loss of privacy.

Saul got treated to turnabout a few times before the episode was out, being tailed, blocked out of access to agency documents, searched, and apprehended. But the worst part was being isolated, which is exactly what he does to Carrie earlier in the episode. As if Carrie and Saul’s first meeting earlier in the season wasn’t tense enough, the estranged work relatives meet to discuss Carrie’s revelations about the Russian conspiracy to kill her, a task which was carried out using Saul’s jihadi assassination program without his knowledge. Understandably, Carrie wants Saul to be horrified, but he isn’t. He’s stoic and indifferent. Though he categorically denies involvement with the hit on her, he care to help her get to the bottom of it in any way, shape, or form. The key to shutting down a fugitive is to block their access to resources, and Saul blocked Carrie’s access to him. Saul is the invaluable resource Carrie thought she would be able to count on, the long-time friend and mentor she thought would make tentative peace with her when the chips were down.

Carrie is cut off from all of her best resources in “Parabiosis,” as she watches her human capital fritter away. Saul wants nothing to do with her, Quinn has limped off to die in a dumpster, and Jonas finally declares he’s had enough of Carrie’s dangerous, desperate, itinerant lifestyle. The advantage of the way the relationships have been redrawn is that Claire Danes gets to play some interesting new shades of Carrie. Carrie has dealt with a lot of disappointment, but perhaps none more acute than the realization that Saul wanted nothing to do with her. She tells Jonas all about Saul’s betrayal, now hurtful it was to learn the depth of Saul’s disdain, but Jonas still can’t find enough space for Carrie. Not after all that’s happened, and not with Carrie still narrowly fixated on getting a lead on the leaked documents while Quinn is probably somewhere dead after trying to save her life. During is the only person still willing to help Carrie, and he lends her the use of his private jet so she can do what she feels is best by removing herself from the lives of those she values most. During also lends his help to Saul, who is desperate to get the documents to Carrie, after spurning her earlier in the episode, then finding himself on the wrong side of the agency along with her.

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All of this is unique to Homeland, and again, it’s terrific to see the show pushing in different, interesting directions. But we’re halfway through the season and Saul and Carrie still haven’t gotten any closer to a reconciliation. I admire the effort on the part of the writers to earn the renegotiation of that relationship, but honestly, Homeland isn’t as much fun when Carrie and Saul aren’t working together. Part of what made “Parabiosis” bumpy for me is that not enough has been revealed about exactly what happened between Carrie and Saul since the season four finale. And maybe nothing specific did happen. Logically, it’s enough that Carrie left the CIA to go work for During, which feels to her like an earnest attempt to burn off some of her “Drone Queen” karma, and to him like a betrayal. But the hostility Saul showed toward Carrie was as surprising to me as it was to Carrie. It brought back the feeling I had earlier in the scene, the feeling like Homeland is struggling to keep its constituent parts together.

The strain shows in Quinn’s C-story, which has him recovering in a community that just so happens to include Hajik Zayd, one of the dozen terror suspects freed from a Berlin prison as a result of the data leak. It all feels too tidy, like a desperate ploy to keep the gutshot Quinn tethered to a story he doesn’t currently have a lot of utility in. It’s the consequence of keeping separate characters who do their best work together.

Stray observations:

  • I think this is truly the end for Carrie and Jonas. They tried to make a go of it, but ultimately he wasn’t going to be able to stop judging her lifestyle. He’s said some version of “Who lives like this?” several times since the season began. I think he should patch things up with his baby mama.
  • Man, Dar Adal. The line “You’re fucking him,” in those circumstances, is going to sound nasty. But he made it sound so nasty.
  • I really wish someone would just take poor Quinn to an emergency room.

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