Claire Danes

Homeland began as a show tailor-made for binge watching, and now in its sixth season, it’s still better consumed in three-to-four episode chunks, though for different reasons. The old Homeland had more in the way of twists and stunning reveals, making it all too easy to crank through another episode if one’s available. The new Homeland isn’t as inclined toward immediate gratification, but it can still be rewarding once the engine is hot, so watching a few at a time might create a sense of momentum that isn’t coming through when watching the show as it airs. Even after the big explosion at the end of “A Flash Of Light,” season six still isn’t in a rush to get anywhere.

Curiously, the episode begins with a segment from Elliott O’Keefe (Jake Weber), Homeland’s riff on Alex Jones and InfoWars, and apparently the show Quinn has been keeping up with while he camps out at Carrie’s place. “Casus Belli” had every reason in the world to start with something more immediate, but the show is still approaching its story with a bit more clinical distance than usual. Instead, it begins with O’Keefe and his stated audience, President-Elect Keane, who apparently spent her run-up to the presidency telling the American people to calm down about the threat of Islamist terrorism. In Homeland’s attempt to take some combination of recognizable current events during an unpredictable time, it has had to fudge a few things. Sometimes the improvisations work, other times not, and the idea of President-Elect Keane sailing to victory on a “Don’t sweat the small stuff” platform seems a bit tough to believe. (Then again, it’s no harder to believe than an outcome in which Alex Jones has direct access to and admiration from the sitting president.)

The episode mostly sidelines President Keane, who is whisked away to an undisclosed location for her safety. Somehow, the arrangement comes off more creepy than cautious, with Dar Adal able to reach Keane while her most trusted allies cannot. Meanwhile, Carrie is at home on mommy auto-pilot and still unaware that the mobile bomb that luckily only claimed two lives was piloted by Sekou Bah. Reda calls to give Carrie the news, and instruct Carrie to go to Sekou’s building, where the FBI is already aggressively questioning Sekou’s mother and sister. Agent Conlin is on the scene, and it isn’t lost on him that mere hours after Sekou was back on the street as a result of Carrie’s blackmail, Sekou had become a suicide bomber. Conlin demands Carrie’s NSA source so it can be added to the list of heads to roll, but Carrie won’t give up the information. She’s as resolute about her choices as can be expected given the circumstances, but there’s an anxiety and a sense of regret on Carrie’s face. And that’s before she finds out a hostage situation has developed at her house.

The story of Quinn and his adorable hostages is the best and worst part of “Casus Belli,” and just getting to it in the first place requires the audience to swallow an enormous contrivance. I’ve been mostly able to turn off my brain and accept that, for whatever reason, Carrie is now deeply involved in the legal process despite having no training or experience in the field. This episode only makes Carrie’s actual role muddier, since the news chyron describes her as the founder of the Fair Trial program, which I assume means Carrie conceived her own post-Berlin project and convinced Otto During to fund it. That doesn’t clarify why Carrie has been this deeply involved in one person’s case, since it seems like the founder role would take more of a bird’s eye view. But who am I to tell Carrie how to run her weird legal clinic?

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The particulars of Carrie’s professional role matters in that the standoff begins when news reporters quickly descend on Carrie’s house, since she allegedly “represented” Sekou during his proceedings. That would never, ever happen because there’s no way for a non-licensed person to be listed with the court as a legal representative, for obvious reasons. The creative license would be forgivable were it not for the fact that the rest of the episode grew out of that one little indulgence. If not for the immediate reporting of Carrie’s involvement, there are no protestors at Carrie’s house, and no reason for Quinn to spiral out of control when the hostile mob triggers his PTSD.

Once the episode turns its focus to the standoff, it becomes tighter and tenser, but mostly because all of the action is happening in one place and the plots are weighted accordingly. The actual standoff itself doesn’t feel particularly suspenseful because Quinn is already about as impractical a character as he can be for this show. Killing someone would definitely derail Quinn’s progress, so I was never worried about anyone actually being hurt. But Claire Danes plays her motherly panic so effectively, she manages to induce some anxiety in a situation that doesn’t have much of it, once you think about it.

Danes also kills the last couple scenes, which find her acting opposite a screen when she retrieves Quinn’s cell phone and finds the photos from his recon mission. Between the shadowy figure in the window across the street and the mysterious expeditor of Conlin’s phone call with Saad, Carrie finally has some more urgent issues to attend to. Hopefully the rest of the season is buoyed by the renewed sense of purpose.

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Stray observations

  • Saul finally shares his theory about Nafisi’s empty pack of cigarettes. He fears Nafisi had already been in the room being briefed ahead of his interrogation. Interesting.
  • More echoes of season five: There’s a mysterious interloper mucking up Carrie’s affairs.
  • So this is the alt-right storyline Homeland promised.

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