Hill Harper and Elizabeth Marvel (Photo: Showtime)

The word “tragedy” gets tossed around pretty often in Homeland, since it’s among the building blocks of speeches about terrorist attacks and the deaths of complicated patriots, the types of things that happen all the time in this show. But even for a show with tragedy so deeply woven into it, there’s something especially brutal about Astrid’s death.

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Astrid is to Homeland as Oberyn Martell is to Game Of Thrones, the character you didn’t know you needed, then suddenly couldn’t live without. The character first appeared in “Krieg Nicht Lieb,” the penultimate episode of season four. But it seems like Astrid has been around far longer, thanks to her much needed sense of humor and Nina Hoss’ confident, understated performance. And the show’s producers know how much the fans have taken to Astrid. Rather than put Hoss’ name in the opening credits in “The Return,” they gave her a prestige credit after the final scene, all the better to surprise fans with.

This isn’t the way Astrid was supposed to go out. It’s not that I have an issue with killing off a fan favorite in service of the story. Fara Sherazi is the perfect example of a character I loved who was killed in a way that, while emotionally devastating, felt earned and appropriate. And part of my issue with the current season is the nagging suspicion that Homeland might have been better off had it granted Peter Quinn the sweet release of death. If a character’s time has come, let it come, so long as it feels manipulative in a good way. Astrid’s death feels cheap, and I wish the character could have been part of a more satisfying arc, even if it ended with her death.

In “Alt.truth,” Astrid is still holed up with Quinn in the lakeside cabin Dar Adal has arranged for Quinn. Rather than face charges for shooting a police officer, Quinn can live out his days in solitude as David Exley, a new identity complete with passport, meds, and cash. All he has to do is behave himself and stay out of sight. But that’s a tall order given that Quinn is still in the throes of his post-traumatic stress and because he has legitimate stressors facing him, namely the still-unknown operative who has been up to no good all season.

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As soon as Astrid goes out for a run, Quinn takes inventory of his new surroundings and corrects for everything unpredictable, like the loaded gun tucked away in Astrid’s rental car. Quinn empties the gun and chucks the bullets into the lake, which initially seems like a good idea, while he’s still generally suspicious of everyone around him. It proves a grave miscalculation later, when Carrie’s mysterious neighbor shows up to the cabin with a sniper rifle looking to take out the man who can help Carrie piece together the conspiracy du jour. Astrid makes a play for the gun, while Quinn’s aphasia prevents him from explaining that he’s taken the bullets out of it. Astrid thinks she’s going to get the jump on Mystery Neighbor, but ends up with several bullets lodged in her chest.

Astrid’s death is depressing as hell, for one thing because after spending her life as an agent for the BND, she ultimately dies doing a favor for a friend. Or should I say “more than a friend,” since the bulk of Astrid and Quinn’s interactions in “Alt.truth” were about Astrid’s futile efforts to get him to understand how she feels about him. According to Quinn, he and Astrid were just lonely strangers who had sex when an opportunity was available. But to Astrid, their relationship is far more. Their dialogue echoes exchanges Quinn has had with Carrie this season, which solidify the idea of Quinn as a man who has spent so much time killing for hire, he can no longer grasp concepts like attachment and friendship.

Quinn is just on the cusp of a breakthrough, thanks to Astrid’s decision to stick around a little longer even after Quinn punched her in the stomach. The portrayal of Quinn’s condition has been tonally appropriate and impressively subtle, but that’s exactly why I feel so uncomfortable with him as a character now. I wasn’t ready to forgive Quinn for the gut punch when Astrid was, and I’m far more ambivalent about Quinn now that his choices have led to Astrid’s death when she did nothing but fly all the way from Germany to look after him. Rupert Friend is doing great work, but between Quinn, Sekou, and Franny, too much of the pressure in season seven is put on people who seem like they should probably be somewhere else entirely. Away from all this madness, and away from Carrie Mathison.

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The chaotic moment isn’t lost on Carrie, who is practically catatonic after losing Franny and refuses to leave her daughter’s room. Saul is sorry to intrude on Carrie at such a difficult moment, but not nearly as sorry as I am. Again, I consider the relationship between Carrie and Saul to be among the foundational elements of Homeland. The two of them have barely seen each other all season, and when Saul finally makes contact, he can hardly be bothered with Carrie’s maternal woes because he needs to get Majid Javadi in front of the president-elect as soon as possible. Saul drives Carrie to see the foster home where Franny has been placed, but his patience is limited and they’re running out of time.

But…for what again? Homeland isn’t beyond repair, but season six simply isn’t working, in part because the plotting around the Iranian nuclear deal isn’t that interesting. From the season premiere, Carrie, Saul, and Keane have been working furiously to ensure that there’s abounding optimism for the nuclear while Dar does everything in his power to undermine the deal with help from Mossad and Farhad Nafisi. This is one of those points at which Homeland feels like the writers have a solid grasp of the scuttlebutt around Langley, but it isn’t necessarily translating to a good story. The risk with doing a show like Homeland with a ripped-from-the-headlines approach is that some of those headlines are more interesting as news than as story.

The same can be said with Homeland’s deep dive into the influence of the alt-right and radical conservative radio hosts like Alex Jones and Mark Levin. There are also traces of the Bowe Bergdahl saga in the expansion of the Elliott O’Keefe story. Initially it seemed like the stuff with Elliott O’Keefe and his radio show was being used more to characterize the political climate. Alas, O’Keefe is now an active player in the conspiracy to destroy the Keane presidency before it even begins. He’s cutting together a Swift Boat-style attack on Keane’s dead son, using footage of his death to falsely suggest that Keane’s son abandoned his squad when they needed him most. Dar Adal, who should probably consider writing a book about personal time management, is supervising the editing process, and it’s all taking place in the office park Agent Conlin was investigating immediately before his death.

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“Alt.truth” does have a sense of momentum about it, at least inasmuch as the characters are finally getting into the same room together. The meeting between Keane and Javadi is nerve-wracking and intense, with Javadi telling Keane the opposite of what he told Saul about the nuclear deal. Saul doesn’t often lose control of a situation like this one, and usually when he does, he has Carrie there to back him up. This time, they were totally out of their depth, outfoxed yet again by Dar Adal, the realpolitik reaper. But eight episodes in, and I’m about ready for Homeland’s season seven reboot. It’s too bad whatever it is won’t include Astrid.

Stray observations

  • I generally didn’t love the way Astrid’s death was handled, but one of my biggest issues is how she got shot. Quinn took the bullets out of the gun, which…fine, whatever. But it’s hard to believe a trained intelligence officer would do what Astrid does. Why stand exposed like a deer in headlights because the gun didn’t fire? Guns jam and malfunction sometimes, and I don’t buy that Astrid would have no way to improvise better than that.
  • That Javadi just never stops being an asshole, does he?
  • I’m really not clear on the purpose of the smear campaign of Keane’s son. If Keane is the president-elect, it becomes no less difficult to oppose her on military issues because public sentiment about her kid changes.
  • The Mystery Neighbor should write the foreword on Dar Adal’s time management book.

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