Homeland recap: Our Man in Damascus
Carrie and Saul follow new leads to find the target of Bibi's attack, but Allison gets in the way
Has Allison ever been more infuriating and impressive at the same time? Bibi and his men might be the ones carrying out the lethal attack on Berlin, but it’s Allison who becomes the most threatening obstacle to the BND and CIA’s efforts to stop the terrorist cell. And there are two bodies to prove it.
We should have known — it’s all in the episode title: “Our Man in Damascus” is (most likely, anyway) a reference to the book Our Man in Damascus, which traces the life of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who managed to infiltrate the upper echelons of the Syrian government in the 1960s. It’s an obvious, pointed reference to Allison, who has infiltrated the CIA to an impossibly high level and has even managed to reinsert herself in the operations against Bibi.
Yet, on a broader scale, the reference could also be about the importance of the people who are recruited to help a cause and carry their tasks through, regardless of their beliefs. It’s not just Allison who doesn’t want to carry out what she’s asked to do in this episode but still does so because of the circumstances. Qasim helps Bibi with the remote problem, despite his reservations, because he’s cornered by his imposing cousin. Al-Amin helps Carrie, despite their volatile history and his connection to Hezbollah, because the Islamic State has made it tough for even Hezbollah to operate. Laura defies Otto’s instructions, despite knowing she could get herself arrested, because she had sworn to protect her client. Even the Afro-German woman (as she’s credited) in the subway helps Carrie, despite the weirdness and unbelievable manner of Carrie’s request, because, well, Carrie’s just that convincing when on the job.
Maybe that’s all a stretch, but Homeland makes a point to highlight each of these characters being cornered into doing what they’re asked, showing how almost every character is trapped except Carrie. It’s that suffocating space in spywork that causes Saul to put his face in his hands midway through the episode.
Still, the episode itself isn’t stifling. It unfolds over four interwoven threads, two pushing the CIA and BND forward in stopping Bibi’s plot and two following those who are helping Bibi advance it. The former begins with Carrie and Saul together at the hospital, where Quinn hasn’t woken up from his nerve gas-induced coma. They need him to share vital information about the terrorist cell’s plans, but, well, his vitals themselves (sorry) aren’t working just yet, even after Saul has the doctor try to drug him awake and Carrie tries her best to bring him to the surface.
Quinn comes close to speaking, but when he coughs up awful-looking black goo, Carrie and Saul know to try other leads. Carrie, who noticed how well Quinn had healed from the bullet wound he suffered at the post office, believes there must be a doctor who treated him and who might be able to share more of what Quinn went through to point her in the right direction.
But to find out who he is, she has to track down Al-Amin, who had kidnapped her for a meeting back in the premiere and placed the call that provided her Hezbollah’s protection in Lebanon. The Hezbollah leader based in Berlin isn’t too happy to see Carrie again when she shows up at his doorstep, scaring his family away to a safe location. With some coaxing and chin-quivering, Carrie convinces Al-Amin that she’s not looking to hurt him; all she wants is knowledge of medical professionals operating with unlicensed clinics who help people like Quinn. Al-Amin tells her of a doc named Hussein, and Carrie finds him busy with a long line of patients who can’t go to the hospital for help.
Hussein tells her “the world has totally gone mad,” and just as she did with Al-Amin, Carrie appeals to his generosity, asking him to tell her where Quinn had gone. He helps her find Qasim’s apartment, where she realizes Qasim had been engrossed in the Berlin Hauptbahnhof station and the 5:15 p.m. train. She immediately realizes the attack’s epicenter will be the station — but when she calls Saul, he says the CIA and BND have already traced the attack to the airport instead. Rattled, Carrie instead grabs a photo of Qasim and Bibi and then turns to leave.
NEXT: Allison leads the CIA and BND astray
Instead of chasing Quinn’s mystery doctor, Saul followed a more obvious lead: Faizad Faisal Marwan, the man who had (possibly) unwittingly sold cell phones to jihadists and ended up in prison with Zayd. Jonas and Laura had sworn to protect him until he was grabbed by the BND. Otto’s particularly irked about this — he had called Saul asking to keep Faisal safe — so he threatens Saul to “make this right” just as Saul leaves Quinn. Saul promises to look into Faisal’s case and talk to the BND, but Laura takes matters into her own grandstanding hands.
With three hours left until the attack is set to be carried out, Laura goes against Otto’s request for her to stay silent and calls Numan. She instructs him to release all 1,361 documents he had quietly taken from Carrie’s laptop when he was helping her track down Nazari. Looking nervous, she tells Numan to do it if she gets arrested or, as she puts it, “whatever.”
Laura just might get “whatever.” Before Saul gets a chance to make Faisal tell him any more than what the BND already knows, she goes on TV and gets herself an interview (that station must really love her) so she can relay Faisal’s story and force the BND’s hand. On air, she addresses the camera directly and asks to speak with Faisal, or else the classified documents will be released. (At this, Saul says what everyone’s been thinking to on-screen Laura: “F— you.”) Little does she know that while she was speechifying about the futility of surveillance and torture in Germany and the U.S., Faisal had jumped out of the window of his interrogation room to his death.
The death hits Saul particularly hard. After all, he had just been trying to make Faisal feel less scared of his interrogation, which under the BND had traumatized him all over again just as Laura had predicted they would. Saul brought him tea, but with each little push, Faisal burrowed deeper and deeper, refusing to spill anything more about what he heard about the Berlin plot. Yet, clearly, Saul had gone too far in threatening the man, and when he returns to the room to find the window open — Astrid strides forward and sees the body on the sidewalk below, delivering the show’s first utterance of the word “scheisse” this season — he sits down, takes off his glasses, and looks shaken. “Can we take a minute here, please?” he tells Astrid when she begins to think through their next steps on how to deal with Laura. “I think I’ve had enough for one day.”
Poor Saul. The day hasn’t yet had enough with him — and it’s about to get rougher because of Allison. Earlier, Dar had called Allison to a briefing about Bibi’s cell that included the CIA, BND, and SVR representatives in one room. Allison, with bodyguard Conrad trailing her, heads to the bathroom and listens to a secret SVR message before being greeted by a German SVR agent. The mystery agent instructs her to follow what the audio file said — even though Allison would rather not because it involves going after a professor at a technical university in Berlin and ensuring the attack succeeds. “This will be your last assignment,” the woman adds amid Allison’s protests. “You’re damaged goods.” Allison tries to refuse again but gets talked down when the woman says she’ll lose her millions of dollars and “the renown of what you’ve accomplished.”
Seeing no other option following that bathroom blackmailing, Allison moves forward with her new, bloody mission. As soon as she gets a chance, she worms her way into Dar’s conversation about Zaheer, whom the BND had identified as a student at a Berlin technical university after Astrid and Carrie’s trip to the cell’s headquarters. Learning of an open door to getting to her professor target, Allison offers to go to the university herself.
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There, she catches Zaheer’s thesis advisor, Dr. Aziz, right after he’s spoken to Qasim (we’ll get to that on the next page). With her target in sight and cornered, Allison spins a tale about being a federal officer who wants to talk about why Zaheer might have been murdered and goes on to accuse Aziz of having extremist views, revealing that she suspects his involvement in the impending attack on Berlin.
When Aziz refutes everything she says, she asks Conrad for his gun, saying she just wants to threaten Aziz further. Instead, she coolly shoots poor Conrad in the head, places the gun on Aziz’s neck, gets the doctor to tell her the target of the attack — the 5:15 train to Potsdam at the Hauptbahnhof station — and then shoots him in the chest.
She then sets up the scene, Gone Girl-style, by kicking out Aziz’s legs, calling Astrid about being shot, and shooting herself in the shoulder. As she fake-collapses onto the floor of Aziz’s flat, she glances at Conrad, whose eyes are still open. A flicker of remorse crosses her face — Conrad had been naive enough to believe she wasn’t a double agent, and he paid for it by having his brains blown across an extremist’s living room — but she stays on mission. When Astrid finds her, she tells her that the doctor said the attack would happen at the airport at 4 p.m., and the false information leads the BND and CIA astray.
Which is where Saul comes into play. Soon after the police begin to clear out airport terminals, Saul receives Carrie’s frantic call from Qasim’s apartment about the attack’s target being the subway, not the airport. And though he tells Carrie there’s nothing she needs to do because they’ve already found the actual target, he looks concerned and heads to talk to Allison at the hospital where she’s being treated. After finding her requesting not to go into surgery — she wants to be awake in case she’s needed, she says — Saul asks her to debrief him again. She lies once more, but before Saul can get in all his questions, a doctor neither recognizes arrives to clean her wound. Without confirmation of either the airport or the subway as the actual target, Saul is left unsure of what to do.
NEXT: If only the subway had better signal…
During all this, Bibi’s plan has been facing one huge technical difficulty: Although the gas has successfully been armed in the tunnels, the remote trigger isn’t activating and won’t transmit the signal. He needs Dr. Aziz to repair the control, but because he’s on the watchlist along with most of his men, he sends Qasim, the one non-watchlist minion who can carry out the job.
Luckily for Bibi, Qasim arrives and finds Dr. Aziz just before Allison does. Coffee in hand, Qasim watches Aziz work while asking him questions about why he helped Bibi orchestrate an attack on the city in which he has worked and lived in for three years. “You’re not at all conflicted?” Qasim asks, just as inquisitive as he was with Quinn. “It’s just…this country seems to have taken you in, treated you well.” Aziz doesn’t care about that, though, dismissing Qasim’s sentiments by saying that Germany failed to help his people in Lebanon and that it’s for that reason he’s helping Bibi. He couldn’t care less about the religious motivations of the cell — Aziz is an atheist — but he does want to see Germany suffer for its actions in the Middle East.
When he finishes the speech, he hears a knock on the door and ushers Qasim out, telling him that he couldn’t fix the remote, which means someone will have to activate the gas manually. Qasim heads back to base while, well, we already know what happens to Aziz. Bibi offers to release the gas manually and gives a pep talk to his men about the importance of carrying out their plan. Before they leave, Qasim shaves and cuts his hair, appearing just different enough from the photo Carrie finds in his apartment to blend into the crowd.
Of course, Carrie’s much more astute than the everyday commuter at the station, where she arrived shortly after she calls Saul about Qasim’s apartment. (It’s worth noting that the show spends some time tracking Carrie as she roams the pristine floors of the station because it’s eerie to see her watching out for a terrorist attack in a European location and not in the middle of nowhere in the Middle East. Given the recent attacks in Paris, the dread and suspense in the sequence feels especially scary. From a production standpoint, though, it’s a good use of the show’s on-location shooting this season.)
Qasim arrives just after Carrie, sporting his new look as he heads to the gate he’s supposed to close and lock. While Carrie searches for the security office after failing to spot Qasim, Bibi’s men are quickly closing the gates to the station, trapping commuters inside. Just then, Carrie finally spots Qasim going down the escalator while she’s heading upward. As she tries to text Saul that she finally has confirmation of where the attack will happen, she fails to find a signal. (Oh, Homeland, you really know how to make Carrie’s life harder at the last second, don’t you?) Instead, she tries to appeal to a man in a suit, who calls her “crazy,” and then moves on to talk to a woman, who agrees to help her send the text when there’s signal upstairs. It’s sly commentary on the nature of Good Samaritans — and could be seen as somewhat heavy-handed if it weren’t for the heart-pounding events that happen next.
After Carrie gets the woman to send the text, she races through the station after Qasim, only to find a gaggle of bystanders confused about why a man just jumped down into the train tunnels. Carrie, realizing it was Qasim, jumps onto the tracks herself and follows — without a phone or any clue what she’ll find inside. (At least she has a gun.)
Good thing Carrie’s Good Samaritan comes through: Saul receives the text while waiting for the doctor to finish up with Allison, and realizing that Allison played everyone, he rushes to her hospital bed, only to find her gone. (Was Allison taken forcibly? It’s not clear from the scene…) And the episode ends with Allison having disappeared, Qasim abandoning his post, and Carrie literally groping through the shadows.
And with that, it’s been one long, long day for Carrie and Saul that’s only going to get longer in the season finale — and not just because of Bibi’s attack. For one thing, the BND and CIA will have to deal with Laura’s threat to release the documents now that they can no longer give her access to Faisal. For another, Quinn’s still incapacitated on a hospital bed. And finally, where in the world did Allison go? If she doesn’t receive her comeuppance in the next episode, she may never — something over which Saul would probably never forgive himself.
With one episode left, I want to know your theories for what’s going to go down. Comment below, or tweet me @shirklesxp.