Willkommen to Berlin, where 'Homeland' has hit the reset button once again.
“I’m not atoning. I’m just trying to do good work.” —Carrie Mathison
Over four seasons, Homeland‘s major players have always told themselves they were doing “good work,” despite the trail of bodies left in their wake from D.C. to Islamabad. And the drama, for better or worse, has done the same for its protagonist, careening (Carrie-ning?) between untenable highs and ludicrous lows, all in the service of the morally complex yet downright sloppy Carrie Mathison. We’ve seen Carrie become the Drone Queen, but we’ve also seen her nearly commit infanticide. We’ve seen her courageously pursue Big Bads Abu Nazir and Haqqani, but we’ve also seen her point finger guns at enemies she hallucinated in the middle of the street. Leave out the bipolarity and Carrie’s still a difficult sell, leaving Homeland veering from twist to twist fast enough to give even the inscrutable Dar Adal whiplash.
With all that said, the last time we saw Carrie was perhaps the most lost we’ve seen her, melancholic and driving aimlessly around the suburbs. She had turned down a life with Quinn, learned the truth about her mother’s serial infidelity, and been betrayed by Saul. All of those factors should have turned her into a ticking time bomb.
Instead, season 5 picks up two years later in Berlin, where our former Drone Queen now lives a life of domesticity. Carrie’s no longer working for the CIA, and she says she doesn’t want to be. Gone is the jazz music, the white wine chasers, the pills, and the Wall of Crazy™; in their places come a peaceful church hymn and the body of Christ, which Carrie accepts before grabbing a quiet moment in a pew. Later, she bikes the adorable Frannie to school and goes to work at the Düring Foundation, where she’s the head of security for the enigmatic Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch), a billionaire philanthropist. She’s also seeing her coworker, an attractive, redheaded (hey, old habits die hard) attorney named Jonas (Alexander Fehling).
It’s all too perfect, too quiet — for now. Elsewhere in Berlin, a seemingly innocuous Internet prank has gone terribly wrong. A man — let’s call him “Not Adam Goldberg” — exits the U-Bahn and makes his way to the seedy Club King George, a real-life brothel (link NSFW) in the city where, in Homeland-land, he and a fellow hacker — let’s call him “Not Dane Dehaan” — oversee an Internet porn business. The “gabehcuod” (“douchebag” backwards) pair have created a lewd video they’re planning to post on an ISIS recruitment site, and Not Adam Goldberg has figured out how to do so.
But before they can say “scheisse,” they’ve been alerted to another presence trying to access the site: the CIA. The Club’s servers end up overpowering the CIA’s (who knew an online sex forum could have so much server strength?), and the duo end up accessing hundreds of files while CIA Berlin Station Chief Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) helplessly looks on.
Several time zones away in Langley, tensions are running just as high. Quinn has returned stateside to brief the CIA — including Dar Adal and Saul, now the European Division Chief after failing to nab the top job — after two years in Syria running special ops against threats like the Islamic State. Quinn, after being told to speak up by (who else?) Dar Adal, answers questions with the dead-eyed look and tone of someone who’s seen too much. “Tell me what the strategy is,” he fires back at a suit asking if they’re getting anywhere. “I’ll tell you if it’s working.” Quinn and Saul have become close, professionally speaking: The former looks at the latter for approval before proposing the CIA “pound Raqqa into a parking lot.”
Whereas Quinn itches to go back to the region (or at least for the CIA to do so), Carrie’s perfectly fine with staying out of trouble. When Düring asks for her help coordinating safe passage into Lebanon so he can personally aid the refugees at the Lebanese-Syrian border, Carrie bristles. “Additional security is what we take to conferences in Geneva,” she tells him. “This is a war zone.”
At the moment, though, she faces a more pressing threat in the form of journalist Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic), who shows up at Carrie’s festive doorstep (it’s Frannie’s birthday!) asking her to verify a document she received from the hackers that proves the CIA had been illegally spying on German citizens on Germany’s behalf to work around strict German privacy laws. Carrie, likely remembering the last time sensitive evidence went out in the open (RIP Aayan), warns Laura that people will get hurt if she publishes. The conversation leaves Carrie reeling. “It’s like my old life came back,” she later tells Jonas. And it has: The next day, Carrie visits the CIA Berlin Station.
NEXT: Regrets, Carrie has had a few
It’s a strange sight, isn’t it, to see Carrie waiting to be ushered into a CIA station? To see her as a visitor? But that’s where she is, as someone on the outside who’s granted little more than a minute with Allison to talk Lebanon. Allison’s advice: “It’s classified.” In turn, Allison wants to know who Düring’s been meeting with, because no charming billionaire can be without secrets. Carrie doesn’t know — another strange thing to hear — and without any options, she leaves, taking the back stairs to avoid running into Saul, who’s arrived in Berlin to help handle the data breach (and unknowingly verify Laura’s suspicions).
She purposely runs into Saul anyway, and this is when Homeland gets, for lack of a better word, real. To call their interaction tense would be an understatement — both look pained, but Saul gets in the last word. (He’s pissed even if he doesn’t say so: Carrie apparently had a hand in him not becoming the director of the CIA.) He chides Carrie for working for Düring, a man who’s family allegedly worked prisoners to death in steel mills, and then digs the knife in deeper. “You’re being naive and stupid, something you never were before,” he scolds. Ouch, Saul. (It’s not like you didn’t betray her when you teamed up with Dar Adal…)
Carrie shakes her head, but Saul’s words must have worked (they always do, in the end), because she concocts a risky plan to help Düring get to Lebanon. She visits an imam the Foundation had previously worked with and pleads with him to let her talk to the Hezbollah commander living underground in Berlin. She knows the imam is a famous scholar; with that high of a profile, he has to be able to put her in touch. Still, he walks away without giving a definitive answer.
Saul and Allison, meanwhile, are having just as unsuccessful a meeting with the German intelligence. Having deduced what documents were lost in the breach, they’re eager to patch things up with the Germans and warn them that the documents could go public. The Germans, though, cut off all ties, and Saul is livid. It’s not Americans who are in danger, he insists — it’s the Germans, because underground jihadists are finding safe harbor in Europe, and no one’s doing anything about it thanks to Germany’s policies against surveillance.
Luckily, Saul has a plan B in the form of his Personal Terrorism Janitor Peter Quinn, also in Berlin. He signals Quinn, and Quinn goes on the move, Jason Bourne-ing his way into a man’s apartment, where he finds his workspace before knocking the tenant out. Quinn, expressionless, builds a pipe bomb in front of his victim, rattling off a list of things the potassium chlorate in the bomb smells like: freshly mopped hallways and hospital toilets and the visitor’s changing room at a high school basketball game and… oh, where were we? Quinn, now a hypnotic war machine, sets the timer and tells the man he has “two minutes to prepare yourself for paradise.” The bomb goes off as Quinn crosses the street — an act the German intelligence can’t ignore.
The misanthropic Quinn (seriously, this new Quinn is worrisome) reports to Saul, who slides him a mailbox key and instructs him on what’s coming next: From now on, Quinn will receive no support from the CIA, and his only task is to visit the mailbox, kill the target listed inside, submit a proof of death after the act, and receive money for his kill. Is he ready for it, Saul asks? Quinn agrees with what amounts to a shrug. “You decide,” he says. “Put the names in the box. I’ll take care of anyone you put there.”
There’s a stark contrast between Carrie and Quinn now, especially with this last scene. Quinn’s entire outlook boils down to his summary of his pipe bomb kill — “He’s a martyr in paradise, and I’m stuck here” — while Carrie says she wants to “do good” by working for an altruistic one-percenter. But both are similarly deluding themselves into believing in what they’re doing. There’s no way Quinn is perfectly okay with being a trigger-happy, bomb-building mercenary. And there is no way Carrie is okay with not being privy to her former employer’s intel. This episode is titled “Separation Anxiety” — and it’s not just about Carrie and the CIA.
NEXT: You are cordially invited to a war zone
Carrie’s story is just as explosive as Quinn’s. While leaving church, Carrie’s kidnapped by the Hezbollah commander’s men, who bound her wrists together and take her to what looks like an abandoned parking lot. (“I’m flattered to be considered such a threat,” Carrie sassily sneers.) The commander arrives and, before letting Carrie plea for Düring’s safety, reveals to her that her CIA team killed his son when they attacked Abu Nazir in Beirut. Oh.
Carrie tries to counter that that is the reason why she left the agency: That everything she did, all the killing that happened, has only led to nothing. The commander doesn’t seem moved by her nihilism, so Carrie gets unceremoniously dumped in front of her home, interrupting Jonas’ call with Laura, which prompts Laura to go full Snowden and publish the document. The question is: Was Carrie telling the truth when she said she believed the CIA’s efforts resulted in nothing?
Either way, her shaky negotiation worked. In the middle of the night, the Hezbollah council grants Düring access to Lebanon — and Carrie a way back into her old life. She sits in bed next to Frannie and Jonas, considering the invitation. Zoom out. Fade to black.
And here we are, caught up once again in Homeland‘s shrewd grasp. Whatever Carrie decides, the show has always questioned what doing good really means. It seems Carrie knows that her actions working for the Düring Foundation are — like those balloons she wore in her hair at Frannie’s birthday party, if you will — totally, depressingly empty.
Speaking of the Düring Foundation, this hour introduced a roster of new faces to the cast. For now, Koch’s benevolent performance has me convinced that Allison’s right about Düring’s ulterior motives, Sokolovic’s intrepid journalist Laura is clearly in over her idealist head, and Jonas, well, Jonas makes for good eye candy so far.
Of course, the big questions this season revolve around Carrie, Quinn, and Saul, as always, with a little Dar Adal sprinkled in. Is it better for Carrie to be stable and away from danger or unstable and back in the thick of things? Is it better for Quinn to follow orders and his hit list or to take a risk and abandon his killing life? And is it better for Saul to be a company man in a company that’s rejected him time and time again?
Whatever happens, it’ll make for compelling TV, and Homeland has laid the groundwork for another edge-of-your-seat season with this premiere. And if answering all of those questions requires diving into a Snowden-esque, cyber espionage story line, even better. (Berlin’s the right place for it, after all.) Until next week, Carrie on, and auf wiedersehen.