Carrie returns stateside, but trouble follows
Episode 601
Credit: Jo Jo Whilden/SHOWTIME
Episode 601
S6 E1
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It would be impossible to talk about Homeland without talking about its ripped-from-the-headlines MO, as our TV critic Jeff Jensen points out in his B- review of the new season. Season 6 is set in the days between the presidential election and the inauguration, with a new PEOTUS waiting in the wings to enter the Oval Office, Carrie Mathison back in the United States, and a disconnect brewing between American intelligence and the White House. Watching Homeland‘s premiere, therefore, feels like watching an alternate universe play out, no matter where you stand on U.S. politics.

But I’ll leave the eerie non-parallels of the setting behind for now. Even aside from the president-elect story line, there’s something odd about this season based on this first hour alone … something uncanny valley-ish so far that has nothing to do with our political climate. My guess? It’s because Carrie has nothing to do with Saul or the spy game at all.

You can’t blame her for benching herself. In season 5, she re-entered the CIA fray and stopped a terrorist attack in Berlin, but ended her arc watching Quinn suffer the consequences of sarin gas. By the time we meet her here, she’s wracked with guilt — and, I’m sure, a mix of love and hurt and hope from Quinn’s letter — and treks out to see Quinn every day. The former super-spy woke from his coma but now spends his time teetering around a VA rehab center, ignoring physical therapy and lashing out at Carrie, unable to be the person he had been before his traumatic brain injury.

The scenes between them are thoroughly uncomfortable, given how Carrie is practically smothering him in care and how he’s physically and mentally unable to receive it or understand it. When she tries to encourage him to keep getting better, he yells at her to leave. She finally does when his doctor says his treatment team thinks she’s only agitating him with daily visits.

Carrie, hurt by this assessment, leaves and heads to her new job working for a foundation that does Muslim outreach and counseling. There, Otto During waits. Her former employer in Berlin is eager to see her again and asks to have dinner, but Carrie rejects both him and the offer she knows is coming: He wants her to work for him again and to, as he condescendingly puts it, stop working in Brooklyn on “small potatoes.”

Insulted, Carrie tells him to leave, but he has one last small potato to tell her: He says he’s met someone, and it’s a revelation at which Carrie can only laugh. “If it’s not me, Carrie,” he says. “Let it be someone else.” We never saw these two together together on screen, but it’s pretty clear what Otto means — and it’s also not exactly subtle of the show to cut straight to Quinn after Otto gives his last piece of advice.

Yet, Quinn is in no condition to be Carrie’s significant other. Sitting on his bed in the rehab center, he shouts at a neighboring ward and stares, unseeing, at the door to his drab room. He finally lights up when a nurse picks him up and takes him outside to a woman who greets him warmly and makes sure he has the “check.” But the check for what?

Oh, for … this. The woman drives Quinn to get cash and takes him to a hostess who asks for the money before allowing him to enter a brothel, where Quinn gets plenty of action and substances and, well, a reprieve from his days of being surrounded by doctors and machinery and therapy. And yet, even though he’s happily drunk and dancing away the night like an extra in Across the Universe, trouble arrives for the wounded soldier: Quinn’s female friend brings in Tommy, a gun-toting associate who makes a false scene and takes the rest of Quinn’s cash after knocking him out.

RELATED: Breaking Down Homeland’s Strangely Relevant Season

Meanwhile, Saul and Dar Adal are getting a headache of their own in the form of President-elect Keane (House of Cards‘ Elizabeth Marvel, who memorably did not win the presidential election in that political universe), who’s meeting with officials to get the lowdown on the state of the union before her inauguration. Outside her suite, General McClendon (Robert Knepper, a new recurring cast member) greets the CIA pair and warns them of what they’re about to face. “On the plus side,” he says. “It didn’t last long.”

It really doesn’t. Keane skips ahead to what she wants immediately, asking whether they would consider simply not invading or occupying Syria to handle ISIS. “If the war isn’t winnable, what are we still doing there?” she asks. Saul and Dar look vaguely shell-shocked before Keane moves on to their classified briefing. The men present “Operation Signpost,” a covert operation against Iran that would exploit Iranian computers, but Keane interrupts to wonder how much she would even be able to influence this operation before becoming president. Saul says she has no authority over covert actions for now. “I didn’t think so,” she says. “Why don’t we just skip ahead to the good stuff, then?” The good stuff, it turns out, are the lethal programs, the drone and paramilitary operations that clearly throw Saul and Dar for a loop.

Later, the two discuss their strange meeting with the PEOTUS. Saul looks on the bright side, saying she’ll learn to work with them in time. Dar doesn’t feel the same way: He says he’s concerned about her personal ties to foreign policy. After all, her son died in Iraq, and Dar theorizes Keane may want to “hold us all accountable.”

Dar decides to act on what he wants, just in case. He meets with an Israeli operative, reporting that the PEOTUS doesn’t like the covert operation program and that they must move quickly on their operation before the inauguration. They don’t go over specifics, but by the end of the episode, Dar is meeting behind closed doors with General McClendon and a senator with whom Saul had met earlier to discuss PEOTUS’ domestic agenda over homeland security. They’re meeting without Saul — but Dar isn’t concerned. “It’s probably for the best,” he says.

NEXT: A new case for Carrie

Elsewhere in New York, a young man named Sekou argues with his mother about his sister’s religious conduct. He’s clearly the pious sibling; as he leaves their apartment, he puts on a taqiyah, ignoring the stares of the men around him in the elevator.

Outside, he and a friend drive to a Marriott hotel on the east side of Manhattan. There, they film a video in which Sekou talks about the history of Al Qaeda’s terrorist acts in New York. He leads the camera inside and lectures about what happened in the ballroom, where the founder of the Jewish Defense League was murdered. He talks about how the Egyptian man who pulled the trigger had disguised himself as an Orthodox Jew to pull off the act, before encouraging his viewers to Google the names he spoke of.

All in all, it’s questionable, conspiratorial talk, but at this point, it’s just talk. Sekou and his friend head to Times Square afterward, where Sekou talks about how he’ll be leaving for Africa soon to see his father for the first time in 14 years — he doesn’t sound all that excited — before filming another video praising the bomb maker who had failed to carry out an attack in the heart of New York City and had been prepared to be taken in when he tried to leave the country the next day. Sekou chides the man’s amateurism but also notes to his viewers that there are two sides to every story. “Know that,” he says, with a fierce glint in his eyes.

Clearly, Sekou’s passionate about everything he’s talking about, and when his friend asks him to meet with a man who had been interested in their cause, Sekou chafes. He says their website is starting to see more traffic and that it’s important they fly under the radar, that they don’t talk to any strangers.

It’s a harsh warning, but he’s right to deliver it. That night, while Sekou’s sister and mother talk inside their apartment, the CIA bursts in with guns blazing to detain Sekou. A special agent named Conlin arrives to question the family, informing them they’re going to search the place because they suspect Sekou’s been radicalized and that despite all this, they should be thanking him for stopping home-grown terrorism. But as Sekou’s sister points out, the raid happened after midnight, and the women have nowhere to go. What are they supposed to do?

Tell the other side of the story, for now. Carrie and her “small potatoes” professor, Professor Hashem, are called to take the case. As they interrogate Sekou, Carrie appears sympathetic, seeing that he’s just a kid who’s trying to keep his family afloat. Later, though, she talks to Conlin and learns that not only has Sekou been spreading extremist ideology on the Internet, but he’s also watched suicide bombing videos and kept photos of dead soldiers. Most worryingly, he has plane tickets to Nigeria — where terrorist group Boko Haram operates — along with $5,000 in cash. Clearly, Sekou didn’t tell Carrie that last bit, and Carrie’s left speechless after her argument with Conlin.

She’ll have to think about all this later: The VA hospital calls and alerts Carrie to the fact that Quinn’s been gone for hours. He obviously didn’t make it back in time to fly under the radar, and Carrie loudly confronts Quinn’s doctor and physical therapist before finding him in the brothel. Quinn’s bleeding from his temple and asleep, but even after she wakes him up, he refuses to work with her. In fact, he says he’ll be happier living on the street than going back to the VA.

But this is Carrie, and Carrie doesn’t let someone she cares about spiral like this. She manages to drive Quinn back to the VA, but after she leaves him in line, his vision starts acting up and he begins to panic as an anxiety attack sets in. He tries to run, and as guards struggle to keep him in line, Carrie finally relents, yelling at the men to stop restraining him.

Without anywhere left for Quinn to go, Carrie takes him home with her, setting up a small room for him to stay in down the stairs from where she stays with Franny. Quinn is still quite out of it when he moves in. “What is that wallpaper?” he asks, jaw open like a little child. “There isn’t any wallpaper,” she responds. “We’ll make it work.”

The episode ends with a montage of our new and old Homeland players preparing for their next steps. Aside from the closed-doors meeting among the CIA and Homeland Security folks, we see the PEOTUS stare longingly at a locket she removes before bed, probably containing a picture of her son. We also see Sekou praying in jail and Quinn finally sobering up enough to get up and walk around his new home. He heads up the stairs to Carrie but finds the door locked, and Carrie listens as he jiggles the handle. For now, she’s not about to let him in her other life, her comfortable life with Franny. Every story has two sides.

It’s a tender ending to a premiere for a season that’s clearly gearing up for something big. But as much as I love Homeland‘s quieter moments, I’m having trouble buying much of what’s going on. Is it really wise for this show, six seasons in, to have Carrie so far removed from doing what she does best? As much as I hate to agree with Otto During, I’m not sure it makes sense for her story to watch from the sidelines with a new character like Sekou. I do hope she reenters the CIA fray — or at least Saul’s inner circle — soon.

Carrie’s not the only worrying point: As much I’m enjoying Elizabeth Marvel’s performance, Keane comes off a shallow character so far. Her lone motivation, as outlined by Dar Adal, could be the death of her son, and I’m hoping the show will give her some more depth and make her a bigger question mark instead of a simple threat Dar has to work around. And does her brushing aside ISIS mean Homeland is not only abandoning the Euro-centric terrorism (that’s still happening in our world, of course) as well as the ongoing crisis in Syria? If so, that gap between Homeland and reality widens — and I’m not sure I like it.

But all that said, it is almost comforting to see Carrie and Co. back in action — even if that action can be incredibly awful to watch. Rupert Friend is giving a hell of a performance showing just how far removed Quinn is now from the man he used to be, and it’s heartbreaking to see Carrie try and fail to bring him back. Like Quinn, all Homeland really needs is a clear direction, and I’m curious to find out what that will be.

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