Saul strikes a deal, and Carrie gets a lesson in cybersecurity

By Shirley Li
February 18, 2018 at 10:00 PM EST
Antony Platt/SHOWTIME
S7 E2
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Brett O’Keefe’s crusade for the “real truth” has turned him into public enemy No. 1 — but he doesn’t mind. Because to him, President Keane’s administration has extended itself too far amid paranoia, and even if he can’t confirm that McClendon’s death was a murder, he can flag the case, fan the flames of suspicion, and point Americans fed up with the feds in the good old POTUS’ direction.

It must be exhausting for him. So far this season we’ve seen how much being on the run has worn the rabble-rouser down: He’s broadcasting out of basements. He’s losing his girlfriend, Sharon. And he’s slipping up, trying to prove himself to the right and to his fans.

But even if his attempt at firing a gun to prove his point — that the Second Amendment is a way for citizens to fight back against tyrannical governments — left him with a fresh scar on his forehead, the wound’s negligible compared to the damage he’s doing to Keane and her cohorts. His words, inflammatory as they may be, have forced Keane to compromise.

That is, to give in to Saul’s demands. Though she seems just as perturbed by the circumstances of McClendon’s death as anyone else — Keane can’t be that good of an actress, can she? — she understands how she’s coming off. Her chief of staff takes advantage of her vulnerability and tells her that it’s time to “change the conversation.” Wellington convinces (or maybe gaslights?) her to release the 200 federal employees incarcerated in the second wave of arrests, in exchange for bringing Saul to her side as a visible ally and new national security adviser.

Saul is understandably wary of the deal, especially if it means he’ll be used as Keane’s cheerleader. Wellington assures him that’s not the plan, even if his first move is to hold a press conference and explain that the administration’s moving forward; as it turns out, the plan is to have Saul hunt O’Keefe down — a move that goes completely against the show of “good faith” Saul seemed to be a part of. But Wellington just spells it out clearly for Saul: O’Keefe has gotten too dangerous, too visible, and too unpredictable. They need Saul to stop him, whatever that means.

If Saul’s not a fan of his new job description, neither is Carrie. When she watches her mentor espousing Keane’s doctrine on the news, she scoffs, angry that he’s now on the other side — even if it means he’s been released. Then again, Carrie’s not a fan of much these days, as she has very little going for her. Her therapist (played by Sakina Jaffrey, the first of two House of Cards and Mr. Robot alums to guest in this episode) rattles off the list of Carrie’s issues, including her credit card debt, her vulnerable emotional state after Quinn’s death, and the fact that after taking lithium for more than a decade and a half, it may no longer work the way it should.

When Carrie returns home, she looks understandably frazzled. The only thing she has going for her is knowing she’s right — and now she can’t even be sure of that. But maybe she is: When she checks in on the cameras she had Max install in Wellington’s home, she sees a woman (played by Sandrine Holt, the aforementioned second alum) enter and leave a note. Carrie can’t see what it says — enhance! — but she grabs a screenshot of the woman’s face and asks Dante to help. Dante, of course, would rather, say, boil himself alive than help Carrie again after the debacle last week. He hangs up on her, refusing to be a part of whatever she’s planning.

And so, that night, after speaking to a concerned Franny, who rightly points out that they live a good life and Carrie should stop fighting with Uncle Bill and everyone around her, Carrie tries a seedier way of getting to the truth of the woman in Wellington’s house. She lands, of all places, on 4Chan, and posts the screenshot, hoping to crowdsource a response. In the morning, she gets one — and, while trying to help Franny put on her coat, opens up a file she’s been sent in a response, and winds up infecting her laptop with malware.

Malware that even Max can’t work around. It turns out whoever duped her — a trained former CIA agent who really should know better — into opening that file has locked all of her files on her hard drive and needs her to pay a hefty ransom in exchange for getting them back.

But Carrie’s broke — “worse than broke,” as she puts it. And as the man behind the laptop’s hostile takeover continues increasing the ransom’s amount, Carrie grows desperate. Is there any way she can get everything back without paying and convince him not to release all the information she’s stored on her hard drive? You know, including those surveillance feeds of the president’s chief of staff’s home? (Next: Cybersecurity, Carrie style)

Carrie tries to negotiate, first by lying about why she’s filming him, then by exchanging herself in place of cold hard cash bitcoin. She removes the sticker off her laptop’s camera and propositions whoever’s watching. In maybe Homeland‘s most uncomfortable nude scene yet, she follows his demands, removing her shirt and then her bra, hoping he’ll be interested enough to be willing to meet her in person. And it works: She forces him to agree to meeting her so they can make this “exchange” face to face and then slams her laptop shut.

It’s a terrible plan, but in the meantime, the other stories aren’t getting much forward momentum either. Senator Paley — the one Carrie had tried to lure into a meeting with Dante — has a meeting with Keane that results in… nothing but anger on both sides. She wants him to stop the groups in Arizona threatening her safety and to stop holding hearings investigating her, but he declines to step aside. He has a job to do, just like she does. And no, David Wellington, your threats of removing Paley from office next November mean nothing; after all, if Paley (and the anti-Keane groups) succeeds, Keane will be the one to go.

Saul’s hunt for Brett also moves forward only by a tiny baby step. While Brett hides out with an accommodating family — the son overhears him insulting them as “crazies,” but Brett’s smart enough to walk back his comments with a quick speech to the impressionable teen, who has a tattoo of Brett’s face on his arm — Saul visits the mattress store where Brett had been in the premiere. There, Saul sits down with the cop who helped Brett escape.

He shows him kindness, using his years of experience in the CIA to figure out how to connect with a man who would go against law enforcement despite his badge. On the way inside, Saul saw exactly how much hatred the townsfolk had for the feds, and he understands that the situation will only get worse if the feds continue to be aggressive in their hunt.

Which is why, when he sits down with the cop, he explains that the only way his people — those pointing middle fingers at the feds — will be okay is to end the hunt once and for all, and help Saul talk to Brett alone. Saul promises that no one will get hurt — a promise I have a feeling he’ll have to break eventually. With that, Saul gets Brett’s location and explains that he’ll have to meet with Brett alone.

That night, Carrie goes to her meeting, following instructions from the horny hacker to go into a warehouse and then into a dark room, where he shows up behind her, demanding she take her top off and continue the show. It’s a sequence filled with dread as Carrie turns around and sees her tormentor for who he is: a thin and pasty young man with a superiority complex who’s definitely in over his head.

She tricks him into approaching her and then slams her head into his face, breaking his nose. Carrie knocks him over, pummels him again and again to keep him down, then brings over his laptop, demanding he unlock her computer — or she’ll kill him. And though he still looks defiant, he’s convinced she can, and as she films him in the act, he finally unlocks her computer, before getting hit and kicked one last time. She tells him she knows everything about him and she’s the one who owns him because she — and she says this with pride — is a member of the CIA.

It’s an outright lie, but this guy believes it. And Carrie then takes the laptop, strides away, and finally succeeds in accomplishing a mission.

The thing is, this entire arc felt like a total distraction. Yes, it’s great to see Carrie back in action, and yes, she could use a W after all of that, but was all of that really necessary? Did that bring us any closer to this season’s endgame?

So far, something just feels off about the season, and I’m not talking about the conspiracy that’s unfolding. I know we’re only two episodes in, but why is Carrie online dealing with a guy who wants to be paid by bitcoin when the real drama is happening inside the White House? Homeland loves to reflect the real world in its own funhouse-mirror way, but was there any point to having its lead battle a villain-of-the-week type hacker? This season appears to be about the paranoia of a divided nation, so shouldn’t Carrie — its most paranoid character — be at the center of that?

At least Saul’s back in action. His conversation with Brett O’Keefe next week should be illuminating: Brett says he believes that those who stand up for what they believe will always be labeled crazy when in fact they’re doing the right thing, but that was a BS argument he said in the moment to make sure the teen didn’t go off running to his dad and drive Brett out of the house. So what does Brett O’Keefe truly believe? Could there be a way for Saul to stop his crusade? I too wonder how Quinn would have reacted to all this. Carrie says that he would understand exactly what she’s doing, but I doubt he would approve. At the very least, he’d tell her to stop downloading random files off the internet. (That’s rule No. 1 of — and I am so sorry about this — cyberse-Carrie-ty.)

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