Homeland recap: 'Useful Idiot'
Saul's task force makes a bold move, while Carrie tries to win her daughter back.
I was so tempted to give this an A-, and then that final shot happened. Am I bad for laughing out loud at seeing Carrie hallucinate — gasp! — herself? I mean, come on. We got the point.
But fine, we’ve seen worse. (This Carrie versus fly scene is still seared into my brain.) And excluding those last three seconds, this episode dramatically upped the stakes, even if some of those stakes resulted in seeing our villain of the season spend much of the hour driving across state lines. Gromov may be a genius, but he can’t fly.
What he can do, though, is always put his network first, which is why he abandons his lover, Simone, after driving her to their extraction point, an airfield far away from where she’d been sheltered by the feds. Even though they’d just reconnected, Gromov decides to stay behind when he gets a call from an asset named Clayton about Dante, who’s fallen off their operation’s radar. Simone tells him to leave it — they’ve already won, haven’t they? — but Gromov doesn’t like loose ends.
That’s not the way his handler, a stern-sounding man named Mirov, sees it. Mirov angrily calls Gromov over and over, first telling him to go back to the airfield, then telling him that he’s overplayed his hand, and that the Russians have become too vulnerable. But Gromov doesn’t stand down, especially after Clayton reports that Dante has been dragged from his home and taken to a hospital.
And no, Dante still hasn’t woken up. Carrie watches over him, takes a deep breath, and solemnly lets Saul know that there’s nothing they can do until Dante wakes up and they can check to see whether he’s not only functional but also able to restate what he admitted while he was having his heart attack. Yet again, the fate of the U.S. rests in one man’s hands.
Luckily, Dante pulls through. He eyes her warily as she checks to see if he remembers what happened (he does) and whether he could at all help them track down the lawyer who tried to kill him. Obviously, we know Carrie’s feigning this whole story of Dante’s life being targeted by the Russians he was quietly working for, but Dante appears to believe that he can now only trust his former colleague. He decides to help her after all, and ends up telling her almost everything she needs to know. Delighted, Carrie giddily calls Saul and reports that Dante has confirmed his status as an asset, Simone’s involvement, and how they can take Gromov’s entire network down with a single coded tweet. All they have to do is launch it and track who on Twitter responds to confirm receipt.
It all seems a little too easy, but despite Saul’s initial surprise at how fallible the Russian operation really, he’s eager to give the Americans a win. So when Senator Paley doubles down to the press about how little faith they have in POTUS after Simone’s disappearance — he implies the president had something to do with whisking away his star witness and touches on impeachment — Saul reassures Keane that though there’s little they can do to prove the conspiracy, he advises her that for now she and Wellington should bring Paley into the loop, while he and his task force handle Dante and use a cyber attack to disable Gromov’s network.
The only catch? They’ll need to play fast and loose with privacy laws and ethics, as they’ll need approved NSA intervention to toy with Twitter, a private company. In other words, they’ll have to spy on U.S. citizens online, but as long as the president says it’s all done because the nation’s considered under attack, those legal questions won’t matter. Keane thinks it over, clearly frustrated to once again have to make a call between two evils. “You realize the longer this goes on,” she observes, “the more I become the leader my enemies say I am.”
Still, she gives the green light to engage in cyber warfare, instructing Saul to keep the operation as small as possible. It’s a smart call — and one Wellington also passes on to Paley when he meets with the senator to share their findings. Wellington and Saul have prepped a presentation outlining the entire Russian conspiracy, and with each passing slide, Paley appears to deflate, shocked by what he’s seeing. And as much as I’ve been annoyed by how much this season’s been bloated by characters delivering the same exposition over and over, here it’s put to good use: We see just how betrayed an alpha politician like Paley feels to have been played — and worse, to be considered by the Russians as a “UI,” or “Useful Idiot.”
Of course, alpha politicians also have the biggest egos — and when Paley returns to his office, he vents his frustrations at Janet, who starts brainstorming ways for them to make sure Paley comes off okay in the inevitable media storm that comes out of this attack that’s, as Paley huffily admits, “making all the f—ing sense in the world.” She says they’ll have to make sure Paley’s the one to announce the Russian conspiracy and that his committee will have to lead the investigation. In other words, he’ll be a Useful Leader.
Speaking of Useful Leaders, Saul’s returned to his task force, and he’s ready for them to pull the trigger on the cyber attack. It’s simple, but Homeland spices it up with some wacky code phrases that I hope sound somewhat similar to what’s used in real life. (I mean, “Darwin loves Bitcoin”? What is this, cultural relevance bingo?) Basically, once they’ve slipped into Twitter’s servers from Ireland thanks to the NSA, the team will launch the code in a form of a tweet from a nondescript account all of the Russian assets follow, then wait as the assets confirm that they’ve received the code by tweeting out a coded response of their own. Once they see these coded tweet responses, they’ll track down the users and voila, time to put names to this operation and shut it all down.
Sandy, though, rightly points out that this is a huge risk. What if Dante fed them a flare instead of true intel? What if the code they send is a trap and alerts all assets to the fact that the feds are on their tail? What if Dante figured out that he’d been poisoned not by the Russians, but by them?
Carrie says not to worry — Dante has no idea. And as Sandy and Carrie stare each other down, Saul makes an executive decision and moves forward with the plan. Hey, it’s not like anyone has a better idea. (Next: Drive, Gromov, drive)
As it turns out, Dante did keep one thing from Carrie: The account they had to use to send out the code was one that represented Gromov himself, and when Gromov gets a call from Clayton wondering why he’s instructing everyone to shut down the network, Gromov realizes that Dante must have spilled to the CIA. He immediately calls Mirov and asks for a team of assets to go to the hospital to take Dante out, but Mirov says no. This is Gromov‘s failed network, his misplaced shutdown protocol. To send a team of men in to assassinate a heavily-guarded FBI agent is a dumb idea and would just blow their operation apart even more.
After all, the results are pouring in back at Saul’s headquarters. The first assets to respond are overseas, followed by one who appears to be a sophomore from UT Austin who may have had no idea he was recruited into a Russian network, and finally, after 17 people have implicated themselves, they get a blip from much closer to home. A personal wealthy manager named Paul Wyler, living in Connecticut, sends the response code. Saul immediately puts in the call to send feds to Wyler in Greenwich.
Carrie, pleased with how everything’s progressing, decides to fix her conflict with Maggie. There, she enters the house, but instead of finding Maggie, she’s instead coolly greeted by her brother-in-law, who reports that Franny’s safe in school and Maggie’s, well, Maggie’s out. Carrie tries to apologize for running away before — “we had a big thing going down with a double agent and a foreign infiltration,” she rambles as he disinterestedly nods — but when he refuses to tell her where Maggie is, Carrie begins to panic.
Finally, he tells her: Maggie’s currently talking to a lawyer about custody of Franny, and he can’t tell her the name of the lawyer because there’s no way Carrie can or should stop this transfer of custody from happening. “She needs stability or else she’ll end up like you,” he says — a statement that, as right as it may be, is extremely harsh for Carrie to hear.
And so, Carrie does what she does best: She runs away. She packs Franny’s things, then drives to Franny’s school to pick her up, only to be blocked by Franny’s principal, who’s received a call from Carrie’s brother-in-law. But because Carrie is Franny’s mother and he can’t legally stop her from seeing Franny, he ends up going to bring Franny to her.
Meanwhile, Mirov has brought Simone into the Gromov crisis, and has her call Gromov to talk him down from pursuing Dante. She urges him to calm down and to talk to Mirov again — he’ll be designated a rogue agent otherwise — but just as Gromov appears to listen, he gets a call from a panicking Paul Wyler, who’s wondering what he should do about the feds on his doorstep. Gromov tells him never to call him again and to get a lawyer, then tosses his phone out of his car window.
So in other words, Gromov really has gone rogue. He reaches Bethesda, ditches his car, then heads straight for the hospital, where he meets with Clayton in the parking lot. Clayton, like Simone, mentions how Mirov is trying to reach him, but Gromov waves off his concern, saying he had to get rid of his phone. Clayton reports that there are guards everywhere checking ID, but Gromov has a plan.
He asks Clayton to switch seats in their car so he can drive, then distracts Clayton enough to shoot him in the stomach, then wipes Clayton’s blood over himself. “You’ll be fine,” Gromov growls. “We’re going to the hospital.” He drags Clayton in, registers him to the ER, then swipes an ID off of a nurse. He slips through the door, changes into scrubs, and soon enough — even though Clayton’s life is one the line — he’s made it to Dante’s exam room.
Dante stirs as Gromov comfortably seats himself next to the bed. When he sees Gromov, he tries to press his alarm. “You tried to kill me,” Dante says. “You poisoned me.” But Gromov just furrows his brows: He says the Russians definitely didn’t try to murder him, and that maybe Dante should connect the dots. “Who was holding you? Mathison?” Gromov smiles. “So she tells you we sent someone in to poison you, and you believed her.” He scoffs, then reminds Dante that they wouldn’t hurt him; no, Gromov’s M.O. is to protect the people working for him. (Tell that to Clayton.)
But Dante doesn’t seem 100 percent convinced. Still barely alive and worn out from working both sides, he decides to do as Gromov suggests and calls Carrie to ask her directly if she poisoned him. Just then, though, she’s at Franny’s school, about to take Franny away. He calls again after she declines, and she finally picks up. “Did you poison me?” Dante asks. “The lawyer, was it one of yours?”
Carrie goes into histrionic mode to cover herself. “Are you out of your f—ing mind?!” she responds loudly, within earshot of both Franny and the principal. She then tells Dante she’s on her way to the hospital, where they can talk it over, but just as she’s about to hang up, Dante makes a choice. It’s not clear if he believed her act — in fact, the way he closes his eyes seems to indicate that he understood she’s lying about poisoning him — but he decides to ally himself with the Americans in the end, and quickly warns Carrie that Gromov is in the hospital, and she needs to lock it down.
Realizing it’s an emergency, Carrie once again leaves Franny behind — but this time, Franny runs after her. While Dante gets suffocated in the hospital by Gromov, Carrie races to drive away, only to back her car up and nearly hit her own daughter before the principal caught up to scoop her away in his arms. (I don’t know about you, but I could not look at my screen during this scene. Poor, poor Franny.) Shaken from the trauma of nearly running over her own daughter, Carrie drives away with images of a bloody Franny in her mind, and once again, the world seems to slow down around her.
She begins to breathe erratically, and when she arrives at the hospital, time slows down, and she can barely hear what the feds tell her. One of them reports that Dante didn’t make it, and that only sets her off on flashbacks to other men in her life who have died because of — or for — her. It’s a powerful montage: We see glimpses of Brody’s hanging, Aayan’s death, and Quinn’s sacrifice. We follow her as she numbly walks toward Dante’s room and sees that he’s flatlined. And then she reaches out to talk to the nurse, but when she grabs her by the shoulder, the nurse is no longer a brunette stranger, but her.
Carrie tries to force the image away, but it stays. And in the end, Not Carrie angrily addresses her. “What did you do?” she asks. And all Carrie can do is scream.
Sigh. It would have been a powerful, even poignant ending if we had cut to black immediately after she arrived to see Dante’s body, but no, the show had to take it one step further and make Carrie confront herself, just in case we didn’t already pick up on her waves of pain, guilt, and self-loathing. Still — it’s just a few seconds of Too Much. The episode overall packed a punch, giving us ample time with a panicked Gromov and a desperate Paley, and what might be Keane’s finest moment, as she realizes just how trapped she is in her position. Maybe Maggie should just make sure she not only has custody of Franny, but can also keep her away from all matters of politics and national security. People who get involved, to paraphrase Keane, eventually become just like the ones they were trying to stop.