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)