Homeland 5.05: Better Call Saul

 Posted by on November 2, 2015 at 12:28 am  Homeland
Nov 022015
Homeland 505-Better Call Saul-Peter Quinn by the water

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Five episodes in, and Homeland Season 5 has yet to stumble. Homeland 5.05, Better Call Saul (a title designed to screw up all your search engines) put all the pieces on the chessboard. Station Chief Eowyn is a Russian traitor, as we anticipated. The same SVR (Russia’s equivalent of the CIA) agent who killed the hacker and his girlfriend Katja is handling Eowyn (Allison, if you insist). She’s snuggling with him, but it seems obvious he’s playing her.

The plan is to bring down Saul Berenson. Implicating the Israelis in the plot to murder Syrian General Not-Assad is just gravy—the Russians are undoubtedly happy to take a shot at Israel, but they’re just the easiest way to bring down Saul. The Israeli ambassador (Üter) was in Geneva working on an asset? Obviously, that information, and the suggestion he go to Geneva on Saturday to meet, was planted by Eowyn and/or the SVR.

The Russian handler tells Eowyn that nothing points to her, but that’s not true—the use of a CIA cipher, and the knowledge of the postal drop, point to an insider.

All the pieces fall into place. Conveniently, Carrie’s boyfriend Jonas is Laura’s lawyer. Before, it was just a little too neat to have everyone know everyone else, now we know it enables him to make a crucial phone call so that Carrie can have a tense meeting in a public place. Lots and lots of people are seeing that ugly brown wig.

The Russians want to kill Carrie for an unknown reason. Bringing down Numan and getting those hacked files appears to be a separate operation. Did I miss that piece? Because I don’t see a connection between killing Carrie and everything else. The leaked files, bringing down Saul, mucking around with Syrian and Israeli diplomacy, all of that is interconnected, and it all goes back to the SVR. But what’s Carrie’s role? She was out, remember.

What’s working magnificently here is pace, tempo, and the look of the show. Everything is full of tension. The acting is outstanding; Claire Danes was beautifully understated this week. The feeling of a noose tightening, of nowhere to turn and no way out, is intense. The interplay of light and shadow is gorgeous—Üter’s brightly-lit gardens, Carrie’s dingy hideout, Saul’s glittering hotel, Numan’s darkness-and-blue-light brothel.

Better Call Saul was not without its flaws, if you look very closely: Saul being clueless is, to me, the biggest issue. Last season, he clumsily and stupidly let himself get kidnapped in an episode that screamed, “I know nothing about spying!” This season, he’s being completely played by Eowyn. I’m on record as thinking he knew part of the plot, at least, that he knew she was up to something; but no, he’s just a blank slate, as easy to fool as a kitten with a toy mouse.

The other thing that’s not completely working for me is Quinn’s stubborn suicidality. Not the attempt to kill himself, exactly, but the insistence that he’s doing so because Carrie Mathison is magically irresistible.

Look to the “previously on” to learn a little about what the producers want you to think. We’re reminded that the SVR guy is the one who killed Korzenik, so we’re meant to be putting all the pieces together. We’re also reminded of Carrie and Quinn’s past relationship—she never stopped thinking about him, we hear. It seems to me that this is meant to make Quinn’s behavior credible—he’ll sacrifice his life to keep her safe, and he scoffs at Jonas for implying he wouldn’t do the same. Carrie is magical. Anyone would do it for her. That, to me, is hard to swallow.

On the other hand, Peter Quinn is a single-minded and special kind of nuts, so I’m willing to give him a pass for trying to zip-tie a BRICK! To his hands! So he could DROWN!

And then a miracle guy shows up to save him. Now, in a perfectly-written show, you’d say “That’ can’t be a coincidence”, and assume we’d learn more about this God Loves You guy, and figure he’s been following Quinn for Nefarious Reasons. I’m still assuming that. But (and this is a big but), Homeland is not a perfectly-written show. It is not afraid to hand us broad coincidences—Jonas being the lawyer is a case in point. A key German intelligence officer being Quinn’s sometime-lover is another. So we don’t know if God Loves You is a part of a broader plot, or just a conveniently-placed stranger. Time will tell.

What about you, Basketcases? Are you finding Homeland Reborn as thrilling as I am?


  5 Responses to “Homeland 5.05: Better Call Saul”

  1. Another great episode! Not as thrilling as last week’s, but still.

    I continue to believe that the reason the Russians want to destroy Saul and the reason for wanting Carrie dead are one and the same, and it’s a biggie: Putin (and by extension the SVR) want to keep Assad in power in Syria.

    Saul and his idealistic regime-changing plans must be stopped, then. So they are going at him from the inside, via Allison. They obviously blew up the jet–and Allison obviously knew it was going to happen (based on her utter lack of even a scintilla of normal human freak-out response when the thing exploded mid-air, I mean, she barely turned her head, forget flinching!). Relatedly (but not primarily) the Russians want those CIA documents that the hackers got because they want any and all intel on the regime-change plans, which they don’t know for sure is within the documents but believe may well be (remember, in the first episode, the CIA was scrambling to shut down the servers as the downloads continued, and eventually they did manage to stop the flow, but not before a significant amount of them were swiped).

    As for Carrie? Why did they want her dead? She is Düring’s primary entré into difficult Middle East scenes such as the Syrian refugee crisis that is exploding (both on Homeland and in reality). Remember what Düring announced to the refugees as he made the huge donation? It was to the effect of, “We will help you by building schools and training you so you can return to your country and rebuild it with pride and skill”.

    Even if Düring is not covertly supplying the refugees/rebels with arms (I, for one, suspect he is), the LAST thing the Russians want, given their desire to keep Assad in power, is a well-fed, well-trained group of Syrians with a very justified chip on their collective shoulder returning to their country.

    So they will do what it takes to keep Düring from achieving any of that, including acts of terror and murdering his chief of security, Carrie. The Russians (and Putin in particular) are all about making a show of spectacular brutality in order to establish a point. Witness the way the Hezbollah turncoat guy who admitted, after being beaten, that he was more afraid of what would happen to him (torture by the Russians, although we did not know that at the time) than of death itself. He preferred being shot in the face, point-blank, by the Hezbollah than what awaited him at the hands of the then-mysterious people he’d been working for.

    (Remember also some of the shocking real-life acts of brutality the Putin admin carried out, including poisoning that one dissident reporter with plutonium several years ago–I think it was on his sushi, if I remember correctly?–which led to his agonizing and slow death by total liver failure in an English hospital.)

  2. I think this vies with Season 1 as the best so far. The atmosphere is perfect, and the shift to Berlin from the generic Mid-East has improved the show immensely.
    Genuine coincidences happen all the time, and multiple coincidences (in low numbers) are more common than people think. Fiction to be credible has to be more realistic than reality. The ending shot seems to reinforce the idea that the pious Samaritan is secretly sinister but could be a misdirection.

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