“Sock Puppets” is probably the closest season six has come to matching the suspense and thrills of classic Homeland, which is a shame considering it’s still pretty far off the mark and there are only three episodes left in the season. Of all Homeland’s seasons, I’ve never been more acutely aware than I am this year of exactly how many hours the show has left to tell its story. That’s because I’m still hoping this meandering, enervated season still has some spark left in it, some kind of indication that the decision makers at Showtime aren’t insane to think there are not one, but two more seasons to be squeezed out of this premise. As it stands, I’m still probably a no-show on season seven unless I hear awfully good things about a rebound.
But “Sock Puppets” is still to be credited for finally incorporating the familiar elements that have been missing all year, much to Homeland’s detriment. The first few minutes don’t portend well. Chip Johannessen’s script opens with a classic Carrie monologue, but in front of a camera, not unlike her video message to Frannie in “Why Is This Night Different?” This time, instead of explaining to Frannie why she’s not around, she’s talking to a therapist about Frannie in the hopes of seeing her again. Claire Danes effectively performs the scene, in which Carrie recounts her fraught journey to motherhood and how she attempted to explain Brody’s whereabouts to an inquisitive Frannie.
In another season, one with more forward momentum and a firmer grasp on its stakes, Carrie’s monologue might have been welcome, but it’s an odd way to start the episode following the barely thwarted assassination of Peter Quinn and Astrid von Redshirt. Luckily, “Puppets” picks up quickly, with Majid Javadi quickly discovering he bet on the wrong horse after all. Javadi has one last meal with Dar Adal as he prepares to collect the second tranche of his frozen fortune and retire in an undisclosed location. Of course, Javadi is a loose end for Dar and his cabal of Iran deal denialists, so Dar allows his co-conspirators from Mossad to extract Javadi to Israel for a far less relaxing retirement.
Javadi’s extraordinary rendition is the sort of scene Carrie is usually far removed from these days, so it’s an incremental improvement to have Carrie listening to the scene after a panicked Javadi calls her on his concealed cell phone. Carrie calls Saul, thereby initiating the world’s most stressful conference call, but there’s no way to get to Javadi in time. I’m also not sure how an agency would go about tracing Javadi’s phone call using Saul’s phone when the original call wasn’t placed to him, but questions like those are probably not worth asking.
The phone call launches Carrie and Saul into action, but their efforts are snared by the intricacies of their respective relationships with the incoming president. President-Elect Keane is still squirming after the awkward meeting with Javadi, Saul, and Carrie. She’s more comfortable once Carrie retrieves Javadi’s phone, and with it, proof that Nafisi was paid by Mossad to assist in the conspiracy to undermine the Iran deal. But Keane is still wary of Saul, and Keane’s choice for the agency’s new inspector general is not convinced that there’s enough evidence to pursue a case against Dar. The only solid path forward, says Keane’s team, is to go after Dar about his cover-up of Allison’s deals with the Russians. But that strategy would expose and humiliate Saul just as Carrie was exposed and humiliated when her affair with Brody became public.
This would normally be the point in the season where Carrie and Saul unite in their pursuit of a shared foe, but they have a few more hurdles before they get there. Saul is livid about her support for the Berlin station play, and his anger is justified. It’s odd that Carrie wouldn’t be more forceful about a different strategy for nabbing Dar Adal considering the breadth of his evil and how long she’s been trying to pin something to him. Carrie was apoplectic when she spotted Dar Adal cozied up to the ISI in “Krieg Nicht Lieb,” and her relationship with Saul soured when Saul opted to bargain with Dar Adal to save his reputation.
Maybe Carrie is pursuing the path of least resistance because her focus is on regaining custody of Frannie, or maybe she thinks she’s justified in choosing the personally expedient option even if it means Dar doesn’t fully pay for his crimes. If Saul can do it, why shouldn’t she? The first scenario seems the most likely, since Carrie physically steps away from Saul, not because their meeting has become combative, but because she gets a phone call inviting her for a supervised visit with Frannie. Carrie’s slow, awkward embrace of motherhood says a lot about how she’s grown as a person, but it would be terrific if Carrie’s personal growth wasn’t at war with the rest of the story.
The weirdest but most compelling story belongs to Quinn, who hasn’t been in any position to do much of anything to better his situation, but there’s nothing like a couple minutes of oxygen deprivation to cure what ails you. Because after escaping Mystery Neighbor and eluding police officers, Quinn is on a mission to confront his attacker with Astrid’s blood daubed on his lip. The issue with the story of Quinn’s recovery is that I have no idea what Quinn’s capacity is now and it seems to change depending on the story’s needs. And because the story needs a hero, Quinn gets a pass this time. I don’t know how the guy who couldn’t conjure up the word “bullets” in episode eight is pulling off flawless stealth robberies in episode nine. But at least it feels like watching a story, which can be said about too little of the season.
- Someone’s going undercover! And it’s...Max. He’s gone behind enemy lines ever though he knows Agent Conlin died after investigating Elliott O’Keefe’s one-stop shop for right-wing skullduggery and subterfuge.
- Max does get an emotional moment when he confesses to O’Keefe that he lost a year to “meth and masturbation” because he was so torn up about Fara’s death in Islamabad.
- O’Keefe’s enterprise is some kind of boiler room for internet propaganda, another example of a “ripped from the headlines” plotline that doesn’t work as story. (The Iran deal is the other.)
- I’ve lost the plot as far as who President-Elect Keane is supposed to be a proxy for, and I can’t tell whether she’s competent or not, but I’m still enjoying Elizabeth Marvel’s performance.