Elizabeth Marvel, Mandy Patinkin (Photo: Antony Platt/Showtime)

It only takes one lapse in judgment to throw a carefully plotted operation into disarray. That goes for Carrie Mathison as well as the writers of Homeland, in this case Patrick Harbinson and Chip Johannessen. “Rebel Rebel” is very much a stage-setting hour for the rest of the season, with most of the suspense generated by a stupid, impulsive decision Carrie makes about halfway through the episode. As so often happens, Homeland becomes a test of how much disbelief you’re willing to suspend.

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We’ll get to that later, but first let’s deal with the aftermath of General McClendon’s sudden demise at the end the season premiere. The official story is that he suffered a heart attack, and it doesn’t take a Brett O’Keefe-level conspiracy theorist to find that a bit too convenient. Stressing the need to “change the conversation,” Wellington pushes his plan to bring Saul aboard and free the 200 political prisoners. Keane reluctantly goes along, and before you know it, Saul is being introduced as the new National Security Advisor. Again, this is such a transparent ploy to shift public perception of the president it shouldn’t possibly work, but we’ve seen stranger things lately.

Saul’s conditions are met up to a point: the 200 are released, but his face-to-face access with Keane is more severely limited than he’d been promised. Instead Wellington puts him on the trail of O’Keefe, and if you’re thinking that tracking down a fugitive talk radio host isn’t exactly within the purview of the National Security Advisor, well, Saul feels you. Nevertheless, he’s dispatched to the mattress store where O’Keefe was rescued by local cops from imminent discovery by the feds, some of whom have now given said local cops a beating for their efforts. Saul gets one of the officers on his wavelength by comparing the FBI presence on the streets to “the most fucked-up places on the planet,” and by episode’s end he’s on his way to O’Keefe’s new hiding place.

That place is what I will perhaps uncharitably describe as a redneck compound for gun-toting yahoos. This is O’Keefe’s base, but it soon becomes clear he has nothing in common with them beyond the buzzwords of his rhetoric, and he struggles to relate to them at all. This scenario is a more effective analogue for Trump and his supporters than anything going on with Keane’s storyline, and it’s fun to watch him attempt to bluster his way through it. When it comes time for target practice with a Keane campaign sign as the bull’s-eye, you can see the panic mounting: what O’Keefe fears more than anything is exposure that he’s really just another out-of-touch “elite’ who has never fired a gun in his life. (Or his adult life, anyway.) Sure enough, the pistol recoils and knocks him on his ass, but the real threat of exposure comes later when a young fan overhears him describing his hosts as the lunatic fringe. He manages to smooth talk his way out of trouble, but I’m curious to see how much of a white supremacist/homegrown terrorism angle Homeland pursues this season. (Judging from the opening credits imagery, probably more than a little.)

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Claire Danes (Photo: Antony Platt/Showtime)

We can only hope that new ground is being explored in some corner of Homeland, because that’s definitely not happening with Carrie Mathison. We’ve been here before and hoped to never be here again: Carrie is on to something big at the highest reaches of government, but everyone thinks she’s crazy, and now she’s starting to doubt herself. Her new therapist suggests that Lithium (which Carrie has been taking for 15 years) can sometimes become ineffective over time. Worst of all is the image of Saul glad-handing President Keane on television as Carrie’s brother-in-law delights in informing her that she was wrong about the 200 never being released. Her allies are drying up, as Dante refuses to help her identify a woman in a screenshot taken from the surveillance of Wellington’s house.

So maybe if you’re feeling generous, you could attribute Carrie’s slip-up to the overwhelming stress she’s feeling to prove to herself and others that she’s not delusional. I still find it hard to believe that the Carrie we know would simply click on a file from an anonymous user on a random Reddit thread, but even if I was willing to accept that, I can’t believe her laptop isn’t equipped with the sort of security measures that would prevent it from happening. Not even a pop-up window saying “Hey, Ms. CIA Spy, are you sure you want to do this?” But no. She goes through with it and immediately her laptop is infected with ransomware.

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Ah, but surely Max can make it go away as easily as snapping his fingers! Well, no, he can’t do that because then the episode would end 20 minutes early. What follows is suspenseful enough as far as it goes, mainly because director Lesli Linka Glatter is a pro (this is her nineteenth episode at the helm of Homeland), but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that it’s all completely unnecessary. Do we get some insight into Carrie’s desperation when she’s beating the geeky hacker within an inch of his life? Perhaps a little, but is it enough to justify a tangent designed to pump a little action into an episode that’s otherwise concerned with setting up the chessboard? My vote is no.

Stray observations

  • Carrie says she’s learned her lesson and is never going to involve her niece in her work again, which means her niece is definitely going to be involved again soon.
  • Franny, wise beyond her years, wonders why her mother is always yelling.
  • Senator Paley isn’t interested in shutting down his investigation. Lest you get the idea he’s some sort of righteous hero, it’s pretty clear he’s more interested in throwing red meat to his base than getting to the truth. He’s the kind of right-wing hack who’s not above saying he can’t guarantee the president’s safety if she visits his home state. Plausibility may be in short supply this season, but sometimes Homeland still gets it right.

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