‘Homeland’ recap: Love is a hurtin’ thing in ‘The Litvinov Ruse’

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Homeland’ recap: ‘Parabiosis’.

Allison Carr‘s decade-long work as a Russian spy came to a screeching halt in tonight’s episode of “Homeland,” with Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson exposing the Berlin CIA station chief’s treachery via a carefully orchestrated stunt involving the help of German intelligence (the BND).I think it’s fair enough to assume that we’re all in a pretty bleak place right now, our turkey hangover and end-of-the-long-weekend blues leavened not at all by the sight of our beloved Peter Quinn in a gas chamber, choking, convulsing, foaming at the mouth, and cursed with far too much knowledge of the added horrors (asphyxiation, release of bladder and bowel) to come. After Carrie learned the truth about her colleague in the final moments of last week’s episode, she reunited with Saul (whose whole Israeli defection has now apparently been rendered irrelevant due his hand in uncovering Allison’s traitorous activities) in an effort to lure Allison into the hands of her SVR handler, Ivan Krupin.

Having been suckered by the SVR to take the bait of millions of stolen US dollars, she was blackmailed by Krupin into a long-term mutually beneficial intelligence exchange. The ruse worked, and our last glimpse of the arrested CIA official involved her attempts to convince Dar Adal that her work with Krupin was all part of an ongoing, clandestine mission to obtain secrets from the Russians, and not the other way around. Case in point: Tonight’s cat-and-mouse game with Allison had Saul carrying out a middle-of-the-night bugging of Allison’s purse and cell phone, Astrid attempting a last-ditch push, and Carrie — the Drone Queen herself — using the BND’s sophisticated surveillance to follow Allison’s flight from Berlin.

Much of season five has presented Carrie as an off-the-grid rogue operative — which certainly has its appeals — but that outsider status too often prevents her from working at full strength. Having given us episodes which put the focus squarely on first Carrie and then Saul, All About Allison lives up to its name by filling out Allison Carr’s back-story and revealing how she came to work for the Russians.

What a relief, then, that “The Litvinov Ruse” mostly absolves her of any suspected wrongdoing and allows her to once again prove she’s the best spy game mastermind on television. Through a combination of flashbacks to Baghdad and present-day events in Germany, we learn more about Allison’s motivations as her relationship with Carrie comes full circle. But just seconds before Quinn is thrown into a hermetically sealed room filled with the nervous-system-destroying chemical weapon, one of the ISIS supporters, Qasim, injects him with potentially life-saving atropine.

Is it because he’s come to realize that he didn’t deserve it? “I’m gonna miss you, Allison,” he says to his second-best mentee, who notably does not return the sentiment. “I was asleep for 10 years. She’s weary of the futility of forcing democracy on the Iraqi people and can’t wait to hand over her job, ship out and spend a long vacation sipping daiquiris in St Lucia. All season long, Homeland has asked us to believe these two would turn their backs on each other, and we were finally given a solid confirmation of why that had happened: Carrie personally lobbied against Saul’s promotion to CIA director. Saul’s distress at the contrast between Allison’s ardor toward her hedge fund lover and thinly veiled disinterest in bed with him is painful to watch.

Only viewers with a working knowledge of last season’s finale will care about the details of why she did it, but it’s almost as if the reason never mattered. And the timing of his declaration, part of a double play that will lead to his placing a tracking device in her purse, makes me wonder if it’s Allison’s perfidy — and his awareness of how blind and mind-blunted he has been — that has awakened him to his better self. So, despite Carrie and Saul not having any input from Langley, as they’re both still wanted by the agency for being “disloyal,” the BND decides to help.

It’s obvious!” But Saul has multiple reasons for being hesitant here, beyond the personal ones – and you can see at the end of the episode where Allison says she had every reason to be working in close conjunction with the Russians on these kinds of operations, especially in Berlin. You may well hate the murderously venal Berlin station chief — though I still can’t bring myself to — but you’ve got to love the artistry with which she has been depicted. Her marvelous dance with Ivan, which spins, briefly, into mutual hysteria before pivoting and flipping with a slap and a chin-grab, into razor-sharp, centered calm. “Ivan. He tells her Carrie never reached out, that Israel is offering him political asylum (a fact she’s clearly suspicious of but ends up accepting), and that he came over to say goodbye. It seems like something approaching a win for Saul, but when Etai gets wind of a secret deal to hand him over early to Dar, he rouses his old friend to spirit him out of the building.

Think,” Allison says, and the man who, a few seconds earlier, had been flailing in his too-tight shirt, punching the wall, possibly denting his now-noticeable wedding ring, and losing his grip on the English language suddenly pulls himself together. (Let’s pause for a moment to enjoy that out-of-character language slippage. “You’ve been playn,” Ivan says, having previously bungled the pronunciation of “burned,” forcing Allison to interrupt the flow of action to ask, “What?”) But how masterfully she then plays Saul and Dar, recasting the sights and sounds witnessed by a room of agents so convincingly that her highly seasoned bosses lose their grip on the game. Krupin even talks about how she’s the “highest penetration in CIA history.” It’s a big deal for this to be happening, so the fact that he doesn’t buy into it immediately makes sense. Later that night, while Allison’s asleep, Saul creeps downstairs, dons his glasses, props up a light, and gets to work with his Super Spy ToolkitTM. But where Allison has retreated into a solitary existence shopping for handbags online, Carrie has – or at least had – established a normal life with Franny and Jonas.

These are words to cling to this week, as we cross our fingers tight in the ever-darkening days and hope that Quinn will rise from the almost-dead, stronger and madder than ever. The way her voice cracks when she tells Allison she just wants her life back and her disappointment when Otto Düring tells her that Jonas has not asked after her – why exactly does he lie about that? – demonstrate that she is still trying to escape the world that Allison continues to revel in. Saul, Carrie, and Dar Adal need her to do something very incriminating on camera to prove that she’s a traitor, but ultimately, all they get is drone footage of her entering a Russian safe house.

But when Numan hacks into Nazari’s laptop and Carrie notices a screensaver of him drinking at a bar in the Caribbean that jogs her memory, the pieces suddenly fall into place. This ends up being just enough to incarcerate her and her KGB bestie — but knowing Allison, it also gives her just enough wiggle room to get out of it. He will!), his agonies will nonetheless make a powerful propaganda video, setting off a geopolitical chain reaction that will power us at full tilt through the remaining episodes of this season, and, perhaps, even — like Saul’s kidnapping and eventual complicity in Dar Adal’s deal with Haissam Haqqani — set up the drama for next season. It’s a more than faintly ridiculous plot development – a screensaver, really? – but it’s still fun seeing Carrie using her skills to draw the critical link with a ten-year-old conversation. Carrie even remarks that all the on-the-fly decisions Allison makes — like ditching her cell phone and doubling back through a train station — were exactly what Carrie would have done.

In a meeting with Dar and Allison, Astrid carefully outlines the plan: She lies, telling them there’s a senior Moscow Center chief with a “deep knowledge” of double agents who wants asylum in the U.S. And it can’t be stated enough: For a show premised on people doubting Carrie’s sanity, there’s something refreshing about watching Carrie prove just how great she is by leading the charge when it counts.

It comes as little surprise that he wasn’t planning to defect – it was merely a ruse to delay his departure to buy Carrie more time – but he at least manages to convey to the Israelis that it was the Russians who blew up General Youssef’s plane. I’m assuming that anyone who does this for a living is watching this and going, “It’s not that simple!” But, he could just be especially gifted at this – he could be remembering back to his time doing this 30 years before. The bait looks like it works: Allison doesn’t have a panic attack but does appear distracted, striding away from the meeting as quickly as possible.

People may question if whether the BND would ever run an operation with CIA exiles against the CIA, which is exactly what’s happening in this episode. A BND officer wonders if it’s code, but as Carrie points out, a devil emoji is a “strange” code for a spy agency to use. (But it is blatant symbolism, Homeland!) Six hours later, Allison’s still going about her business “like it’s another day at the f—ing office,” Carrie says. Carrie’s biggest fear throughout Homeland has been that of losing her sanity and, separated from her daughter with an SVR target on her back, the sense of her tailspinning once again is palpable. After the explosive developments of the opening episodes, the middle third of this series has slowly – a little too slowly – shuffled the pieces into place. Last week, his plan to “smuggle” terrorists into Syria went awry when they bashed him in the head with a pipe and transported him, alongside gas masks and chemicals, back into Berlin.

As it turns out, Quinn’s captors were preparing for a sarin gas attack, but only after they send authorities a threatening video of Quinn being gassed to death in a homemade gas chamber. But part of what makes Quinn great at his job is his ability to hone in on peoples’ emotional weaknesses, and here, he successfully appeals to one of his captors’ sense of basic humanity. Finally, Allison’s “big escape”: The call code that she uses is in the same family as what Saul did with the Israelis (calling to get his laundry). Although his captor can’t dispose of the poison gas before Quinn’s scheduled execution, he’s able to secretly inject Quinn with a serum that counteracts the sarin’s effects. It has been a frustrating few weeks as Homeland’s writers have chosen sideways exposition over forward momentum and pulled Carrie, Saul and Quinn apart.

So if she thinks they’re on to her, I don’t know why she doesn’t assume that there isn’t overhead surveillance or some kind of electronic surveillance of her. Also, when she drives directly to the safe house – yes, they’re jamming the signal, but why did Krupin [the SVR chief of station in Berlin] come outside? It’s that humanity that allows Carrie to live long enough to rumble her. “Ya manyak.” The expletive Allison uses when Krupin stings her is Arabic and translates roughly as “You fucker.” Does she kiss her asset with that mouth?

The entire compound, the BND realizes, must be a dead zone, not allowing any signal to come through, save for the visual from the lone drone they have left. If you could make it in an abandoned building somewhere with a rudimentary chemistry set, like the “Homeland” jihadists are doing, then everybody would do it. With all this sophisticated protection and Allison’s suspicious movements in play, Carrie says it’s clear she’s guilty and begs Saul to arrest her.

There’s a nice shout-out to Homeland mythology with Carrie checking out the red menace Brody on the CIA station’s “Let’s bring them home!” display. But they invested, like, $30 or $40 million to try to pull this off, building a massive facility with chemists and chemical engineers, and even then, I think they only produced, like, a couple of gallons a day, of sarin.

In the Baghdad timeline, Carrie is introduced as Carrie Orser and Allison as Allison Stevens – fake names to go with their fake jobs, a common practice in their line of work. She explains that she’s been burned and needs a way out of Germany before it’s too late, but Krupin, as unhelpful as ever, hugs her and tells her she’s shaking. I like how Krupin gives: “There have been too many bodies already” as a reason not to kill Carrie, before deciding that maybe there is room for one more body after all.

Allison’s “We’ve just hit 2,000 US dead since the invasion,” dates her meeting with Carrie close to 26 October 2005, when this landmark was reached. Even if you do create sarin, the challenge at that point is weaponizing it, coming up with a way to kill people with it, to find a way to disperse it. Krupin instructs his fellow SVR agents to crash the hard drives and then shouts at Allison. “How the f— could you be so careless?” he screams, until she slaps him to calm him down.

But even here, you had this cult in Japan that had more money and more technical know-how than any ISIS guys would ever know, and they still screwed it up. Back at the CIA Berlin Station, they brief Dar on what they’ve done. “That’s quite a story,” he says, looking indignant until he reveals he’s pleased with their success. “You’ve made your case, both of you. That’s why this Japanese cult failed, because they tried to spray the sarin gas from a moving van, and it didn’t work, and it sprayed backward and hit them in the face. There’s a reason why we have weapons labs in the United States and why we have very, very, very talented people way underground working on this stuff, because it’s very dangerous.

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