We’ve reached the penultimate episode of Homeland Season Five, and we’re in very different territory than we were even just two episodes ago. The focus has shifted from the global and the political to the local and the practical. A cast of characters once united by the fact that they were misfits and transplants in search of a new way to operate have found their roles in a tightly choreographed ticking-bomb adventure. Allison Carr is the mendacious double agent, and Qasim is the henchman wrestling with his conscience. Saul is fighting for pride, Carrie is fighting for redemption, and Quinn is fighting for his very life. Now that the gears are starting to fit together, though, the process by which they were moved into position, which took the lion’s share of the season and had more than a few slack stretches and questionable diversions, looks more like an extended prologue than a meaningful story.
We join Carrie and Saul looking down over comatose Quinn, wondering how they’re going to prevent the sarin attack that’s now just hours away. The doctor, mindful of the fact that Quinn has been recently gutshot and gassed, seems to prefer that he be allowed to recuperate rather than being goosed chemically and interrogated. Still, an MRI might determine if he could survive such a process, so into the tube he goes.
Meanwhile, a representative from the terror cell is arranging their sarin canisters in subway tunnels at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. An issue arises with the radio controller, though– it seems that the gas cannot be released remotely.
Luckily, a terrorist in Berlin always has a friend in Allison Carr, who is headed with her minder to a briefing on the sarin situation from Dar Adal and the BND. On the way, she receives a secret communiqué in the form of a fake parking ticket. In the washroom outside the briefing, she listens to the recording in evident horror. Luckily, her handlers have sent a German woman in after her confirm that she’s comfortable with her new instructions: to kill a local university professor with knowledge of the coming attack before he can lead the authorities to the terror cell. Yes, for a series of nonsensical political reasons, the Russians are determined that this ISIS-affiliated terror attack succeed. Allison makes more conflicted faces than it ever previously seemed possible, but sets out on her new quest to commit some light terrorist-abetting murder.
The results of the MRI come back: waking up Quinn and asking impertinent questions will only very likely kill him, so Saul and Carrie press on. The question of Carrie and Quinn’s personal relationship and whether they value each other as people more than as professional assets seems to have receded into the background here. The doctors and our heroes manage to make Quinn gasp in terror for a few minutes and cough up clots of bodily fluid, but extract no useful intelligence.
An emergency meeting of the terror cell is held to discuss the malfunctioning remote control issue. Bibi determines that the radio can be repaired by their tech support guy: a local university professor. Further, he declares that this errand will fall to Qasim because Qasim does not appear on the terrorist watch lists. The lights of a major plot intersection loom in the distance.
Otto calls Saul to complain that Marwan Faisal, whose good treatment Saul had vouchsafed in “New Normal,” has been whisked away in a van, sans lawyer. Saul promises to look into it despite the fact that he’s had a full plate lately. More practically, he realizes that there’s a new person he can ineffectually interrogate and this one isn’t even in a coma.
On the matter of Marwan, Otto seeks to calm Laura Sutton’s ire and request that she keep her insider knowledge a secret while authorities deal with the threat. Naturally, this convinces her that she’s morally obligated to tell everyone everything possible. She confirms with Numan that they’ve stashed a copy of Berlin Station’s purloined diplomatic documents and heads out to complicate matters in the press.
Carrie is pulling on another string in the mystery: the treatment that Quinn received for his gunshot wound before he lit out for Syria with the terror cell. Seeking a black-market doctor who operates in terror-adjacent spaces, she calls on the leafy suburban home of Al-Amin, the Hezbollah commander with whom she visited back in Episode One. Al-Amin is perturbed by her visit, and the two argue global politics for a few minutes before he points her towards Dr. Hussein, the man who pulled a suicidal Quinn from the canal in “Better Call Saul.
Saul determines that Marwan Faisal was collected by the BND for some light imprisonment and interrogation. By the time Saul reaches him, they’ve trussed him up with wires and thoroughly stressed him out. Saul tries a softer hand in questioning him and leaves him with an ultimatum: further information is the only thing that will free him from the Germans. Saul steps out to watch Laura Sutton decrying the new anti-terrorist surveillance state and describing Marwan’s ordeal in great detail on a talk show. She has an ultimatum of her own: that she receive access to Marwan or her leaked documents hit the Internet. Saul and Astrid are just beginning to brainstorm a plan when they find that Marwan has jumped out a window and killed himself. Guilt-stricken and cornered, Saul decides to disassociate for a while.
Dr. Aziz, local professor and terrorist tech support maven, receives his first unfortunate visitor of the day when Qasim arrives at his apartment. Aziz and Qasim briefly bond over their status as conflicted jihadis before Allison Carr knocks on the door. Qasim and his still-broken radio are sent packing. Allison and her agent conduct an increasingly violent interrogation of Aziz until she springs her plan: she murders her agent with his own gun, extracts from Aziz the fact that the gas attack targets the 5:15 train to Potsdam, murders Aziz, calls Astrid for help, and then shoots herself in the shoulder. When Astrid and SWAT arrive to help, she tells Astrid that the terrorists are moving against the airport.
Dr. Hussein briefly recounts to Carrie his medical adventure with Quinn before leading her to the apartment that served as the terror cell’s headquarters. It’s full hip-deep with subway timetables, subway blueprints, and tiny models of the subway, but Allison’s information has already reached the intelligence community and plans are spinning up to protect the airport. Carrie knows what Allison’s word is worth, though, so she grabs a handy picture of Qasim and heads to Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Saul also has his suspicions about Allison, stemming mainly from the fact that she’s widely understood to be a Russian mole, so he braces her as she prepares for bullet hole surgery. She spins an implausible tale about being overpowered by an outnumbered and unarmed professor, and Saul doesn’t buy a word of it. The proof that will demonstrate that she’s lying, though, will be a massacre in the Berlin subway.
At the station, Carrie immediately spots Qasim but hasn’t the signal to call Saul with the intel. So, before chasing him down, she begs a series of passersby to take her phone above ground and send out a text. The terrorists begin closing security gates to trap commuters underground while Carrie pursues Qasim into the subway tunnels. When Saul finally receives Carrie’s text, he rushes back to Allison only to find that she’s escaped.
“Our Man In Damascus” is a thrilling piece of television suspense and one that bears little relationship to the season that preceded it. Homeland often builds its season to an action climax that raises the stakes and recasts personal and political conflicts as a run-and-gun adventure. Never before, though, has Homeland had a season that poked its nose into quite so many stories and relationships. Moreover, the terror cell planning the Berlin attack arrived very late in the game and only after Quinn literally stumbled bleeding into its midst. So, while “Our Man In Damascus” certainly delivers thrills, there remains a full complement of character business to be dealt with in the season’s denouement. At the very least, we’ve got time to kill Quinn at least one more time.