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Review: ‘Homeland’ Season 5 Episode 5 ‘Better Call Saul’ Sticks to the Plan

Review: 'Homeland' Season 5 Episode 5 'Better Call Saul' Sticks to the Plan

Immediate Reaction:

Um…Quinn? Are you okay? You don’t look so good, Quinn. I know you don’t want to turn yourself in, for fear of exposing the love of your life (Carrie, in case that wasn’t very, very clear by now), but maybe you should have come up with a better plan than suicide by zip ties. (Okay, by drowning, really, but the zip ties were a unique way to do it.) We admire your conviction — even if the nice stranger turned out to be a little too attentive re your bleeding out in the back alleys of Berlin — but that ending wasn’t very satisfying. It didn’t adequately tease anything to come, so much as it just petered out; a nice parallel to your meaningless wandering, but not a great way to conclude a somewhat dull hour of television.

LAST WEEK’S EPISODE: ‘Homeland’ Season 5 Episode 4 ‘Why Is This Night Different?’ Pulls One Over on Everyone

For having a beautifully tongue-in-cheek episode title, “Better Call Saul” was mainly a transitionary episode. Suspicions and assumptions regarding Allison (Miranda Otto) — the Russian double agent who’s having a false affair with Saul — were confirmed. Carrie (Claire Danes) and Jonas (Alexander Fehling) finalized their breakup. (RIght? I mean, they at least showed why their relationship would never work.) And Quinn, well, Quinn’s injury turned ugly. As kind as it is to receive some set-in-stone answers, most of these issues were revealed in last week’s episode, making “Better Call Saul” a stagnant if not redundant hour of “Homeland.”

Best “Homeland” Twist

Midway through Episode 5, Ivan (Mark Ivanir as Allison’s Russian handler) gives instructions to his mole inside the CIA. First, she confirms it was her who put Carrie’s name in the hit box for Quinn. But when Ivan tries to calm down a worried double agent, he says to wait for Dar Adal to come to her. When he does, play hard to get, convincing him of your loyalty to Saul (and, in turn, reinforcing Adal’s suspicions of him), then, deliver Saul the passenger manifest.

And that’s exactly what happens for the next half hour. 

What I’m getting at is how lacking in twists — and action in general — “Better Call Saul” is, with even the basic plot details being laid out in plain English shortly before they happen. “Homeland” is at its best when it is subtle but clear, letting the audience play along with the characters in an endless game of cat and mouse; spies vs. spies; America vs. everyone else (though the rah-rah patriotism has been getting a bit thick). This week was not “Homeland” at its best. 

Crazy Carrie Level: 2/10

While there was an opportunity for Carrie to go full-on nutso and let Quinn bleed to death to protect a cover they both know will be blown pretty soon anyway, the ex-CIA agent and mother of one didn’t go there. She did what was best for her and Quinn until she had to make sure he survived. Then she told her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (but still current boyfriend) to call an ambulance for her ex-boyfriend, in what was certainly the least awkward way those two could have met. Quinn cleverly escaped the slow-witted Jonas — protecting Carrie while showing her who among the men in her life was the superior sportsman — but Carrie still tried to do the right thing. Good for you, Carrie. Way to locate your chill.

That being said, she was a little too chill when Jonas told her how worried he was for her. It was a heartbreaking speech (and a fine performance from the largely forgettable Alexander Fehling), but you could almost hear Carrie thinking, “I don’t care!” as he spoke. She’s got to learn to fake it a little better, even if she is having some mixed emotions about her dating life. (Please, Carrie. Either get with Quinn or don’t. This will-they-won’t-they drama needs to end.)

MVC (Most Valuable Character)

For as lacking in subtlety as “Better Call Saul” was overall, Miranda Otto’s performance was loaded with it. Her devout execution of Ivan’s orders was a master class in depicting internal conflict with limited facial expression, as was her not-quite-a-smile as she walked away from Saul and Dar Adal on the tarmac to kick off the episode. It was very much her hour of television, with even Carrie taking a backseat in terms of screentime and character development. As slow as it felt at times, getting to know America’s enemy was a bold choice that should pay off later. We may not know why, exactly, Allison turned on her country, but even Carrie’s biggest fans had to feel a few pangs of empathy as she nervously did her duty. Credit there goes to Otto, an excellent actor given a role worthy of her talents. (TV fans take note: Otto will be back in HBO’s “Westworld.” So even if she’s done after this season, she’ll be back on TV in no time.)

Quote of the Night

“You’re a runner now, huh?” – Carrie

The last shot of the episode may not have had much of a payoff — we know Quinn’s not going to die, and, even if we didn’t, that would be the most infuriating way to kill of a well-liked character — but reuniting Carrie and Saul was immediately satisfying. Their brief back-and-forth about Saul trying to stay in shape after getting divorced was classic mentor-mentee report, and it reminded us of how much we’ve missed their dynamic. Carrie and Saul working together is a staple of “Homeland,” and one we may have taken for granted during the first four seasons. If so, keeping them apart was a clever design by showrunner Alex Gansa as both a reminder and a well-timed nostalgic boost upon reuniting. “Homeland” needed that extra oomph this week, and seeing the two of them get back into it together should lead to fruitful hours to come.

Grade: B-

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