In between the two operations in Moscow that comprise “All In”—an extraction-turned-ambush at an opulent dacha, thwarted by a sitting senator, the Russian ambassador to the United States, and a hacker living in his mom’s basement; and an armed incursion on the headquarters of the GRU, “democratic” successor to the KGB, orchestrated by an angry Russian oligarch—Homeland finds time for a period of quiet. Perhaps it’s the episode’s bifurcated structure, or its geopolitical orientation, or my sense that the series has clung to relevance this season by the skin of its teeth, but it’s this moment, as Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) speak on that wintry rooftop, that reminds me most of “Our Man in Damascus” or “13 Hours in Islamabad” or any of the other episodes in the series’ long run in which our heroine’s determination outmaneuvers the course of events. President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) has been removed from office, at least temporarily; the raid on the dacha has failed, miserably; and yet Carrie is still “all in,” completely. “I’ve not come all this way in that fucking plane, and in my life, to fail in [the] mission when I know I can succeed,” she tells Saul, and neither has this fucking TV show. In its 83rd episode, nearly two seasons into its long walkabout through American politics, the series goes abroad for a genuinely enthralling, even sparkling hour: “All In” is vintage Homeland, and to that I tip my cap.
If I’m the Saul in this equation—skeptical, exasperated, willing to be swayed—Homeland is Carrie, persistent even—maybe especially—after she’s lost her way. The result of this persistence has been to bring the series (back) to where it’s succeeded most since Brody’s death, which is as a pared-down, hard-nosed thriller with a profoundly jaundiced view of American power. One need only witness director Alex Graves’ dramatic sweep across the surface of the lake, following the black-ops team in their motorized raft, as Gromov (Costa Ronin) delivers the season’s manifesto:
“Everything you think you know is fake, built on fallacy. You come here thinking you are victims. You are not. You want to talk aggression, fine. But don’t start last week. There is a whole history of aggression by your country against ours, what you call ‘context,’ the Cold War, which in your minds never ended.”
His countdown of post-1991 malfeasance on the part of the U.S., at least as seen through Russian eyes, assumes the rat-a-tat rhythm of approaching gunfire (“Five, Libya. Six, Syria. War, war, war, war.”), which erupts shortly thereafter at the aforementioned dacha. Of all the treatments of the new Cold War to appear of television of late, Homeland’s is the most explicit, and the most exciting; “All In” is, among other qualities, an invigorating adventure on the border between “diplomatic mission” and “covert operation.”
With the exception of the Keane business, which has become the (annoying, paranoiac) ticking-clock backdrop to Carrie and Saul’s arc, the episode possesses the crackle of Homeland at its most efficient. The raid fails? Concoct a new plan. There’s no ideological leverage over the Russian they decide to target? Go for his money. The only way to the secure suite at the GRU where Simone Martin (Sandrine Holt) is hidden away is around the outside of the building, five floors up? Scuttle along the ledge like Spiderwoman because you haven’t come all this way—geographically, chronologically, personally, professionally—to let your adversary slip through you grasp. That adversary is armed, and understandably reluctant? Turn on the afterburners of your most important asset, which is the ability to convince almost anyone to do almost anything through the sheer urgency of your plaints. (Carrie Mathison doesn’t just have a bridge to sell you. She could get you to jump off it, too.)
And yet, of course, because this is Homeland—a series that has lost and found itself more times in seven seasons than I can count—this is all, also, of a piece with all that’s come before, with the surveillance of Brody, his capture and escape, his execution; with Kabul and Islamabad and Berlin and New York; with being both Gromov’s “useful idiot” and, as he says in Carrie’s defense, almost sweetly, to a colleague, “not an idiot” at all. Remember, this persistence has been Carrie’s modus operandi from beginning, bouncing off Saul’s shifting understanding of his mentee as just crazy, or crazy like a fox. “I missed something once before,” she says in the pilot episode. “I won’t—I can’t—let that happen again.”
For seven years, that, above all else, has been the motor of Carrie’s brilliance. Not her manic episodes. Not her mood swings. Not her crying jags. Not her fragile relationships. Her complete and unwavering tenacity, her fearlessness, as Maggie noted in “Clarity.” In my recap of “Useful Idiot,” I suggested that Carrie had become the villain of her own story, but, like Homeland itself, she has a way of winning me back, of becoming the heroine again. And so it is in that glorious final sequence, with the flash of the red dress in the breeze, the black and blonde wigs, the fearless feint. I am, once again, all in.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.