Until the episode’s strange denouement, in which peeping Toms Carrie (Claire Danes) and Max (Maury Sterling) leer, disappointed, as Simone Martin (Sandrine Holt) and the president’s chief of staff, David Wellington (Linus Roache), spend the night in Pound Town without even discussing the events of the evening, “Active Measures” might be the most promising episode of the season so far. Here, Homeland finally comes to grips with the fact that Quinn’s absence has left a hole in the series—you know, where the action once was—and in order to fill it goes so far as to recruit a proto-Quinn named Anson (James D’Arcy) from his “this isn’t a house” in East Podunk, Nowhere to join Carrie’s Angels. I can now see Homeland evolving into a sort of CBS All Access procedural, with Carrie’s crew of gruff studs (whomst is that ginger?!) dropping F-bombs from coast to coast as bugs go on the fritz and their quarries slip away. This is not a complaint, mind you, though Anson is a shadow of Quinn and the others, Dante (Morgan Spector) excepted, are mere ciphers: The “cracking open a box of stroopwaffels with the boys” vibe of “Active Measures” is its highest form of entertainment, and it has the added benefit of adding the faint hint of a possible attempt at what may be a plot. As Carrie exclaims near the end of their first mission, “Alright, motherfuckers, we’re back in business!” Could Homeland be getting into gear, too?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves—Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is still in a defensive crouch after Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber) and the FBI conspired to turn “a clusterfuck into a goddamned massacre,” and it remains difficult to square President Keane’s (Elizabeth Marvel) temperate attitude of recent weeks with her earlier arrests of 200 political opponents and her order to assassinate General McLendon. But there’s reason for hope. Saul’s subplot, following the appearance of Costa Ronin in “Like Bad at Things,” points again to the connection between the domestic crises facing Keane’s administration and Russian interference; it’s mostly table-setting, but if Homeland can recapture the verve of Season Five, we’re in for a feast. (There’s even an intriguing reference to Russian meddling in U.S. elections—does that mean, can we possibly let ourselves hope, that Keane herself is a plant?)
For her part, POTUS finally gives us a glimpse of her political prowess, visiting the widow of a slain FBI agent, convincing her and two others to attend the memorial service for those killed at the white separatist compound, delivering a live address to the nation to capitalize on the healing moment, and even asking Wellington, with fascination, to reach out to separatist widow Mary Elkins to schedule a meeting. The action doesn’t quite rise to the level of “suspenseful,” but at this point I’ll take Homeland just inching the ball forward, provided that we get a weekly dressing-down of an underling, This week, it’s some guy named Tom, tasked with briefing Keane on preparations from the demonstrations set to accompany the memorial service. “I like your thinking, Tom,” she says, with such contemptuous sarcasm her voice could strip wood. “When there’s machine gun fire in the heart of historical Richmond, I’ll let the country know we took our cue from local law enforcement.”
Following the pattern that’s held since the start of the season, it falls to Carrie to goose up the proceedings, in this case by calling in reinforcements. And by “calling in,” I mean, “barging into a former colleague/fling’s home unannounced, insulting said home, insulting said colleague/fling, and demanding refreshments.” (Keane thinks she’s not an easy guest?) Their almost flirtatious banter escalates in front of an audience: “Can we not, with the two of you?” one of Carrie’s Angels comments after an exchange of reminiscences from Karachi and Peshawar. My favorite moment in the episode might be this gem, pinched from the Martin McDonagh School of Questionable Dialogue student handbook:
Carrie: Don’t punch her in the face.
Anson: It’s a turn of phrase.
Carrie: Don’t punch her in the face.
Or perhaps this one, after the team nearly loses Simone in a women’s restroom:
Carrie: Goddamnit, Anson, this is why I said we needed another fucking female on the team, not for fucking solidarity.
Anson: Yeah, that’s my bad.
The ribbing that accompanies the operation (“I took a Zyrtec at 1,” Max quips, after Dante records another of Carrie’s doses) are more engaging than the operation itself, in which Anson definitely punches Simone (though not in the face) and the Homeland writers’ room fails to do much with the technical hiccups. It’s a glimpse of the slightly wilder world Carrie’s often lived in since 9/11, and which, in Homeland, we’ve rarely seen; though I laughed at Anson saying “I’m watching, baby. I got nothin’ to do but you,” I suspect it was more out of discomfort with his apparently 24-inspired tactics than finding the line genuinely funny. As I said, it all eventually comes undone—this is still Homeland, after all—but the basics are in place for yet another of the series’ trademark reinventions. It’d be about damn time.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.