Homeland: Past Is Prologue

(Episode 6.07)

TV Reviews Homeland
Homeland: Past Is Prologue

Though it’s there, shadowing the characters, from the episode’s first sequence—in which Quinn (Rupert Friend) awakens, disoriented, in a wood-paneled bedroom, and pleads with Astrid (Nina Hoss) not to let him forget—I failed to see the subtext of “Imminent Risk” until the narrative had run its course, as Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Carrie (Claire Danes) slip into patterns of Homeland seasons past. To see the latter reach for the bottle, or to hear the former’s interlocutor “send greetings from Sergeant Brody,” is to be reminded, as I wrote of “A Flash of Light,” that we’re in the midst of the series’ most self-conscious interlude: Not since Season Four’s “Redux,” in which Carrie hallucinates her former lover into being, has Homeland cast its foregoing narrative in such an unforgiving light. I say this as a way of admitting that “Imminent Risk,” on its face, is the season’s weakest entry, cheapened by its maudlin interest in Carrie’s home life; the “revelation” that Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) is pulling the strings, for instance, is predictable in the extreme. And yet, by the time I felt my skin crawl at Carrie’s downward spiral— “You lost a child,” she says to President-elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), finally crossing the line —I found myself wondering if “Imminent Risk” might, beneath the surface, be the season’s most ingenious, laced with intimations of unshakable regret.

Reading the episode as a return to an earlier constellation of plot points and character traits—Carrie coming undone, Saul collaborating with Javadi (Shaun Toub), Adal playing Quinn’s frailties like a fiddle—reframes the “risk” of the title, that which Carrie poses to her daughter, as the result of deeper, wider wounds; here, the personal and the political alike reflect histories that reach much further into the past than the latest internecine conflict or terrorist attack. This isn’t to say that the intervention of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) isn’t infuriating, even exploitative, a second-rate narrative device masquerading as an emotional one. Rather, it’s to suggest that Carrie’s wrangling with the ACS official (played with unnerving calm by Marin Hinkle) reflects the main thrust of “Imminent Risk,” and indeed the season entire, which is to underline Faulkner’s famed adage: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Adal knows this. The pressure he applies to Carrie, Quinn and Saul stems, in each case, from earlier events, the scars from which remain visible, raw, months or years later. Homeland knows it, too: “Imminent Risk,” written by Ron Nyswaner and directed by Tucker Gates, contains a raft of allusions to the series’ own history, from the reference to Brody and Carrie’s “manic episode” to “the whole story” of Quinn’s injuries. (“You think she’s been taking care of you all these months out of love?” Adal says on the dock, manipulatively, tellingly, near the episode’s end. “Sounds a lot more like guilt, if you ask me.”) Saul’s “debrief”—or is it an interrogation?—calls to mind other exchanges, in other rooms; he’s been questioned by his own people before, in both Season Five and Season One. Carrie’s swift reversals, from incredulousness to rage to tearful pleading, reminded me of nothing so much as a long-ago conversation, one I wrote about in 2012:

“I missed something once before,” Carrie laments to Saul, her mentor at the agency. “I won’t… I can’t let that happen again.” In this scene, from the pilot, Danes conveys the wavelength on which the series vibrates. Confronted by Saul for her illegal surveillance activities, she shifts from assertive to vulnerable, wordlessly offering sex in exchange for a free pass. It’s a humiliating, frightful moment.

Were this the extent of the episode’s reveries—to draw on the characters’ pasts to reshape their futures—it might seem a misfire, or at least an instance of mistimed interest in their personal histories, but the one-two punch of Keane’s appearances here plant “Imminent Risk” firmly in the present. In the first, clad in a Clintonesque white pantsuit, the president-elect (in an interview with Martha Raddatz) leans explicitly on the longue durée to explain her foreign policy: Ten years after seeing her son in Iraq, while on an official visit with a group of “skeptical” senators, “we’re still there,” she says, describing the fight against ISIS as the latest in a string of entanglements that dates to 1980, or before. In the second, she receives Carrie’s late-night phone call in funereal black, responding to the mention of her deceased child with stern silence—one so deep, and wide, that Carrie immediately apologizes.

Where this all fits in to the season’s arc is unclear; certainly, Adal’s divide-and-conquer approach to Carrie, Quinn and Saul, each suspicious of the New York bombing’s real purpose, appears to be working. (For one thing, if Saul planned to use Carrie to secure Javadi and audience with the president-elect, success on that front now seems unlikely.) More to the point, the fact that Keane’s personal relationship to the War on Terror is inextricable from her political one dovetails with the episode, the season, even Homeland as a whole, of which I wrote, nearly five years ago now, that “it’s important to be reminded of the intimate ruptures and dark recesses of war, not just in the abstract but on the terrain of actual lives.”

It’s there from the beginning, this fear: “Don’t let me forget,” Quinn says to Astrid, slipping into his sedative haze, in a moment that recalls the conclusion of Homeland’s first season. Back then, in “Marine One,” Carrie came to understand a connection shortly before electroshock treatment threatened to erase her memory, and the series’ conviction that where we’re going is a consequence of where we’ve been is as firm as ever. The real risk in “Imminent Risk,” as it happens, is the one we pose to ourselves: The danger that past is in fact prologue, and that our actions—as individuals, as a country—will come back on us in ways we cannot forestall, or foresee.

Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.

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