Saul Wins This Round

But is it his last?

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in Homeland
Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in Homeland

Photo courtesy of Kent Smith/Showtime

“Gerontion” harkens back to the last truly great episode of Homeland, “Q&A,” in which another enemy of the United States was turned into an asset over the course of an interrogation. In “Q&A” Carrie flipped Brody by appealing to his humanity: “Are you a monster?” she asked her frazzled, unstable soul mate as she guided him to the right answer. In this episode, Saul flips Javadi by appealing to something much more base, but perhaps just as convincing: his desire for power. Saul doesn’t just blackmail Javadi; he offers him one last chance to be at the “center of things,” something that Saul believes will have special appeal to an older man who has foreseen a future living out his days on the periphery. He believes this because it has special appeal to Saul. The episode, after all, is named after a T.S. Eliot poem narrated by an old man, who says: “Unnatural vices/ Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues/ Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.” So consider this episode a counterpoint to “Q&A”: That was the way bright-eyed lovers do things. This is the way old men do.

Javadi, unlike Brody, was not particularly hard to turn. Due to his embezzling, he had already put thought into what he wanted (a compound in Miami, access to his money) and what he would give away (every secret he knew). He was willing to do this almost instantly. Convincing him to go back to Tehran took some more convincing, but just a few hours’ worth. Homeland is still keeping secrets from us.  The show cut away, out of the room, when Saul explained the details of his pitch to Javadi, but we got the implication in Saul’s words: “Thanks to you, I stand at the center of things. You put me in power. I will do the same for you.” The nitty-gritty will presumably be revealed in future episodes, but the thrust is plain: Javadi’s success only serves Saul and the CIA. Saul and the CIA will give Javadi what he needs to get as close to the center of power as possible, a proximity that will boost Javadi even if Iran’s government changes shape.

Saul’s sales pitch to Javadi is an effective ploy because it is based on the truth. When Saul says, “We toiled in back rooms waiting for our time to come; now it has,” he is speaking from the heart. Saul may have wished in the moments after the Langley bombing not for revenge but for something to change—he may, in other words, be a good man—but he also really, really wants power and is pissed and motivated by the White House’s decision to replace him with a know-nothing drone-lover like Sen. Lockhart. When he thanks Javadi, who just hours before gutted a woman with a bottle, Saul is not being entirely facetious: Javadi’s recklessness gave Saul an opportunity, and enough power, to lock Lockhart in a conference room. You know that felt good.

As for Lockhart: Homeland has stacked the deck against him a little too thoroughly. The writers have very, very strong feelings about drones. Drones are at the heart of all that has gone wrong on Homeland. Drones killed Issa. Drones turned Brody. And Lockhart is the bogeyman of drones, the blowhard who thinks they are better than human assets, who sneers at human assets as being so much “Cold War bullshit.”

But strictly within the logic of the show, human assets have been almost laughably unreliable. Lockhart’s not just thinking of Brody, he’s also just been informed that brand-new human asset Javadi just murdered two people on a sunny afternoon. Lockhart, in other words, has good reason to have legitimate concerns about Saul’s assets, reasons the show has not fully explored. And yet, I cackled at the scene of Saul trapping Lockhart in that room, leaving him there to fulminate in the dark while Javadi makes it out of the country. It was hilarious and priceless, Saul finally getting his groove back, as further evidenced by his running home and, finally, making it with Mira.

But as energizing as Saul’s temporary victory was, there were all sorts of warnings that he will not remain victorious for long—and not just because he’s out of a job in 10 days. “Gerontion” is a poem about the unpredictability, inexplicability, and vagaries of history. Saul may be convinced that what he has done “can transform the entire Middle East,” but he should be more circumspect—especially just hours after Javadi murdered his ex-wife, an event that completely rewrites a history Saul thought was completed.

As Peter sits at Javadi’s ex-wife’s dining room table, a murderer confessing to murders he didn’t commit, a cop says to him, “You fucking people. Have you ever done anything but make things worse?” Peter is not so sure, even as Saul and Dar Adal are clinking glasses, toasting to the certainty that they are making things better. But as they sip their whiskey, Javadi is doing some manipulating of his own, giving Carrie the lead she needs to clear Brody’s name. Carrie, being Carrie, is immediately hellbent on doing exactly this, whether Saul likes it or not. History keeps happening. Saul’s seen enough of it that he should know that.