Television After 9/11: A Continuing Series
Part 5B:Homeland, Peter Quinn, Dar Adal and Realism and Idealism in Fighting Terrorism
In the middle of Homeland’s second season, immediately after a task force was formed to get Brody to try and trap Abu Nazir, two characters were probably the most critical to Homeland’s long term success were introduced, both connected to the other. One was Peter Quinn, played by Rupert Friend; the other was his mentor and an agency stalwart known as Dar Adal, played by Oscar-winning character actor F. Murray Abraham. Both gave brilliant performances (Friend was nominated for an Emmy; Abraham for two) both had very different views on how the War on Terror should be waged, and each would be vital to the arc of the series going forward.
We meet Peter Quinn early in Season 2, as someone a higher-up has brought in for the task force. Given that by this point the viewer is aware of a mole in the agency (a storyline that would carry on for awhile and never be resolved in a satisfying manner) we are inclined to suspect Quinn, especially after a raid on a side ends with almost every dead but him. But quickly we will learn Quinn has something that almost everyone else — including Carrie — really doesn’t: an ethical code. Eventually, we’ll learn that his original assignment on the task force was to keep an eye on Brody and when the job was over, terminate him. In the finale of Season 2, not only does he not do sure he actually goes to the man who sent him and tells him that if he wants the job done, to do it himself. This moral compass will have him constantly clashing with almost everybody in the agency: including and especially Carrie.
We’re never entirely sure how long Quinn has been in the CIA — he’s around Carrie’s age, but based on what backstory we get, there’s a very good possibility he was recruited younger than her. For that reason, in addition to his ethical compass, as early as Season 3 he constantly represents a fatigue with the agency and a desire to leave — something that is clearly frowned upon. This makes up a contradiction of Quinn that is so fascinating. Season after season we will see that he’s a textbook brilliant agent in a way that not even Carrie is, but seeing what has to be done not only by him but everything around him sickens him. In Season 4 which is mostly set in Afghanistan. Carrie has disappeared from the grid at a critical moment to negotiate a young asset connected to a major Taliban figure. This is code for seducing a boy barely old enough to vote in America. When Quinn learns of this, his contempt for Carrie is withering as he delivers one of the most memorable lines in the series: “Is there no f-king line with you?” And in that moment, he basically encapsulates Carrie’s character better than anyone, even Saul, will ever do.
Dar Adal is, if anything, a more shadowy character then Quinn. In the middle of Season 2 Saul figures out that Quinn is working for Dar and from that point on, Dar becomes a critical part of the series. Dar is a walking contradiction. He is more loyal to the company than anyone else, but he’s also just as much an outsider. His name has a vaguely Arabic origin, so there’s always a certain level of distrust there. It becomes clear later in the series that’s he a homosexual, which doesn’t add to his popularity. (Adal recruited Quinn, and the implication — made direct in Season 6 — is that the two were initially lovers, something Quinn now looks upon with disdain.) Adal is one of Saul’s strongest supporters in the Agency and after the bombing that decimates the CIA leaves Saul as interim director, Dar becomes his biggest booster. As much as he clearly disagrees with Saul on approach, he is loyal to his friends — and this will continue even to a point you wouldn’t think possible.
Carrie and Brody are lovers in the early stages of Homeland and when Brody dies, she is pregnant with his daughter. Carrie is ill-suited to motherhood, to say the least, and after Brody’s death becomes the Section Chief in Islamabad — known only partly in jest, as ‘The Drone Queen’. In the opening of Season 4, one of her missions leads to the slaughter of a wedding party, and rather than go back home and be with her child, she decides to go back to the Embassy to bring down the Taliban leader responsible. She convinces an even more reluctant Quinn, who is even sicker of the Agency now and questions Carrie, every step of the way.
In this season we get what is by far the most direct anti-Islam slurs in the series — we eventually learn that one of the women manipulating everything is a woman high up in the Pakistani government who is determined to help the Taliban erase every aspect of America from Afghanistan. This starts out as subtly as manipulate a mole in the embassy — who turns out to be the husband of the ambassador — and eventually leads to withholding troops on an invasion of the agency by the Taliban even though her second-in-command protests adamantly. If ever Gordon and the writers were indicating just how anti-American Islamic governments seem to be, it is Season 4. It’s also a very telling commentary on just how badly the war in Afghanistan has been waged — a criticism that actually presages a line we will learn came from military documents years later.
Outraged by the actions of the Taliban, Quinn goes rogue after the U.S. breaks off diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan. His sole intent is to assassinate the man responsible for the attacks. Carrie catches up with him and intends to follow through… until she sees Adal in the car with the leader. It’s never been clear the nature of the deal they strike, but not long after that Saul, who had been fired from the agency is let back in and the status quo with Afghanistan is reestablished. Both Carrie and Quinn make a break of the agency, and for the briefest of moments they seem to acknowledge the chemistry between them and seem about to genuinely start something. But something happens in the blink of an eye and Peter goes on a mission in Iraq. This is the final straw for Carrie and she resigns from the CIA. As we all know, that’s not the end of the story for anybody.
Season 5 was filmed entirely in Berlin, and the flavor of the Cold War will overlay the second half of the series — though the threat of Islam extremists is fairly highly throughout the remainder of the show, from this point on, Homeland recognizes the major threat in the series as Russia.
Carrie has moved to Berlin and is working with a billionaire charity. She has essentially broken off all relationships with the CIA and is trying as hard as she can to cleanse her hands of the sins she committed. This becomes more difficult when Quinn resurfaces, telling her name is now on a kill list.
One of the clearest cases of an agency mole has surfaced in Season 5 Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) one of the section chiefs in Berlin, and as we learn Saul’s lover. (His marriage which was momentarily saved after the bombing at the agency, finally collapsed after Season 4.) Recruited by the Russians after being trapped in a ‘honeypot’ years earlier, Allison has been the direct line to their government, exposing all of the Agency’s assets behind the curtain, manipulating their interest in Berlin, and framing Saul when people begin to look her way. Dar learns about this and despite their history clearly becomes suspicious — at one point, preparing to take him into custody before he is ‘saved’ by the Israelis’.
Quinn has since become far more jaded then he was in the interim and more determined with his mission. And that will eventually lead to a bad fate. Trying to stop an attack on Berlin, he is caught and exposed to sarin gas. He is saved by Carrie and brought back for treatment. They risk his life to wake him to see if he can help them. What happens may be the clearest definition of the difference between 24 and Homeland. When a situation like this occurred on Day 2, the victim was able to give critical information to CTU before dying. Here, nothing is gained, and Peter’s condition only worsens.
Even though the threat is stopped and Allison is exposed, the end for Season 5 is even sadder than usual. Carrie has no desire to return to the agency and spends the final minutes over Peter’s bed. There she reads a letter that Dar had been holding for him, something he asked him to give her if a scenario like this occurred. It is as close to a declaration of love as a show like Homeland will ever allow. And it seems that they will surely serve as an epitaph, because the last seconds of the season show Carrie drawing the shades of Peter’s hospital room and walking towards the machines keeping him alive.
But as we would learn, this was not to be the final act for Peter Quinn. When I wrap up my article on Homeland, I will discuss the final three seasons of the show, how politics became vital to the story and how in its final seasons, the show served as both mirror and oracle to the world around us.