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'Homeland' Season 5 premiere recap: Carrie's not-so normal life

The fifth season of "Homeland" opens with Carrie attending mass. She looks calm and happy as she takes communion.

The peace lasts a few fleeting moments before we're back to what "Homeland" does: showing a menacing dude with a beard navigating the streets of Berlin and carrying a suspicious satchel.

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The man enters a nightclub, which is serving as a front for a business (?) where women are performing various adult acts in front of webcams. That felt gratuitous.

In the back of the building, our bearded friend hands off a video to the gentleman in charge of providing tech support for the operation. The video seems to mock a terrorist organization, as it superimposes explicit sexual messages over still shots that appear to be taken from a terrorist recruiting video.

He posts the video on the recruiting site for the organization, which grabs the attention of the CIA's station in Berlin. After some parrying back and forth with the CIA's cyber team, the man breaks in to the CIA's system and begins to download files before crashing the CIA's system.

Next, we see Carrie dropping Frannie off at school. It's Frannie's birthday.

"Auf Wiedersehen," Carrie tells her daughter before heading off to her job.

We learn that Carrie is working as the head of security for the Düring Foundation in Berlin. She walks in to a meeting between her boss, Mr. Düring, his attorney and the Lebanese ambassador. "We are going to Lebanon," Carrie's boss tells her.

ISIS is regrouping in Syria, we learn, causing a refugee crisis near Lebanon's border. Carrie's boss wants to visit a camp there.

"Us?" Carrie asks. "This is a war zone, we're really not equipped," she protests.

"Well, we have three days," says Düring.

We cut to CIA Headquarters in Virginia, where Saul and Dar Adal bring Peter Quinn into a briefing on the situation in Syria. We hear that Quinn has been on the ground in Syria for the last two-plus years, helping to set the timeline since the events of Season 4.

"Could you speak up, please? It's a big table," Adal admonishes Quinn, so we see that Dar Adal is still running the show in Quinn's life.

After Quinn outlines how long he has been heading up a special forces team in Syria, an official speaks up and asks what exactly it is that he's been doing.

"A handful of enemies dead here, another handful there. I honestly have no idea what it all adds up to," the official says. "Are we really getting anywhere in Syria?"

"The program has been effective, sir. I believe it should be continued," Quinn says.

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It sounds as though he has been something of a cleaner there, preparing sites for air strikes, then rounding up members of ISIS after the strikes send them running. "Is our strategy working?" the official asks.

"What strategy?" Quinn asks. "Tell me what our strategy is and I'll tell you if it's working."

The most interesting thing that "Homeland" has done since Brody's merciful death has been to ask these kind of questions. It's often the only thing keeping the show from being a "24" reboot.

After some silence, underscoring the murkiness of what exactly it is we're doing there, Quinn continues. "That right there is the problem, because they have a strategy."

Quinn asks for 200,000 ground troops, saying that will bring about real change there, then admonishes the officials to use air strikes to make Syria a parking lot, before storming off, frustrated with U.S. policy.

"He went off book," Saul tells Adal.

Act 2

Carrie is having a birthday party for Frannie. The lawyer from the foundation seems to be her significant other. As Carrie makes balloons, a visitor from the foundation arrives.

The woman claims to have received an email from the bearded hacker from the opening scene, and that it contained a document charging the German government with breaking privacy law by having the CIA spy for them.

The woman asks Carrie to verify the authenticity, but Carrie says no, that it would violate her end of employment agreement with the agency. Carrie got to keep her security clearance, but she can have nothing to do with the CIA.

"I don't want to be in that world. I want to be here with you and Frannie," Carrie tells her man, but the next day we see her in the CIA station in Berlin.

The station chief, Allison, is an old colleague from Carrie's time in Iraq. Carrie tries to learn the lay of the land in Syria, but Allison can't reveal too much.

Allison tries to dig up info on Carrie's boss, whose foundation seems to be something of a WikiLeaks operation. When Carrie refuses to give up any information, Allison urges her to leave quickly before Saul arrives, as he's scheduled there any minute, and the two of them aren't speaking.

A lot has happened since the end of last season, when Carrie learned that Saul was willing to do whatever it took to get back in to the agency. Carrie ratted Saul out, jettisoning his bid to become director again. The two run into each other anyway.

"You needed to leave the CIA? Fine. Just don't go over to the other side," Saul tells her.

"The foundation is not the other side. I'm just trying to do good work," Carrie says.

"Well, you're not. You're being naive and stupid. Something you never were before," Saul tells her, before walking off.

Carrie meets with Düring and urges him not to go to Lebanon. She tells him that it won't be safe. While they speak, the woman that visited Carrie at home enters.

Carrie lets it slip that the documents she received were likely real, so she unwittingly helped Düring assures her that he is only going to Lebanon to provide financial help, and that's the only reason for the visit.

Saul and Allison meet with German officials, to alert them of the data breach.

"Trusting you was a mistake," an official tells Saul.

The Germans wash their hands of their alliance with the CIA after the breach, leaving Saul to ponder how best to handle credible threats to their countries. Saul leaves the meeting, and passes Quinn on the street. There are operations afoot.

The operations

Quinn breaks into an apartment, where he finds bomb-making materials. The bomb-maker returns to his home with more material and is greeted with a steel pipe to the face from Quinn.

"Two minutes to prepare yourself for paradise," Quinn tells him after he wakes up. Quinn proceeds to kill him with his own bomb.

Quinn returns to his base, where Saul tells him that due to the data breach Quinn will be without a CIA safety net if he continues to work for them. He'll be a contractor, picking up names and photos of targets to be killed from a post office box.

Some of those targets will be teenagers who have received what the U.S. considers terrorist training, we see.

"Put the names in the box and I'll take care of any one you put there," Quinn tells Saul.

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Carrie visits a mosque and meets with the imam, asking for a contact in Hezbollah that will help provide security for her and her team in Lebanon.

The sheikh bristles at the suggestion that he would have contact with Hezbollah, but Carrie insists that he must have some way to reach them.

Carrie leaves a church, as her tour of Berlin's faith centers continues, only to be abducted on the street. She's taken to a tunnel where she's instructed to cover her head and wait.

Eventually, a Hezbollah operative arrives, and confronts Carrie. "You killed my son in Beirut," the man tells her. "I will fight you forever."

Carrie is roughly dropped off back at her home, much to her boyfriend's chagrin. In the middle of the night, though, Carrie receives a call telling her that her boss will be an honored guest of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Final thoughts

I find the idea of Carrie trying to lead a semi-normal life interesting, although we can see from the events of this episode that it seems unlikely to stick.

I'm all for the dehumanization of Quinn, who works better as a soulless killer, largely because Rupert Friend's strength as an actor is not emoting.

I find the decision to make Saul less of a good guy questionable, although I understand why that choice might be appealing to the writing team and to Mandy Patinkin as an actor.

"Homeland" is back. Buckle up.

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