We weren’t expecting the March 19 episode "Sock Puppets" to be the most frightening hour of Homeland thus far. It’s a nail-biting thriller when Quinn (Rupert Friend) steals an arsenal of guns and breaks into Dar Adal’s (F. Murray Abraham) home. It’s crazy when Adal flips his own allegiance, and with the ease of a nurse administering a flu shot, kills Javadi (Shaun Taub).
But what’s going to keep viewers up at night, is what we see after Max (Maury Sterling) is able to successfully infiltrate himself into that secret business building, the same mysterious institution Agent Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) tried to investigate only to be brutally murdered soon after.
Max, overqualified beyond belief, is hired on the spot. Right away, he’s escorted downstairs and into their underground research facility. There’s a dire problem in which company’s mainframe has been overrun by its own sock puppets. Their entire software program has gone dark. But with a few coding tricks, Max quickly reroutes whatever is causing these sock puppets from attacking their own system. And in a mere 10 minutes, he goes from being the new guy who needs to prove himself, to office hero.
As all the computers power up, and their display screens projects out like a light-up wallpaper in the massive work space, Max realises he’s just rebooted a system that looks to fabricate the voices of the American people.
Every single worker in the room has a slew of fake identities for which they create legit looking online profiles, and are working around the clock to overwhelm the internet with their strongly biased opinions. Trolling everything from Facebook to Twitter to Reddit. LinkedIn, etc, their ultimate goal is to force a shift in the world’s socioeconomic and political conversations.
This scene sends a shiver down my spine, as another prime example of when Homeland so closely mirrors current real life. After the 45th President of the United States took office, there were many discussions of how online algorithms on social websites and search engines might have been rigged to produce certain results. However, such intentions are hard to prove, for this is what the internet has always done.
We’ve become used to seeing targeted ads and articles. We innocently click on these links thinking, “It’s like the internet can read my mind!” If someone searches for a pair of Nike shoes online, it’s not a coincidence that the next time you sign on Facebook, there’s a sneaker ad right next your profile picture.
So, if someone continually researches a particular candidate, and only sees news and information on the political party of their choice, this could partly explain why the result of the 2016 election was such a shocking surprise for so many people. And then there’s the conspiracy theory going around that even if we looked for certain information online, it’s been made not to be found, that search engines are being controlled.
On Homeland, it’s startling to see a company whose only goal is to flood the internet with pre-conceived rhetoric to sway the American people against the president-elect and her military war plans. Does such a think tank like this exist in real life? Do we even want to know the answer to that question?
Max, a former CIA agent who’s seen some pretty gnarly stuff in his years, looks upon the computer screens in horror. The main enemies on Homeland this season continue to be homegrown terrorists living on United States soil. And as we just discovered, Adal isn’t the only grand puppet master. While we suspect Adal subsidized this company to work in his favour, it seems the tables have since turned, and this covert establishment is now making decisions without the CIA director’s approval. Karma, Adal.
The suspicious neighbour assassin employed by this secret operation is answering to a different boss, and we don’t know who that is. But Adal is probably going to have to eat his pride and reach out to Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) in order to get out of this mess alive.
Adal wanted to have his cake and eat it too. His decision to renege on the deal with Javadi ends tragically for the long time Iranian asset, but is ultimately the big break Carrie and Saul needed. With the recorded conversation between Adal and Javadi, they are able to present Madame Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) hard evidence that there is no parallel arms deal in North Korea, and the only reason the president-elect was made to think as such is because of Adal’s lies.
Madame Keane, so admirable in her ability to staunchly stand by her morals under pressure, unfortunately lacks the CIA talents of Carrie to be a convincing two-faced liar. She tries to pretend that everything is tea and crumpets during her subsequent morning meeting with Adal, but she’s noticeably way too nice, way too agreeable, and Adal quickly realises something’s not right.
Adal doesn’t know what Keane knows, but he’s aware that if certain breadcrumbs are followed, all roads lead right to him. And while the evidence against Adal is strong, it’s not a home run. And Carrie is being asked by the president-elect to sign an affidavit about the Berlin breach that would take Adal down for good. But coming clean about Berlin also means tanking Saul’s career. Carrie is struggling with indecision. There has to be another way to take Adal down, and if anyone can think outside the lines and find a way, our money would forever be on Carrie.