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Astrid Is Too Cool For Homeland's Crap

And that's why Mark Blankenship loves her, chilly Teutonic demeanor and all.

In some ways, you can judge the strength of an ambitious drama by its tertiary characters. If we're invested in the people on the fringes -- if the world of the show is rich enough to make the two-sceners feel like they matter -- then we're almost certainly getting high-end material. Like...remember how much you waited for Lydia Rodarte-Quayle to appear on Breaking Bad? Or Miss Blankenship (not my aunt) on Mad Men? Or The X-Files's The Lone Gunmen, who were deemed excellent enough to get their own damn show?

This theory also works in reverse. No one epitomizes the brutal slog of Lost's middle years like Paulo and Nikki, and the reason I never really cared about Boardwalk Empire is because there were just so many interchangeable thugs in the background. The edges got blurry on those shows, and so even the center was hard to focus on.

And then there's Homeland, which has moved from the Pierce-ified years of Dana's stupid boyfriend to its current, glorious fifth season. For my nickel, it has once again become appointment viewing, what with its thrilling cloak and dagger, prescient political anxieties, and fresh way for Carrie to navigate various regimes.

Plus, we get a tertiary character like Astrid. This German intelligence officer is my boo. My homegirl. My theatre buddy who smokes by the vending machines and always wears eyeliner and snarks that nobody at our stupid school can even pronounce "sashimi," let alone enjoy it like a civilized person. She's just so goddamned cool, is what I'm saying, and I practically whoop every time she's on screen.

For one thing, Astrid's just so blunt. Whereas Carrie and Saul and Dar can get lost in a thicket of long-held secrets and long-nursed grudges, Astrid cuts the bullshit. Sensitive documents were lost? She's pissed, and she's spreading blame to everyone who deserves it, including herself. Carrie doesn't know that Saul and Allison are knocking boots? Astrid's going to tell her about right away, and not with any pretty metaphors, because there's a job to be done, dammit! I value her ability to keep a scene focused.

But Astrid is more than saucy talk. She marries her mouth with exceptional tradecraft and a full commitment to whatever seems right at the time. When Carrie convinces her to find a dead assassin's picture in the German database, she does it, and she covers her tracks. When it's time to turn the pressure up on Allison, lest she never out herself as a mole, Astrid turns the screws like a pro. In a series whose low points have been marked by woefully terrible work from supposedly trained spies, Astrid's efficiency has been a treat.

Best of all, Astrid can crack jokes while she kicks ass. In fact, she might be the only funny person in the history of this show. To wit: in the most recent episode, when everybody's watching Allison bone the dude who brings her Italian food, Carrie gets mad that Allison is ignoring the warning about a Russian defector. She's treating the news, Carrie says, like "another day at the fucking office." To which -- just as Allison starts getting down to business in front of a camera she's not aware of -- Astrid replies: "Literally."

YASSS KWEEN! And of course she's dry about it, because Astrid doesn't give a damn if you like her jokes or not. (Big ups to actress Nina Hoss for her performance, by the way.)

Now, I'm not saying that Astrid should be the focus of Homeland. I actually think she belongs on the outskirts, since Carrie's mad genius and Saul's hound-doggish loyalty are the emotional lodestars we need to make the series powerful. But it's SO NICE to have someone talking shit from the bleachers while the football team gets really worked up about the big game. It gives the show -- and us -- a chance to relax and remember that our heroes are even more interesting if there's someone around to take them less seriously. That way, they have to earn respect every now and then, and if they can make Astrid care about them, then surely we can, too.

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