Like many, I was very critical of last week’s Homeland episode, “Game On,” because it felt like the team at Showtime was too concerned with keeping the audience in the dark at the expense of everything else. By the time Saul and Carrie were ready to reveal their intentions, there were countless scenes throughout the season’s first third that served no purpose other than to mess with us. The goal should have been to use the characters as a proxy for the viewers—as they learned things, so too, would we. Instead, we were left unsatisfied and disappointed. “The big reveal” had revealed some serious issues.
In spite of its weakest story to date, I quietly held out hope deep down that the bones of a good show were still in here somewhere. And though I’ll never understand why it took four rambling, lost weeks of uneven exposition to get us here, we’re finally moving in the direction of a sound storyline for the remaining two-thirds of the season.
Simply put, this was by far the best episode of the season, and I think that it all comes back to one thing—the writing. In one hour, season co-executive producer and first-time series writer Patrick Harbinson revived virtually everything about the show that made it such a critical darling in the first place. All the core tenants of the show—the dichotomy of espionage and surveillance (and what happens when emotions get in the way), spy games, smart dialogue and the tautness that characterized every agonizing second of season one—are ALL back. Woo!
I think last week’s episode is going to be a sore subject for people thinking critically about this show for some time, and one conversation between Saul Berenson and Peter Quinn (or two, if you read showrunner Alex Gansa’s take on things in Entertainment Weekly) will never be enough to save the poorly constructed story, where the ends that could’ve been achieved without such unjustified means.
Strangely enough, Peter Quinn seems to be the show’s most self-actualized character—once Saul reveals Carrie’s long con, Quinn reacts with incredulity. The tactics seemed dubious to him and us because of how extreme they were, and I still hold that they could’ve “dangled” her without hurting her this much. Even Carrie was concerned it had gone too far. It had. But anyway, regardless of how we got here, we’re going to have no choice but to concede that it happened and move on. I don’t think anyone will have a problem with that.
In the first of many turn-back-the-clock moments, Carrie’s dumping her medication cocktail down the toilet again while she tries to figure out what’s next now that she has infiltrated the Iranians’ plot. She gets a surprised visitor in a crazed Jessica Brody, whose daughter is still missing and admits she literally has nowhere else to turn. Carrie reassures Jessica, assuring her that Dana will see Leo for who he really is.
This prompts one of the best examples of the episode’s skillful writing: Jessica—in what has to be obvious throwback to Carrie’s “Brody blinders”—says, “Dana’s in love—who knows what she’ll see?” That’s good stuff right there.
Dana and Leo are still on their joyride, and they seem to have gotten pretty far from the capital (I think I heard something about Kansas City Chiefs scores when Dana’s shopping at a gas station). They’re fantasizing about an anonymous future, though no amount of money earned from flipping burgers will afford them the cover they want. Leo’s the latest in the show’s long line of mentally unstable characters; he’s clearly unraveling a bit as he realizes Dana’s losing interest in the long game, but he plays the boyfriend doing everything he can to save a flagging relationship well.
Carrie agrees to help Jessica, but it’s clear that her main objective for making sure Dana’s OK remains her affection for Brody. Though the Brody family’s FBI tail, Agent Hall, is unwilling to help, Carrie gets the gang back together, arousing a shirtless Max and setting up “The Yoga Play.” On her way out, Quinn steps in, expressing concern for her and the security of the mission. It’s another throwback—he’s lecturing Carrie about what she’s up to while Virgil and Max are helping her ill-advised schemes.
The Yoga Play is the show’s best one in some time, too—Carrie has a body double waiting at the yoga studio to create an alibi for her while she, Max, and Virgil run to talk to Agent Hall. Carrie knows she is compromising the mission, but her confidence in her abilities makes her think she can cram her side project in while still keeping her “disgraced agent” cover intact. She finally meets Agent Hall, finding out that his people have been listening in all along, but were unaware that Leo was so dangerous. She rushes back to the yoga studio, and thanks to a little Quinnterference, she slips in just as the group are finishing up their last sun salutations. It’s quick, tidy and executed efficiently. This is Carrie—and Homeland—done right.
While Carrie’s getting her groove back, Saul’s busy rubbing elbows with Senator Andrew Lockhart in a hunting blind. It seems Lockhart is a better shot than anyone ever to go on a White House hunting trip, and quickly shoots down Saul’s delusions about being named CIA director. Though duck season is over, Saul’s the one left sitting vulnerable as Lockhart scolds him, threatening his job unless he gets in line with Lockhart’s vision of an agency that abandons the old ways in favor of a less-risky emphasis on drones.
Throughout the episode, we check in with a mystery man fresh off a Canadian border crossing. As he makes his way down the Eastern seaboard, he makes a few stops along the way, ditching his car, picking up a hearty sandwich and watching a woman and child play outside their home. He eventually gets to his destination, where armed guards are watching over a weapons cache and setting up an interrogation room.
Back in the forest, Saul has to sit quietly and listen to Lockhart giving his acceptance speech to the rest of the old white male bro-hangers-on. Saul interrupts it with the reality of the situation—Lockhart has spent the last few months tearing the agency down; reviving something from the ashes of Langley is going to be a tall proposition. In a night that might be equally bad for goose and gander, Saul returns home to find his wife, Mira, sitting down to dinner with another man. Once he finds out Carrie might’ve made herself over Brody, he’s furious with her. It might be peanut-butter-and-ruler time again for poor Saul.
Quinn’s still sitting resolute in his car a few blocks away from Carrie’s apartment, and in another role reversal, his judgment seems to be getting cloudier when it comes to Carrie. Though he claims in another of the episode’s great lines that he’s “at a safe distance,” it feels like he’s drawing dangerously closer each week.
Whether he’s distracted by his feelings or just exhausted from another skeleton shift, Quinn somehow misses a group of men who break into Carrie’s apartment. They strip her down, throw a hood over her head, and sneak her out of the building. Quinn’s suspicions are raised, but Saul insists he stay put. Quinn eventually goes commando like Carrie did under similar circumstances last year. This time, though, instead of finding a helicopter landing, Quinn finds only broken glass and silence.
Carrie’s on her own (like always, Saul says) and led into the interrogation room, where our man is waiting for her. Though he makes a snide comment about her yoga-toned body, it seems as if he thinks her warrior pose is going to need work. In an example of how to leave the audience in the dark appropriately, we’re still left unsure though whether she’s been completely “made” or not. We’ll definitely get an answer, but something tells me this is going to be a lot more satisfying than the ones we got a week ago.
In the EW interview, Gansa spoke of the season in three, four-episode movements. Thankfully, the jangling, arrhythmic passage of the first four episodes—an opening overture to be forgotten—is behind us. In the interlude before the endgame, we’re off to a great start here. This one hit all the right notes.