When traveling in a foreign, unknown land—where Showtime’s Homeland spent much of last night’s penultimate episode of its uneven third season—it’s often best to stick to the basics while you’re feeling out your new digs. Don’t eat anything that looks too dicey, know where your water’s coming from, and try to do what you know works best.
As the tense takedown of Iran’s General Akbari unfolds as unevenly as you’d expect from this show, Homeland returns to its ultimate question—its justification for existence and what made it stand out three years ago when a crew of U.S. military troops pulled Sergeant Nicholas Brody from a hole in Iraq years ago. Whose side is he really on?
This fundamental uncertainty—which was the driving force of two oft-excellent seasons of television—still worked during “Big Man in Tehran” last night because Brody has always been a chameleon adapting to situations on the fly and giving each side that is counting on him just enough to keep them calling. It’s a testament to Damian Lewis that the show has been able to get so much tread out of this question. And although I suspected all along that, with only the finale awaiting us, Brody would probably strap on his hero boots one more time and ultimately side with the “good guys” of the red, white and blue, getting there was a pretty interesting little adventure during his week in Tehran.
Brody’s not entirely alone in Iran, though—the suddenly-showing Carrie has managed to find the best French hotel in the city and is working with a pair of Israeli operatives thanks to Saul’s captured spy, Alain Bernard. While Saul, Dar Adal and the rest of the team are stuck behind computer screens back home, she’s right back in the thick of things, scoring a shot of cyanide and slipping it to Javadi, who is more than willing to bring it to Brody and get the wheels rolling on a meet-up with the Iranian general. As the drums of the spy games beat in the background throughout the episode, it sets a tense pace, for better or worse.
I understand that cramming a week’s time into 50-some-odd minutes can be tough, but on the whole there was probably a bit too much ground to be covered here, and thus things wound up needing to happen more quickly than they should have. Carrie goes to visit Fara’s uncle (the owner of the only safe house in Tehran, apparently); the fact that Fara is wearing a hijab in America is supposed to be proof enough for her uncle that he should risk his life to help Carrie. In a matter of minutes, she’s meeting with the Israelis in his living room. It’s just a lot to handle for him and for us.
Weeks ago, I also expressed some frustration with the fact that we wouldn’t wind up seeing this season’s “big bad” until now, and I still feel that introducing an entirely new character and forcing us to assume that he’s a “bad guy” and deserves to die is a poor choice by the show’s standards. The show’s two biggest villains—Nazir and Javadi—were given nicknames and ramp-ups. Nazir was a psychological mastermind who had tortured Brody and turned him against his country and Javadi was the “magician” who made people disappear. Introducing such an important character for an hour’s worth of screen time was too quick, and outside of the CIA-stamped guarantee that Akbari’s death will be good for the U.S. of A., the show gives us no reason to want him dead.
The same goes for Brody’s final interviewer—before meeting Akbari, he’s vetted one last time by Abu Nazir’s widow, Nasreen. She and her husband hosted Brody for years, but she’s somehow unable to see through his cover. (Listening to him uncomfortably credit Allah for his inspiration had me laughing out loud.) She tells him that remaining true to Allah would give him the peace he seeks, but at this point, Brody’s so screwed up that it seems like he’s just grasping at anything that will hold his dead weight.
Initially, it seems like his new support system will be the Iranian people as he passes this final test and walks onto the street a free man. His “huge propaganda value” seems to be paying immediate dividends as the Iranian citizens celebrate his presence in the streets. As he begins his rounds on the Iranian talk TV circuit, for a brief moment, I wondered if he might have actually turned (again), and had finally found a way to stop running. Unfortunately, given the time constraints (a six-day jump ahead is about as “seamlessly” executed as you’d expect), we are forced to move ahead quickly. The president is angry with Brody, believes he’s abandoned the mission, and wants him taken out immediately, whichever side he’s on.
My biggest problem with the episode came here with another of Homeland’s unfortunate crutches—Carrie’s insubordination. I am more than done with watching her defy orders, acting on her intuitions and feelings and ignoring the highest-ranking intelligence officers in the world time and time again. She’s often—if not always—right, but her credibility and trustworthiness as an agent has been stretched so far beyond conception this year that it’s absurd. After she’s gotten the cyanide to Javadi, Quinn rightly asks whether Carrie’s work on the ground is done and Saul’s response—“Carrie doesn’t see it that way”—was, in all honesty, a low point in the show’s run for me. She has no business in Tehran.
When she’s talking to “the most wanted man in the world” on a cell phone across a courtyard to warn him that a hit is coming, begging him to run away with her, suddenly she’s the one selling the “fantasy” she warned him about last week. Any other agent could’ve been sent into Tehran, and the fact that she has consistently strained the believability of the entire agency has been exasperating all year. What’s worse is that the second she starts to see the Brody baby inside of her, she becomes the delusional one again. Her precipitous fall this season has been embarrassing, and at this point, I wonder how we’re going to be asked to take her seriously even when Brody is (I assume) gone.
Brody gets away, of course, and snaps into action after realizing that his latest acting job has been too believable. Nasreen gets him a private meeting with Akbari, and Brody spills the beans on the plot in Akbari’s office—a room we learn (five minutes prior) was where Nazir told the Iranian general about Brody, his crown jewel. For his trouble, Brody gives Akbari a jeweled plate to his crown before choking him out with a pillow and calling Carrie to get him out.
It’s a quick end to a haphazardly developed final plot that, it seems, is ultimately failing to redeem a flawed season. “Big Man in Tehran” is still, all things considered, a fine hour of television, but it was simply forced to do too much too quickly. I can’t help but think if we had spent less time with Dana and the various other wasted plots of the beginning of the season, we wouldn’t have had to be in such a rush to the finish line. Brody—the show’s stalwart standout—deserves better.