Last week’s Homeland Season 3 premiere on Showtime ended with an intense portrayal of sheer disbelief. It’s a powerful emotion, one that can disrupt the foundation of how we see the world and our place in it. It leaves us speechless, incredulous, asking “why” but knowing that no answer will ultimately be satisfactory. As she sat alone in her living room at the conclusion of last week’s episode, Carrie watched as her mentor Saul sold her out in front of Congress and on television, revealing her bipolar disorder and lying that the CIA knew about her affair with the terrorist-at-large Nicholas Brody. All she can do is sit in stunned silence.
I’m not trying to diminish the feeling Carrie experienced, but it serves as a powerful metaphor for how I felt after watching this week’s episode. The hour is called “Uh…Oh…Aw;” that might as well have been a transcript of my initial reaction as the final credits rolled. Quite frankly, this was the most head-scratching hour of television we’ve ever spent with Carrie, Saul, and the rest of this suddenly thin cast of characters, which clearly has a Brody-sized hole that can’t be filled soon enough.
The show can be whatever its very capable writing staff wants it to be. But Homeland’s second act seems to be turning more and more away from the espionage spy drama formula that garnered so much acclaim. In a vacuum, that’s fine—it’s confusing, but we’ve grown attached to many of these people over the last two years, so the move towards “character drama” isn’t all that far-fetched. The problem, though, is that the behavior of many of these characters has been wildly inconsistent with what we’ve come to expect from them. We know a lot about these people now, so it was even more glaring when they acted out of character, defying every expectation, many in the worst ways.
Carrie is off the rails from the episode’s beginning—she storms into Saul’s house looking for him, but he’s too busy bro-hanging with Dar Adal and being INCREDIBLY racist to deal with her. More on that later. She’s twitchy, conspiratorial, argumentative, and completely unstable. In the past, this version of Carrie has a heightened intuition. In spite of herself, she acted decisively and saw what was actually going on even when no one else believed her. Now, she’s frothing at the mouth so much that it’s hard to take her seriously. She might be right about the still-absent Brody after all, but this is hardly the way to make us want her to be able to prove that.
And quite honestly, you can’t really blame the CIA for needing to shut her down before she reveals classified information to a reporter, can you? When police officers arrive wielding a “psychiatric detention order” (I checked—this is a real thing), it’s a convenient and necessary step to shut her down. But turning her handicap into…well…a handicap, particularly one that she succeeded in spite of (or thanks to) earlier leaves her completely powerless. I guess it’s nice that her disorder isn’t being treated like some kind of superpower, but she’s been able to work her way out of plenty of jams before. Not this time, it seems.
At the hospital, the CIA has consulted a group of fake doctors who lie about her condition. They schedule a hearing to decide whether to commit her or not, but with the state she’s in (and with Dar Adal threatening to “handle” her), it appears not to be in her best interest to be out on the street shouting about Brody’s innocence from the rooftops anyway. The only person who seems to get that, strangely enough, is Peter Quinn—the ex-“soldier” who has now, somehow, become the moral compass of the show.
When we first met him last year, he was a suspicious, secretive agent with questionable motives. Though the seeds for this turn were planted at the end of last year, Homeland with Peter Quinn as its moralist is a fundamentally different story than the one we’ve following. He was the one who rammed the knife into Brody’s hand during “Q&A;” whether it was in a fit of rage or to be the bad cop to Carrie’s convalescent good one, it was still pretty twisted. Later, he almost killed Brody on multiple occasions. Now, he’s taking every chance he gets to talk about his feelings. When we met him, he wasn’t supposed to really have them at all.
Meanwhile, the Brody house is still in shambles weeks after Dana’s return from psychiatric treatment following her suicide attempt. Jessica’s frustratingly incapable of understanding; she’s becoming more and more of a harpy each week. Obviously Dana’s actions represent a parent’s worst nightmare, but her selfish lack of compassion for her daughter has made her entirely too one-dimensional. With any luck, the weekly Jessica/Dana face-offs will calm down now that they’ve realized that each has been wrongly blaming the other when the family’s dysfunction is the fault of the failed father figure, Brody.
Dana tries to take refuge in the bathroom—the scene of her “crime”—before finding a real respite in the arms of her young paramour, Leo. She’s got a healthy case of Stockholm Syndrome, sneaking back into the clinic to see him. But her confession to her mother (“I-have-Leo-and-now-I-don’t-want-to-die-anymore”) once she’s found out and returns home suggests she’s going to need at least a few more hours of high-priced therapy.
[I don’t want to say too much about her kneeling at the prayer mat just yet. Without her father, she’s more adrift than ever, but maybe this will serve a way for her to ground herself. But sharing the mat with the man she called a psycho five minutes prior gave me the heebie-jeebies.]
The most stunning moment for me was Saul’s treatment of Farrah, the agency’s new “numbers expert” tasked with tracing the money behind the bombing. She wears a hijab, and although many of the generic white men eye her up and down as she enters what’s left of Langley, Saul says what many of them—apparently—must be thinking.
When Quinn and Saul stumble over themselves upon meeting her, it seems as if they stop because she’s pretty—she is—which makes Saul’s rebuke of her that much more unsettling when it comes, as swiftly and ignorantly as we’ve come to expect from anyone at the agency but him. He’s extra punchy in his new role as CIA Director, but this the guy who was chosen to ensure Abu Nazir received a proper burial at sea last year. Now all of a sudden he’s supposed to be the type of guy who would say, “you wearing that thing on your head is one big ‘fuck you’ to the people who would’ve been your co-workers except they perished right out there.”
This might’ve been the most absurd moment in a herky-jerky episode that’s full of them. It’s wholly and completely out of character for the Saul character who has always tried to do right in a setting where the ends have justified a lot of questionable means. I still don’t get it. Eventually Saul treats her with respect—once she proves herself useful in a face-off with a group of crooked bankers. Great message, guys.
Eventually, Carrie gets her day in court, but it predictably doesn’t go well—the camera rattles, cutting back and forth between her and the judge as she unravels before trying to run out of the hearing. Seeing her strapped down to a bed again is just as jarring as the Season 1 finale, but this time she’s struggling against the restraints rather than resigned to their presence. This time, the remedy is thorazine, which drops her lower than we’ve ever seen her.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m enjoying this version of Homeland less than the previous iterations. It feels like we’ve evolved into sadism—who are things going well for right now? Until the big plot (I assume there is one) gets going, a kind of melancholia looms large over everyone here. I still have hope that Carrie’s going to get out of the asylum and start working to catch the bad guys again, but the show seems more stuck than ever before, trying to fill its Brody void with steps that—like Carrie’s “routine”—just aren’t working.