The second and third installments of this divergent season of Homeland played as a tentative arranging of chess pieces. Carrie and Brody were nudged feebly around the board, while bigger storylines about the CIA bombing and hearings were set aside. Where Homeland will move next, or what its ultimate objective is this season, remains puzzling.
The wheel-spinning, tip-toeing, and thumb-twiddling the writers are doing, however, has got to stop.
That’s not to say Homeland’s no longer delivering visceral violence and psychological turmoil, often to devastating effect. It’s just… after two seasons of such violence and turmoil, this fresh start feels comparatively tentative. A little slow. Maybe even trivial. Couldn’t Brody’s whole reintegration into the story been covered in a two-minute scene? How – and more importantly, how soon! – will Brody and Carrie cross paths again? As compelling as it always is to see the return of Crazy Eyes Carrie, her repetitive cycle of self-destructive paranoia seems stagnant.
Stagnant is not a word one should use to describe a television show about counterterrorism and national and individual psychosis. And maybe it’s too early to make overarching judgments. But it’s hard not to think back to the first three episodes of season 1, when people would hyperventilate just talking about Homeland at the water cooler.
By the fourth episode of season 2, Carrie had already gone through rejection from the CIA, attempted suicide, re-integration into the CIA, and charging Brody as a terrorist. With the possible exception of the fiendish season 1 finale, that episode boasts Homeland’s most spectacular ending – Carrie seductively appearing in Brody’s hotel room, only to blow her cover and furiously accuse him of everything he had done. That the show was able to get away with Carrie screaming “I LOVED you!” in those shocking moments was a sign of how convincingly bold the writers had become. It was excellent television.
Maybe it comes down to an inability to maintain such high stakes. This walking the line between Carrie falsely accused and Carrie actually psychotic might be Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon’s temporary solution. It certainly can’t go on all season. Again, any opportunity to see Claire Danes depict varying levels of medication and sanity and outrage is welcome. Just look at her delivery of the line, “Considering I’m chained to a hospital gurney I’m beyond calm I’m FUCKING ZEN.” But Homeland built its reputation on its ability to balance individual and collective consciousness. So with minimal political intrigue and counterterrorist plots – without the big picture – the show feels lopsided and small.
There is obvious uncertainty, too, about what to do with Saul. Is he really responsible for detaining Carrie so swiftly and harshly? Are we supposed to think of him as a villain now? If so, the show’s going to have to work harder to make that transition. In episode 2, Saul and his scary, lesser-bearded friend (F. Murray Abraham) are abruptly trying to keep Carrie quiet at all costs, which just feels like a sloppy mistake. And his treatment of Fara (Nazanin Boniadi), a young Persian analyst hired to investigate Iran’s involvement in the CIA attack, seems at odds with the Saul we’ve known and loved. She’s described as “a kid in a head scarf” but that doesn’t stop Saul from attacking her religion. Yuck. Boniadi’s quietly bruised yet resolute performance in this episode is beautiful though; I hope we see more of her.
Meanwhile, on the thrilling Brody home front, Dana is in a healthy place! Or maybe not! Her mother accepts her unruly healing process! Or maybe not!
Let’s talk about those last thirty seconds of the episode, titled “Uh… Oh… Ah….” I would actually argue its among the show’s most heartbreaking moments ever. Saul enters the psych ward to apologize to a drugged-out Carrie, who struggles stubbornly through a line he really deserves to hear: “Fuck… you… Saul.” Danes’ furrowed brow and slurred whisper communicate a world of hurt. This simple depiction of two people brought low by circumstance and duty and by each other – they’re mere echoes of their best selves. Maybe Carrie and Saul’s quasi-father-daughter relationship will be how season 3 ups the stakes. By destroying their bond, there’s potential for a painstaking rebuilding of it. I’d tune in for that.
On the other hand, there’s the exhaustingly pointless check-in with Brody (a bald and bleeding Damian Lewis), stuck in an abandoned skyscraper in Caracas, imprisoned yet again. What was perhaps most frustrating about this episode, “The Tower of David,” was its refusal to explore the events leading to Brody’s presence there, as well as his potential next step. At one point Brody demands to go to “the next place,” but other than a brief mention of his captor knowing Carrie, there is nothing to connect Brody to any relevant part of the story. He’s a completely isolated character. So his passport being stolen, and then the thief being thrown off the tower, and then that girl with no facial expressions helping him escape to a mosque, and then whatever happened afterward because I stopped paying attention – it all feels tangential and tedious. The shooting of the imam and his wife felt simply gratuitous, and other than a creepy doctor-pedophile (played with skin-crawling relish by Erik Dellums) who says things like, “You’ve been a naughty boy,” there’s nothing compelling going on.
After 32 minutes of this we finally see Carrie again, banging her head against a bathroom mirror and trying (badly) to negotiate her way out of the psych ward. The parallels drawn between her and Brody are so overt they pretty much play as “They’re both trapped! They’re both on drugs! OMG!” Again, it’s a far cry from the multi-layered episode finales of yesteryear. Here’s hoping Homeland’s writers can turn it around.
- Whither Tracy Letts and Amy Morton’s courtroom bickering?
- Dana not only follows her father’s example in finding his prayer rag and kneeling on it, the parallel is also structural – we first discovered Brody was a Muslim at the end of the second episode of season 1.
- Is Brody really able to switch back and forth from heroin addict to not heroin addict that easily?
- Erik Dellums’ doctor nagging the criminal gang about fixing the electricity was equal parts hilarious and chilling, as the lights flickered, strobe-like, on his gaunt face. A pretty intriguing character entrance in an already tense scene.
- It’s unclear whether the lawyer who came to visit Carrie is working for the CIA or some international figure trying to win Carrie’s allegiance. Let’s get those chess pieces moving, people!
- Yeah, I just watched the last five minutes of S2E4, “New Car Smell.” It’s amazing. The other factor in the insane confrontation between Carrie and Brody is Saul, watching it unfold on surveillance cameras. When the jig is up, Brody advances menacingly for a moment, and Saul, staring at the screen, mutters, “Get the fuck away from her.” And oh, he means it. Chills.
- Does anybody else think bald Damian Lewis looks like Bruce Willis?