Homeland Recap: S3E4 “Game On”

Is it just me or are we starting to steer back into Awesomeville?

Claire Danes and Martin Donovan in Homeland

Claire Danes and Martin Donovan in Homeland

Season 3 of Homeland has been so awkwardly uncertain, it was refreshing this week to see the writers grow a pair and serve up some legit Intrigue with a capital I. It’s not quite the same Homeland as two seasons ago, although “Game On” raises many of the same fascinating questions – about surveillance and secrecy and the personal and moral cost of counterterrorism – on which this story was originally built. Ironically, this episode’s great reveal detracted from the previous three episodes, especially last week’s relatively languid Brody installment (although yes, the immediate connection to Caracas in the Iranian terrorism plot comes gratifyingly early in this episode). How frustrating that the writers needed three episodes to set up this hour of tantalizing, often electric storytelling.

No matter! I’m staying optimistic! I believe this twist, as unlikely as it seems, signals good things to come for season 3. After all, Carrie’s repetitive destruction at the hands of her superiors and herself was, in fact, tied to the overall plot to nab the bad guys. This was one epic fake-out – for Dar Adal, for the Iranians, but especially for the audience. How wonderful that it was Carrie and Saul’s friendship that enabled this plot twist (all right, maybe more like loophole).

And although it does invalidate the heart-wrenching moment at the end of the second episode to learn that Saul wasn’t actually apologizing for being an evil backstabber, there’s no taking away from Carrie’s very real suffering in the psychiatric ward. Many of Claire Danes’ frantically crazed moments over the past couple episodes happened when she was alone, meaning if it was all an act, parts of it were for an unseen audience’s benefit. Since Homeland is not one to break the fourth wall, I’m calling it that Carrie was legitimately at the end of her rope throughout this experience (mission?). Carrie certainly weasels her way in with the Iranians, but it’s hardly acting. Her nerves are palpable during the hearing at the hospital. After she frantically spreads blush on her face, she emerges still looking “like a ghost.”

That’s what made the episode so charged, those shots of Carrie wandering the streets trying to re-assimilate after suddenly being cleared to leave the ward. It dawns on her – and us – just how short her leash is. There may be parameters to her mission for Saul, but she’s in control of very little. And then suddenly good ol’ Virgil (the dry David Marciano) is back. But there are men in suits standing behind him shaking their heads! But then he tells Carrie to say hi to her mother. And then she realizes he’s sending her a warning! That’s the spy-on-spy dynamic Homeland has been lacking of late. So what if we don’t have any of the credible details?

Dana’s storyline failed to interest me, and felt like it belonged to a separate TV show. But if that TV show is about the effects of global terrorism on innocent individuals, I can see why the writers have given the Brody family so much screentime. First of all, Jessica’s “She said she was going to Trader Joe’s” is probably the best line of the season so far. And I enjoyed the meeting with Leo’s parents because it clearly demonstrated how Brody’s (supposed) actions affect Jessica’s everyday life. The reason his family is still on the show can be seen in those fleeting moments of pain crossing Morena Baccarin’s fraught face. It’s good Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) is still a presence in her life; he’s always a downright saint and downright dull, and Jessica could use some of that.

Although the road trip literally wandered everywhere, there was some telling character development from both Dana and Leo. It makes sense that they are clinging to each other as more than just silly young lovers. Both are grappling with past events affecting their present teenage-hood, and neither will ever be able to truly escape those events as adults. The minor twist – a revelation that Leo’s brother may not have committed suicide – was enough to keep me invested in wherever this story is going. If only to keep fighting the urge to smack that disgusting smirk off Leo’s face. I sure hope Morgan Saylor and Damian Lewis get some face-to-face time this season; they’re twice as good together.

Some Iranian-by-way-of-Venezuela bullets:

  • Nazanin Boniadi is so beautiful as Fara. The slightest glimmer of badassery is starting to creep into her performance – she likes catching bad guys just as much as her new mentor Saul.
  • Carrie! Don’t rob your fuck buddy!! Also if you knew you were being followed anyway…??
  • Mandy Patinkin nailed that last scene. That beard is just so tender and appreciative. Saul is much more convincing as a papa bear than a heartless schemer, but Patinkin is convincing playing both.
  • The scene between Carrie and Leland Bennett (Martin Donovan) probably warrants its own essay. I wouldn’t mind more time spent on this scary notion of “proportional response to acts of aggression,” which evokes recent debates about civilian casualties, especially drone strikes. There are some vague ideas about media spinoff as well, about manipulating the narrative. Not unlike what Homeland’s writers have just re-proven they can do. The game is indeed on.
  • As always, I enjoyed reading eloquent recaps from Linda Holmes, Maureen Ryan, Alyssa Rosenberg, Alan Sepinwall, and Sarah D. Bunting. What made their responses especially exciting this week was the wide spectrum of mixed opinions.

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