Spoiler Alert: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 4 of Showtime's "Homeland," titled "Game On".
How much longer can "Homeland" run before the bank of viewer goodwill empties out? The heartbeat of the first two, highly successful, seasons was the love story, shot through with the intrigue and suspense of the larger political and intelligence backdrop, between Carrie and Brody. The show will arguably only recapture viewers' drifting loyalties once those two characters are reunited. But there is a limited amount of time to do that, and in the meantime, the Dana fixation, which returned in tonight's episode, and Carrie's meandering, stuttering return to the world of intelligence work -- which feeds much of what makes the show interesting; "Homeland" doesn't "work" unless Carrie does too -- may be enough to turn some viewers off for good.
That's not to say last night's "Homeland" was bad; indeed, much of it was reminiscent of the action and satisfying twists and turns we were used to from Seasons 1 and 2. True, there wasn't any Brody in this episode, no small-lipped determination from television's favorite confused wannabe terrorist/anti-hero. But, judging from where we left him off in the last episode, shooting up heroin and being held captive in a Caracas slum as he simultaneously gave the people of South America a taste of what they can expect when the World Cup kicks off next year (a lot of very white dudes with their shirts off running around the streets wasted), we're not entirely sure we're eager to return there. For now, Carrie and co. have delivered some satisfying plot developments that will bring us closer to resolving Brody and El Nino's mysterious connection to Carrie.
The episode was braided from three storylines. First, there was Dana and Leo's stupid, perfectly teenage escape from the rehabilitation clinic to a "Twilight"-esque forest, where they bonded over what got them committed in the first place. The second storyline concerned what was going down at Langley: mostly scenes of Saul, Dar Adal and new transactions specialist Fara muttering incoherently about terrorists and Venezuela. The exact details are murky but it accomplishes all we need to know for the episode's setup: the CIA are still on the hunt for Javadi, the Iranian terrorist who ordered the attack on Langley, and who is generally regarded as a mastermind rivaling Abu Nazir. Finally, there's our girl Carrie, who is at last allowed to leave the hospital after being blocked by the CIA. But here's the twist: Carrie's recruitment by The Evil Guys, via the intermediary of their lawyer in DC, who arranged for her release through the channel of a sympathetic judge (again, how realistic is this, really?), was all part of a plan she and Saul had hatched to bring the CIA closer to the Iranian terrorist who ordered the attack on Langley. As Dana might sigh after inhaling a joint with Leo and furiously maneuvering her eyebrows, What?
We were divided on the power and effectiveness of the twist: Youyoung felt it was deftly handled and recaptured the reward and just-so suspense of the first two seasons' best moments, while Aaron (in the moments where he wasn't obnoxiously referring to himself in the third person) thought it was a tired return to an old trick that will do little save reinforce viewers' twist fatigue. It seems like every time the show lags or drifts back into the soporific tedium of the Dana/50-year-old boy band member love plot, the writers try to reinject enthusiasm into proceedings by producing some ludicrous twist. Carrie looks like she's cracked and will start to collaborate with the Iranian terrorists -- but it turns out that was the plan all along! It's not hard to imagine a future in which the show leans more and more heavily on these kinds of hammy reveals. Carrie made friends with the lawyer who handled her case at the psych ward -- who is actually a terrorist! Saul is a good man -- but he's actually a terrorist! Dar Adal could be a terrorist -- but he's not a terrorist! Virgil seems dopey and harmless -- but he's actually working for Saul and they are both terrorists! And so on.
The last five minutes of the episode made us want to go immediately back and watch the scenes prior to it. The episode's Big Reveal comes as Carrie confesses to Saul: "I did just like you said. The meeting had to be face to face," Carrie tells Saul, to which Saul responds, turning his head skyward as if in salutation of the deity, "You're an amazing person, Carrie Mathison. Amazing." While we were relieved that Carrie hadn't turned, we couldn't help but feel frustrated at Saul for putting our Carrie through such an emotionally wrenching ordeal in the first place. And we had questions about the timing of it all: When had, exactly, Carrie and Saul hatched together their master plan? Was it in place when Carrie desperately called Virgil for money and help (who, in turn, was being taped by the CIA)? Why would Virgil tip her off with what we presume was a warning call -- the "Say hi to your mom for me" sign-off? Or did it happen after Carrie's release was first blocked by the CIA -- and when she instructed her father to speak to Saul?
There was another scene we found perplexing. As Carrie mooches around the city and attempts to lose the trail of the various parties tailing her (the CIA, the law firm that got her released from the psych ward), she shows up at the apartment of the Brody lookalike she slept with earlier in the season. Like, apparently, many single men in DC, he's at home on a Sunday night, drinking beer alone and waiting for a woman to turn up on his doorstep and offer him sex. An offer which -- no surprise -- he duly accepts. The next morning, we see Carrie, whose bank accounts and passport have all been suspended by the Department of Justice, steal money from his wallet and creep out the door -- only to be stopped by Evil Terrorist-Representing Law Firm Guy in a big, scary-looking black SUV as she walks down the street.
What was the point of sleeping with the Brody lookalike? Was it simply to convince Evil, Evil & Associates of the sincerity of her eventual (if fake) commitment to the collaboration plan, by seeming so insistently against it from the beginning? The whole scene felt superfluous, and it simply filled in the space before we got to the meeting between Carrie and the morally compromised law firm partner, played with the kind of pitch-perfect campy relish ("I'm paid to make arguments") we haven't seen on TV since... well, since the doctor appeared in last week's episode of "Homeland" and told Brody, "You've been a naughty, naughty boy."
Meanwhile, there were some scenes with Dana and her aging rocker boyfriend. Dana's taken a lot of heat recently and there wasn't much in her scenes this time round to suggest the heat's about to subside. At one point we see the fugitive pair canoodling by a headstone in a cemetery, Leo swigging a beer as Dana recites the opening lines of "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure dome decree," she says. "I really like that," Leo replies, visibly uninterested.
A couple of episodes ago Dana told her grandmother she had to do homework on "Beowulf." Many people want to paint Dana as the most annoying teenager on TV -- but if that's true (we don't say necessarily that it is), this season of "Homeland" has definitively proved that she is simultaneously the most literary and annoying teenager on TV. The problem, as we see it, with the Dana scenes is not that they're inherently uninteresting; it's that the dialogue and storyboarding are so stagey and implausible. If you're a troubled teenager on the run with your verboten boyfriend, you don't go to a cemetery and quote Coleridge. We're not sure what you do -- although surely there'd be sex involved at a fairly early stage -- but you don't do that. Dana feels like a much older person's guess, filtered through the loose memory of high school poetry classes and clandestine drinking sessions, at what Teenagers Today are Actually Like.
Jessica Brody is sick with worry at Dana's runaway act -- at one point she tells Mike Faber, who makes a sudden reappearance this episode after weeks of keenly unfelt absence, "I can't seem to do one thing right anyone." (This, presumably, includes acting as well: OUCH.) Mike nods in that bland way of his, that says he's heard what has just been said but has no special opinion to offer on the matter. Mike Faber is to "Homeland" what opinion pieces about the Citibike program are to New York-focused news websites: he's always there, he refuses to go away, but he adds nothing in the process. Yay.
It's no surprise that the show's been a bummer to watch for the first three episodes -- the comments on our recaps can speak to the frustration viewers felt with the show's lack of action and general all-around misery of its characters. Finally the writers (James Yoshimura and Alex Gansa) throw us a bone with last night's cleverly written episode, rewarding us with a well-executed plan to snag Javadi in a sting set-up. The way the writers were able to deftly manipulate our feelings was impressive: we go from desperation to disappointment to relief in the span of ten minutes. At the crux of "Homeland" has always been the question of character: if Carrie's character were compromised, then we would have made like our heroine with her former place of employment and lost faith in the show altogether. As it happens, we can't wait to see what happens next week.
Questions we have that were answered:
- How is Carrie going to get of the psych ward? Not with the help of the CIA, who have flagged Carrie as a national risk. Instead, Carrie is allowed to leave under the orders of a judge who owes a favor to a powerful law firm who represents clients from the Middle East -- specifically, Javadi.
- What's the deal with that kid Leo, anyway? Besides being 26 in real life, hence making their relationship even more creepy in our eyes, we learned that Leo (Sam Underwood) is actually at the rehabilitation clinic as part of a plea bargain deal for killing his brother with a gun under dubious circumstances.
- Did Saul just become a major dick, or does he still care about Carrie? Of course our Saul does. After getting her committed to the psych ward, Saul does the second best thing and orchestrates a master plan to help the both of them accomplish their goals: Saul, to catch a wanted terrorist; and Carrie, to somehow still work for the CIA in some capacity, because she cannot do anything else.
- Are Saul and Carrie going to work together again? Yes.
- Is Dana still going to be a central focus on "Homeland?" Unfortunately, yes.
Questions we still have:
- When did Carrie and Saul hatch together the sting to capture Javadi? Was it after Saul visited Carrie in the hospital in episode 2 -- where she could barely talk, after having injected with medication? Or was it after she instructed her father to phone Saul after Dar Adal blocked Carrie's release from the psych ward?
- If Carrie was in on the sting the whole entire time, why did she knock on lookalike Brody's door for refuge? Or did our heroine just want to have angry sex again?
- Are Dana's skinny jeans and ballet flats her new combat boots and flannel button-down of Season 2? Did the producers of "Homeland" sign a secret product placement deal with Steve Madden?
- Speaking of clothing, why is Jessica Brody always in some kind of low-cut and loose T-shirt?
- While presumably still friends, what happened between Jessica Brody and Mike Faber? They appeared distant although still friendly. Is there a chance for a reconciliation?
- Is Peter Quinn aware of the teamwork that is happening between Carrie and Saul, and if so, does he forgive Saul for his treatment of Carrie earlier (which had inspired Quinn to resign from his job)?
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.
What did you think of "Homeland" Season 4, Episode 4? Share your thoughts and predictions below.