Homeland: Halfway to a Donut

Posted on November 17, 2014


Tracy Letts and Claire Danes in Showtime’s “Homeland”

This was an episode in which virtually everything set up earlier in the season has begun the process of paying it all off, which made it the most exciting and emotional episode of the season so far. But when Director Lockhart (played by Tracy Letts, who doesn’t get enough praise for the dead-perfect “privileged white-guy slow burn of entitlement” vibe he infuses the character with)  mentioned Daniel Pearl and James Foley, we recoiled slightly – and that reaction on our parts was fueled by what the show has become and how different it is from where it started.

There was a time – and admittedly, that time was a brief period that ended before the first season finale – when a mention of real world western victims of the war on terror would have fit right into the show’s setting and vibe. But Homeland morphed fairly quickly into a more 24-ish-style take on the subject matter, with much higher stakes and a much more melodramatic tone that’s only increased over time. This is now a world where the American victims of terrorism aren’t journalists or working people or even soldiers. This is a world where Vice-Presidents, U.S. Representatives and Directors of the CIA are the real victims of terrorism. A world where the roll call of the dead is full of high-ranking officials, in a complete reversal of how the global war on terrorism has played out in our own world. We’re not sure what our point is, really. Just some musing on how different the show is now and how badly such real-world mentions fit into such a fantastical story.

But when you get served an episode like this, full of high emotional stakes and fantastically tense scenes, you should probably just go with the fun and not get caught up in questions of realism. After all, once the conversation shifts to “So, Islamabad CIA Station Chief, tell me, The Director of the CIA, more about how the ISI dosed your antipsychotic meds,” gritty realism has left the building. This stuff is only slightly grittier than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., when you get right down to it. We’re as big a couple of fans of Saul the Lion as you’ll find anywhere, but his escape was over the top; from ripping a nail out of the floor with his bare hands to killing his own jailer with his chains, it was pure Die Hard-style fantasy. Thrilling, fist-pumping fantasy, sure. But we feel like one has to recognize where the show is now and what it’s willing to do to keep you sucked in now that Brody’s gone.

What separates Homeland from other, perhaps lesser shows about the spy game, are the occasionally stunning performances. We’ve probably seen enough Carrie-has-a-breakdown scenes to last us a while (especially after last week’s finger guns of shame), but this episode’s tense duet between Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes made for a fantastic reminder of why we fell in love with these characters in the first place. It’s to the show’s credit that we truly didn’t think Saul was going to survive the episode. It felt like his swan song. And truth be told, our initial response to the ending was to cry foul, just as Saul screamed of Carrie’s betrayal to him. Our emotional response mirrored the character’s, in other words. Can’t find any fault with that.

And for once, Carrie wasn’t treated like a child or an idiot. Granted, the amount of leeway she tends to be given after her many public breakdowns and inappropriate acts is not exactly believable if you look at it for too long, but after a full season of everyone acting so very shocked by her cold-hearted ways, it was a relief to see that particular aspect of the story dropped in favor of some action and forward movement. Our only complaint has to do with Carrie and her relationship with Aasar Khan, which appears to have some sort of attractive element to it. For once, we’d like to see Carrie have a serious relationship with an ally, colleague or asset who doesn’t find himself attracted to her somehow. We could be misreading the signals, or the show could deliberately be misleading us, so we’re willing to see how it plays out before getting all huffy about it, though.

Besides, that’s not the driving question going forward. It’s whether or not Saul will ever trust Carrie again should she manage to save his life. That’s what truly separates Homeland from similar shows; the depth of the relationships forged onscreen when you give good actors the right material to work with. More episodes like this and we’ll forget Brody ever existed.

Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. Thank you!

blog comments powered by Disqus