Well, the question of what kind of show Homeland wants to be has been rather definitively answered with this episode. And while there was a time when we would have complained about the answer it settled on, we’ve come around to the Homeland creative team’s way of thinking on this one; partially because of how long the show’s been on the air, but mainly because this was such a fantastically fun and tense episode that there’s no reasonable way for us to complain about it.
It seems to us that after almost four full seasons on the topic, it’s impossible for any TV show to continue to offer up thoughtful, tense, engrossing examinations of the War on Terror. At some point, both the temptation as well as the need (if you want to stay on the air) for a show like this to turn toward full on action movie sequences is going to become overwhelming. An episode like this one, thrilling as it was, probably would have annoyed us quite a bit had it come much earlier in the show’s run. But in a post-Brody world, when practically every character (but especially the main one) had been written into some sort of corner, it was, in retrospect, a smart and gutsy move to change the show into what it is now. Sure, the title no longer makes much sense, since almost no time this season was actually spent on American soil, but the creators had their work cut out for them this season because they had to figure out how to make this show continue to work without its central relationship.
Was there a tiny part of us that groaned a little at the sight of Carrie picking up a gun? Carrie, whose considerable strength and power as a character arises solely out of how she uses her mind and the ways in which her mind makes that hard for her, turned into an action heroine? Yes. A little. But when she barked out “I’m trying to kill the motherfuckers who are trying to kill us!” with every bit of fear and panic any non-action hero would feel at that moment, we couldn’t help but get caught up in it all. Besides, Carrie really wasn’t the action hero of this episode. She was mostly sidelined for most of the action, as a person in her position naturally would be. No, the real hero here was Peter Quinn, who, after almost an entire season of acting mopey and disobeying orders finally got his moment to shine. It’s almost as if the writers had this planned all along, throwing all of his earlier moping suddenly into sharp relief and answering the question of what kind of man Peter is. He’s not the kind who can hang around motel pools indefinitely drinking himself into a stupor, it turns out.
In fact, a lot of this episode seemed to consist of the creative team paying off several things. Not just Peter Quinn, Action Man, but Director Lockhart, flawed but not necessarily evil CIA Director. They’ve done a hell of a job turning this character around from his earlier portrayal and making him seem as vital and human as anyone else in the cast. We were sure he was going to wind up dead by the end of the episode. In fact, when no one died immediately after the storming of the embassy, we worried the creators wouldn’t have the guts to cull someone from the cast. We probably should have seen Fara’s death coming. It certainly hit us like a gut punch. It wasn’t until the next day that we considered how problematic it is that the only member of the cast to die in the terrorist attack was the Muslim one.
And speaking of cast members, Mark Moses needs to have a chat with his agent and get them to stop offering him the smarmiest, sleaziest, least likable characters possible because he is entirely too good at it and he may never get a chance to play a non-sleazeball again. Never before were we so disgusted with someone for NOT killing himself. Laila Robbins as the Ambassador (and his wife) played her disgust so clearly, beautifully and subtly that we feel she spoke for us in those scenes.
This seems to be the season where long-running shows pull off the trick of improving themselves by switching course. After years of nihilistic wandering, The Walking Dead suddenly became a much better show by turning itself into a series of character studies. Homeland is coming at it from the opposite direction. After years of focusing almost entirely on two characters, they’ve now become an ensemble action piece in the 24 vein. Will it be sustainable in the long run? Probably not. Almost nothing in series television is. But we’re willing to bet this season is going to end on a hell of a high note that no one expected going into it. Because this was the very best episode of Homeland in years, and may just go down as one of the top episodes in the show’s entire run.
[Photo Credit: (David Bloomer/Showtime]