Homeland 3.2: The Empire Strikes Back

Carrie’s going (even more) crazy, the CIA’s being secretive, teenagers are having sex, and big banks are funding terrorism. How is Homeland screwing this up?

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Homeland’s back, y’all. Time for some recaps. This week’s episode was ‘Uh… Oh… Ah…’. Spoilers follow.

So that was quick. From the very beginning of ‘Uh… Oh… Ah…’ and Carrie Mathison’s insistent door-knocking, it became abundantly clear that the CIA’s favourite ex-agent was now more unhinged than a political party that denies funding an entire government over affordable health cover for the poor. It also quickly became apparent that after the encouraging — if muted and moribund — steps Season Three’s premiere took last week, ‘Uh… Oh… Ah…’ was going to take narrative place-setting to OCD Martha Stewart in molasses levels. Then it sits you next to Mark from accounting, who can’t wait to explain how much he ‘digs’ Excel shortcuts. At least the painstaking place-setting doesn’t matter so much when you want to jab a fork into your thigh.

Homeland succeeds when it combines geo-political cat-and-mouse games with an examination of the toll that counter-terrorism and living on the edge of unmitigated disaster can take on a person’s psyche and moral code. Its drama hinges on life-and-death cost-benefit analysis decision-making, CIA secrecy, and covert maneuvering, and the frantic pace at which everything operates. Oh, and how conflicted the Perpetually Conflicted Mrs Brody can be.

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“What do you mean you didn’t like my grouting?”

With all that in play, and the fate of alleged CIA bomber and the ‘World’s Most Wanted Red Head’ Nicholas Brody still not revealed, a manhunt would be fun, right? Sure. But how about if the writers moved into ultra-slow-burn mode and centred primarily on Carrie’s personal Apocalypse Now — where Brody is Kurtz and Saul is presumably Robert Duvall — and the post-suicide attempt, sexual awakening of Dana Brody (aka Dour Dana, aka Dolorous Dana, aka Dana the Downer)?

Well. That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Dana and Carrie are interlinked: they’re the two individuals hurt most by Brody. They shadow each other in their individualism, distrust of others, and willfully destructive behaviour. The way they deal with the fallout of the CIA bombing is telling.

Throughout the first two seasons of Homeland, we’ve been witness to Carrie’s knife-edge mental state — now we’re at its nadir. She’s done gone jumped off the crazy cliff, and now we’re really learning that you don’t fuck with the CIA. She’s been thrown under the bus by her former mentor — even though she’s been right all along and is now, perhaps correctly, claiming that Brody’s innocent — and the CIA are pinning her with a psychiatric detention order for trying to tell that to the press. Carrie could basically be a Metallica song at this point: beaten, broken and scarred.

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“I’m not crazy. YOU’RE crazy.”

But just how broken? In ‘Uh… Oh… Ah…’, we see Carrie plunging headlong into the depths of her own inside-out, paranoid mind. She’s talking to a journalist about Brody, the CIA and ‘The Big Lie’ and twitching back and forth on her chair as she does it. She’s screaming about conspiracies as she’s led out by police. She’s trying to convince a doctor that she’s fine sans meds via running, singing in the shower, and yoga. She’s flipping out at Quinn in the mental institution. She’s flipping out at her family at her committal hearing. She’s being strapped to a gurney and force-fed her ‘medicine’, as she struggles in vain (which was genuinely terrifying). Each instance lets Claire Danes take Carrie to the edge in all her bug-eyed, greasy-haired, twitchy, gurning glory.

But somehow, it remains strangely difficult to sympathise with this character, and the biggest challenge for the writers of Homeland is going to be to give her more to do than be ‘Crazy Carrie’. Tracking down Brody as ‘Slightly Manic But Still Competent Carrie’ still appears pretty far off in the distance when she’s strapped to a table and being administered Thorazine in an institution, and being barely able to utter a meek ‘Fuck you‘ to Saul .

Similarly, in illustrating how Dana is dealing with her own problems, Homeland have seemingly lifted her entire character arc from Twilight. With “beautiful” Emo Leo’s weirdly triangular and pasty emo face and ‘issues’, combined with Dana’s mumbling, emotionally fraught, angst-ridden teenage existence, Stephenie Meyer should’ve scored an Executive Producer nod. If Leo ends up in a mental institution for believing he’s a vampire or gets interred after jumping through treetops, we march on Washington.

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It’s a far cry from the laundromat episode of Friends.

Again: we get it. Dana’s broken, too. However, she isolates fans so much because of the Gilmore Girls story she’s stuck with. WE GET IT. Teenagers have sex. Teenagers who have psychological problems also have sex. Sometimes with each other. Sometimes when they go back to a recovery hospital called Idylwood. Sometimes surrounded by appliances. And we get the symbolism of the rain and the clean sheets. And breaking out her dad’s prayer mat. And when it all falls apart in a couple of episodes and Dana gets sulky again, we’ll get that, too. But you know what? It still doesn’t make watching a teenager be a teenager at all interesting.

What is interesting? Saul turning into a primetime hardarse. We’re seeing the CIA Acting Director job turning him into Evil David Estes — where Saul previously succeeded on his own as a loose cannon operator, he’s now forced to sacrifice his principles for the ‘greater good’. His out-of-character racism concerning Fara’s headscarf (as though Saul had never worked with a Muslim lady) and his moral battle over selling out former protege Carrie, clearly demonstrate the toll the job is taking on the best beard in TV. It’s all there as he’s chatting to badarse offsider Dar Adal about taking care of the Carrie situation: when Saul gives his barely perceptible nod, you almost expect him to qualify it with “No disintegrations”.

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“No disintegrations.”

As for the new CIA analyst Fara, her introduction was one of the more ridiculous moments of the series. Yes, headscarves might cause some people to look, but in what world would a female Muslim analyst walking into the CIA set everyone to staring with their mouths agape? Really? The CIA have never dealt with a young Muslim lady before? We’re really doing this ‘Good Muslim’ thing? Go home, Homeland, you’re drunk.

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Subtle, Homeland. Subtle.

Fara though, like Quinn, is a breath of fresh air. Her ‘shots fired’ moment — where Homeland accuses banks of helping to fund terrorism by turning a blind eye to prohibited transactions for the sake of massive profits — was a great introduction. Plus, any diversity in the Homeland cast gives it scope to break out of it’s repetitive ‘Saul’s stressed, Carrie’s crazy, and Dana’s moping’ rut.

Also, who saw kill-bot loner Quinn from Season Two becoming our moral conscience? He tries to help Carrie, and provides Saul with a moral compass, and then he sorts out that “venal shithead” banker in the most icy, granite-faced, trained-assassin way possible (again, you really don’t fuck with the CIA). And all with a hint of a moustache! Bravo, sir.

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“Do you understand what my moustache is telling you?”

And on that note, let’s go to our…

Homeland: What’s Their Mental State Like?’ big board!

Mrs Brody: Contemplating starting her own grouting business.
Saul: Feeling all racist and two-faced.
Peter Quinn: Getting off on threatening bankers outside restaurant; dealing with killing nine-year-olds in his “own way”; wondering if people are noticing his moustache.
Fara: Upset that after eight days on the job, everyone is still staring at her as she walks in.
Dana: Realising that getting some Emo Leo makes her want to be alive; impressed by her mum’s grouting skills.
Chris Brody: Pissy that his mum keeps worrying about Dana instead of buying him a massive TV.
Carrie: Wondering who stole the remote in the metal institution.

With the slow, frustratingly deliberate slog of Season Three underway, the table-setting of the trials and tribulations of Homeland’s ‘other’ characters only makes the return of a certain ex-Congressman/wannabe terrorist even more of a promise of redemption for Homeland. Because that’s the one question still hanging over everything: where in the world is Nicholas Brody?

Jaymz is a New York-based writer (originally from Melbourne, and the former Editor of triple j magazine), super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers. You can find him on twitter via @jaymzclements

Follow the rest of his Homeland recaps here.