The Secret To Fixing Your TV Show, According To Homeland
We'd mention it here, but it's kind of a spoiler. [spoilers, obviously]
Welcome to our Homeland recaps. This week’s episode was ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’. Spoilers throughout, EVEN IN THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE.
There’s a very short list of TV shows that prompt you to think: “Yeah actually, I think it would be kinda understandable if they put a bullet in the main character.”
Homeland — for all of its many, many, many foibles — still has the ability to surprise its audience. Because when Carrie Mathison (remember, CIA spy extraordinaire) decides to ignore the direct, repeated orders of a superior and threatens to blow an operation involving a large number of people that could have dire and wide-ranging geo-political ramifications… Well, to actually pull the trigger and shoot her? That’s kinda cool.
As is having Saul knowing Brody’s whereabouts… but keeping it a secret from Carrie.
Huh? Let’s back it up.
Homeland’s mid-season renaissance is the result of the program returning to the simple motif of letting its spies be spies. ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ follows last episode in not only offering a nod to poetry lovers, but allowing its best aspects to shine: namely, letting us watch Saul Berenson and his protege Carrie engaging in ever-twisting spy plots to one-up their perceived foes. (Well, ‘real’ foes: perceived foes in the USA are things like ‘universal healthcare’ and ‘gun control’).
Terrorist banker/Iranian intelligence chief Majid Javadi has been ‘played’ back into Iran, and Saul — after making his wife Mira breakfast in bed — has to deal with the consequences: namely, telling Senator (and incoming CIA director) Andrew Lockhart to shove his head up his arse, while also plotting to overthrow the Iranian government (because every time they’ve tried that it’s worked out great).
Meanwhile, Carrie and Quinn are being CIA analysts and trying to track down the Langley bomber, based on Javadi’s admission that TV’s most conflicted redhead — one Nicholas Brody — wasn’t responsible for the blast that killed 217 people (he’s just responsible for having an annoyingly small mouth, and being father to the world’s most annoying teenager). The way the episode spun out these storylines made for exhilarating, tense viewing, on par with some of the best television this year.
What needs to be made completely clear, though, is that Homeland has inexorably moved away from being an ‘important’ and thoughtfully dark look at the way counter-terrorism operates and its subsequent effects across the world and on the individuals involved. Instead, it’s settled for being an entertaining spy-thriller that occasionally throws plot twists into the mix, almost just to see what reaction it will garner. The show (and this episode, in particular) now relies almost purely on an insane (but fun) suspension of disbelief.
For instance, Saul’s got just nine days before ‘evil’ Senator Lockhart takes over. Setting up Javadi to initiate a coup in Iran (‘Phase Two’) is one thing, but how about being the Acting Director of the CIA and seemingly not having any security in place to prevent your wife’s dubious French ex-lover from breaking into and then bugging your house? Sure, it’s not the Cold War any more, but still. Is this just super-spy Saul proving to Mira that perhaps she shouldn’t fuck around and trust random French dudes she meets in Mumbai?
And, of course, there’s always the willful ‘WTF, Homeland?’ that comes with anything involving Carrie. Homeland has spent three seasons building up the Carrie Mathison character into an insanely focused workaholic who wants to protect the world, get rid of terrorists, and doesn’t mind nailing the odd bottle of tequila or convenience store redhead. And while she did try to circumvent her pregnancy (by way of “a lot of drinking. I wasn’t painting a nursery, let’s put it that way…”), the idea of Carrie having a child flies in the face of the character Homeland has created. In that sense, whatever Carrie decides to do regarding the pregnancy (“What I’m doing, it has to do with the father,” she says) could confirm what Homeland believes itself to be.
Either way, this season Carrie’s proven that she doesn’t need Brody to be a compelling character. He’s become a millstone around her neck, an excuse for the writers to get her to exhibit signs of Crazy Carrie. In this episode, she manipulates the evil law-firm duo of Franklin and Bennett (which actually sounds like a proper ambo-chasing law firm from Sydney’s outer ‘burbs) to ferret out the real Langley bomber. It pays off in vintage spy game fashion — clandestine church meetings, worried ‘Have they made us?’ conversations, rash decision, phone taps — and it made for great viewing (especially the church scene: the camera following Carrie into the church for the second meeting was terrific).
But while staking out the ‘real’ bomber, enabling Carrie to freak out about trying to clear Brody and ruining an op that has taken, as Quinn points out to her, “months of work… your work” is lazy writing. Carrie’s blindly running to do… what exactly? Was she going to politely walk up to (surprisingly scary) lawyer Franklin and say, “You’re nicked, my lad”? Having Quinn shoot her — even if painstaking care was taken to make sure it’s *only* a shot to the upper arm — made sense. The ‘real’ bomber gets the Breaking Bad bathtub treatment, while Carrie’s in an ambulance wondering where the fuck Saul is.
That’s where the episode’s real gut-punch was: Saul not letting Carrie in on his trip to a certain decrepit tower in Caracas, Venezuela, which, if you’ve been following, houses heroin fiend and Carrie’s presumed baby daddy, Nicholas Brody. The episode’s climax as Saul arrives at the Tower Of David with $10 million for El Nino (presumably to be spent on more neck tattoos), entering a stinking cell as a glazed-eyed Brody looks on, is right up there with the best scenes Homeland has delivered. It’s another lesson in a long line of how much of a supreme badass Saul is: he understands he isn’t going to be a part of Lockhart’s CIA regime, and he’s going out with a bang. How’s Javadi in Iran and delivering Brody taste, Senator?
Now with Fara given character depth and dealing with her own crisis (being hassled by Dolph Lundgren-looking government heavies, and, if Iran discovers she’s working for the CIA, her family will be in more trouble than a Fear Factory fan at a Flume show) and Mira inadvertently getting Saul bugged, Homeland has given itself and both of its lead characters shots in the arm. Will it pull off the last third of the season, though?
‘Homeland: What’s Their Mental State Like?’ big board
Carrie: “You fucking shot me!?”
Saul: “Man, for $10 million they could’ve washed Brody for me.”
Mira: “Hmm… I wonder if I should’ve done a background check on Alain? I am the CIA’s Acting Director’s wife, after all…”
Dar Adal: “We should’ve shot Carrie weeks ago.”
Senator Lockhart: “See Mike, I told you Saul’s mean to me.”
Fara: “Why is Dolph Lundgren at my house?”
Fara’s Dad: “Why is Dolph Lundgren visiting my daughter?”
Quinn: “Man, now I shot her, Carrie’s never gonna go out with me.”
Catch-up on the latest episode of Homeland on Ten Play.
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.