Homeland, Season 3: Episode 4 – “Game On”
Written by James Yoshimura and Alex Gansa
Directed by David Nutter
Airs Sunday nights at 9 ET on Showtime
For all the grief that Homeland has been getting, “Game On” serves as an excellent turning point for the season and both retroactively elevates the material from the first three episodes and re-establishes this series is one of the few premier productions on television. The most interesting way in which “Game On” reveals its twist is how the narrative tinkers with point of view. Typically, viewers are privy to a handful of people who serve as viewpoint characters. The action is seen from their perspective, and they are our inlets for receiving plot developments. Other TV series utilize an omniscient viewpoint in which we can see anything and everything at any given time (it is up to the writers to show us exactly what those things are). In omniscient narratives, there are usually no surprises and the dramatic tension comes from the fact that one character is concealing something from another and we know what that is. “Game On” does some kind of hybrid storytelling in which the trappings of omniscience are there – we believe we’re being given every bit of information and the multiple viewpoints aren’t necessarily confined (we get two Brody viewpoints, for instance, with Dana and Jessica). And yet we find out that our role as informed viewers is completely subverted when Carrie visits Saul to discuss the plan they’ve hatched to lure in people connected to the Langley bombing – a plan that was put into motion off-screen, between the events of the end of the second season and the beginning of the third season. Perhaps for some people this will just seem like a ploy and a lame excuse for what those people perceived to be the weaknesses of the first few episodes of this season. In reality, though, this is Homeland doing what Homeland has always done really well: confidently operate its narrative machinations.
“Game On” is directed by the fantastic David Nutter (Game of Thrones‘ “Rains of Castamere”), and the central theme of the episode – lying and its implications – is evoked beautifully by his eye. When Carrie finally meets with the man who is connected to the Iranian client, the shots are distance and detached with there being very little eye contact between the characters. We don’t realize it as we’re watching, but Claire Danes is doing double acting duty trying to pull of the most convincing Carrie that she can so that the man truly believes that Carrie is willing to be an informant or consultant for the other side. There is something incredibly off about the whole scene when you watch it the first time because of how unconvincing to us it is that Carrie would alter her allegiances, and David Nutter is the master at the helm making sure that awkwardness is brought out by how the sequence is filmed.
Elsewhere, lying manifests in different ways. Dana goes on a very frowned upon road trip with Leo, eventually landing them at the site where Brody was originally deployed from. Aside from the perfect execution of Dana’s story to Leo, which culminates in the realization that that was the last time Dana truly and truthfully spoke to her father, it’s a scene that calls back to a much earlier time in Homeland when Brody took his family out for some historical landmark sightseeing. It’s a scene layered in deceit, which gets expounded upon by knowing that Leo might be lying about the whole situation with his brother. For all the damage that everyone thinks Brody has caused his family – including Mike, who makes a brief return – all of these characters are mired in lies.
And then there’s the weird part about “Game On”: there is a microcosmic episode of Homeland within this episode of Homeland. All of the Carrie and Brodys material fits in with that aspect of Homeland that runs clever plotting and unpredictable storytelling. The Saul/Fara stuff, though, is a completely different side of Homeland – the traditional espionage sequences of which we saw one carried out in this season’s premiere. Maybe it’s just because when Homeland is at its best, these two outfits that it wears are indistinguishable or the transitions are completely smooth. But there is something jarring about the juxtaposition of them in “Game On,” and, really, the Saul/Fara scenes are easily the best on first viewing. Fara is still the most interesting new character on Homeland – more interesting than Quinn was when he first appeared – and her ability to succeed under pressure has made the short-staffed CIA seem much less incompetent than it did before. Like Leslie Knope over on Parks and Recreation, Saul somehow manages to bring out the best work possible in all his employees, and now that we know he isn’t a terrible human being, his role as head of the agency is firmly cemented and accepted based on how efficient he is (even if he verges on pushing his most trusted people a little too far sometimes).
That tension of narrative styles aside, “Game On” is undoubtedly the strongest and most important episode of Homeland‘s third season so far. For the head-scratchers who were getting tired of seeing Carrie being kind of crazy in the hospital, this is the episode that either gives full reassurance that Homeland knows what it’s doing or it’s the episode that loses viewers who are not willing to make those kind of leaps. In the case of the latter, Homeland will do just fine without them. Alex Gansa says that he and his crew are confident with the direction of this season, and with this first arc completed and things set in place to move in very interesting directions (that includes how Brody will become more relevant to this series again or if he will at all), that confidence should extend to the viewers who still call themselves fans of this series.
– Sean Colletti