Homeland, Season 3: Episode 5 – “The Yoga Play”
Written by Patrick Harbinson
Directed by Clark Johnson
Airs Sunday nights at 9 on Showtime
After a mostly averse critical reaction to last week’s “Game On,” Homeland returns this week with a more recognizable entry in the series that looks and feels like it could have come from the earlier version of this series that viewers enjoyed for the first season and a half. There is the traditional espionage sequence – the Yoga Play that gives the episode its title – accompanying some smoke and mirrors fare surrounding our big bad (Javadi). Even though those familiar Homeland trappings are there, though, they mostly fall short because of how well the series has done this kind of stuff in the past. Looking back at the season two premiere, “The Smile,” the tension and excitement of watching Carrie do her thing was completely engaging. But the Yoga Play and how it is executed comes off kind of bland, helped only by the fact that it gives us an excuse to see Virgil and Max (and, to begin with, a very groggy and confused Max at that). We’re only just getting to know Javadi, so it’s a little more excusable that his scenes aren’t all that intriguing (although we are given some pieces of information that have the capacity to pay off later, such as the woman and child he’s watching while eating a burger). That said, “The Yoga Play,” which might please some people who balked at Homeland last week, winds up being just an average episode of TV in those departments.
Where “The Yoga Play” excels is with the series’ strongest assest: Mandy Patinkin as Saul. The Bear gets to go on a goose hunt with who we later learn is to be the next director of the CIA. The conversation the two have in their shooting booth is designed very well, and Saul’s face when he’s told about how he’s mistaken to think that he‘s the one who is in line for the director position is just about as good as any facial acting Patinkin has done on this series, including the final shot of the season two finale. Saul gives a toast back when all the politicians have returned from the hunt for dinner, and it winds up feeling kind of out-of-character given how level-headed Saul is and how he doesn’t stoop to pettiness, but it makes for a great bit of entertainment. Saul doesn’t have much luck on the home front either, as he returns early to find his wife having a candlelit dinner with a former colleague. All in all, there’s a lot of material Patinkin is working with here that he does perfectly, and “The Yoga Play” is much better for it considering…
…how disappointing and pointless the Dana/Leo story wraps up (assuming it does wrap up here). Last year, Dana was given a love interest that essentially served as a distracting plot device instead of delving into how his character – also the son of an important politician – and Dana approached their individual and collective conflicts. Similarly, there was huge potential with Leo to explore Dana’s psyche and to play the characters and their emotional struggles off each other, but “The Yoga Play” does nothing to push the story in that direction. Instead, Dana revokes her trust and feelings for Leo at the drop of a hat and goes back home (the shot of Dana walking up to the porch and hugging her family is probably the best in the episode, though, so kudos to director Clark Johnson). For the viewers who have disliked Dana beyond just this lackluster plot, Carrie brings up the good point that she’s the key connection to Brody – that if he were to contact anyone, it would be Dana. It’s not much of a case in favor of keeping the Brody family this relevant right now if you weren’t all that interested in them to begin with, but the fact remains that Morgan Saylor is a very good young actress and deserves some better writing than what she’s been given in the first five episodes of this season.
Elsewhere in the Homeland world, Quinn jumps in on Saul and Carrie’s triple-agent play. It’s downright comedic how stoic Quinn is in “The Yoga Play,” especially in his conversation with Saul before the latter goes out hunting. Yet somehow that same stoicism works well enough when Quinn’s trying not to show any hint of his emotional cards to Carrie over the phone. He’s clearly one of the only friends she has in this world, but the nature of all this espionage makes it difficult to embrace those kinds of connections. Consequently, he’s too late to save Carrie, who gets taken to see Javadi in the episode’s only viscerally engaging scene (and it’s typical for Homeland to have just one of those near the end of an episode even if the Yoga Play was a missed opportunity).
If this is the beginning of a new phase in Homeland‘s third season, it’s at least setting the framework for another potentially solid direction. With Dana back home, with Javadi in the mix and with Saul having to juggle all his personal and professional stuff all at once, it’s up to the writers to drop the ball. So, stick around for what his hopefully a great second half of this season.
– Sean Colletti