Homeland, Season 3: Episode 6 – “Still Positive”
Written by Alexander Cary
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Airs Sunday nights at 9 on Showtime
Now that Homeland is officially halfway through its third season and is more than an episode removed from its major early twist, it is worth looking at “Still Positive” as not just an individual episode of a television series but also as a milestone within a season of that series (and, ultimately, within the series itself).
In a vacuum and in the moment, the reveal of Carrie’s pregnancy is an interesting addition to “Still Positive” (so central, in the writers’ minds, that it gives the episode its title). It makes the execution of a scene later in the episode – in which Carrie places Javadi’s grandchild in a crib before fleeing the house – much more poignant than it would have been otherwise. We’ve seen one of our main characters act as a father figure (Saul to Carrie), but this is the first explicit bit of mothering Homeland‘s leading lady has had to deal with. Taken out of that narrow frame, though, the pregnancy raises a lot of questions that, if pursued, ultimately lead to realizations of how misguided this turn of events is. Even though television series aren’t written week-to-week and Alex Gansa and co. couldn’t have responded to some of the black-lash of “Game On,” the writers had to have taken into consideration just how careful they needed to be with every piece of information going forward that could be related to Saul and Carrie’s plot to lure Javadi out. With a drawer full of pregnancy tests, the stress that Carrie was put under (not to mention to lithium she was required to take) by going into the psych ward is too outlandish to be believable. And, unfortunately, any which way you go about looking at it, arguments trying to explain it fail under scrutiny (maybe Saul didn’t know about it? Well, the doctors sure would, what with the regular testing that Carrie was undergoing, not to mention she would be exhibiting some signs of pregnancy – be it external or internal – that would tip off a professional; and if Saul did know about it and could intercept the results of said tests, would he really have let Carrie go through with it? Really?). Taken even further outside of the confines of the episode, the pregnancy feels like an odd choice this early in Homeland. It could be categorized as lazy writing, sure, but then that means all pregnancies ever are lazy pieces of writing. So, instead of writing it off as that, it’s more “questionable” than any other adjective. Why now? What does this do for Carrie going forward? Are we assuming it’s Brody’s? If so, will that be the thing that ties the two stories back together? If so, can that possibly be executed well, even given how talented this writing staff is? We’ve seen plenty of shows build up a lot of questionable material that ends up paying off extremely well by season’s-end (Boardwalk Empire is the prime example of a series that satisfies doubts), but viewers tend to be less forgiving with Homeland since about halfway through last season. If this pregnancy is going to amount to anything, it has to be absolutely perfect for there to be even a chance for viewers to digest it with any kind of acceptance given the inconsistencies surrounding it.
Aside from that, “Still Positive” deals with its stories pretty well on both the micro- and macro-level. Dana is checking herself out of the Brody family in what is clearly the right move both within the narrative of Homeland and for the viewers of the series. This season, Jessica hasn’t really had the chance to do anything that warrants the screen time, and Dana’s misadventures with Leo turned out to be a bust, so cutting this story out as we delve further into the Javadi arc means more time with more interesting characters at this moment (which is not to say that the Brody family is incapable of becoming interesting again later in the series). And, since we’re looking at this beyond this individual episode, the writers have shown great restraint with Nicholas Brody to make the whole Brody part of this season feel pretty benign after dealing with the real danger of it dragging Homeland down too much. I’m sure we’ll see him again before the season ends, so I’ll reserve judgment on his presence this season until then, but as of now, his part of his episode was one of the more interesting sections of this season.
Saul, too, keeps “Still Positive” and the season/series in general on the right track. His scene with Mira goes down how you would expect it to with his cold detachment being the most effective punishment he can give her (on top of mentioning to her that he’s not getting the CIA director gig). All that crap he’s had to deal with in these six episodes culminates in the final scene when he punches Javadi in the face, so let us take a moment to be grateful for seeing Mandy Patinkin punch someone in the face. Good? Good. Lesli Linka Glatter, Homeland‘s best eye behind the camera, does a great job circling around Saul in “Still Positive,” especially as he’s hiding behind some shrubbery when Carrie and Quinn come to the safe-house with Javadi. Seeing the depth of darkness in Saul this season has been great just because it hasn’t really tainted him as a character, which it could easily have done. He uses Carrie, but – at least from my perspective – he’s using her to the extent that he feels it is safe and/or warranted. Every character has his own code of ethics, and Saul’s is probably closest to viewer’s; that the writers felt confident testing that loyalty to this character without demonizing him speaks well of an area in this series they could have just left alone to be safe.
Finally, the comparisons of Javadi to Nazir are now inevitable given how both characters were introduced as relatively level-headed and ended up doing some…we’ll say less-than-level-headed stuff on-screen. It’s not that Javadi’s violent actions are too violent for this premium cable series or that this is another instance of violence against women. The biggest question here is if Javadi can be interesting on his own as an actual person. He’s killed off a personal connection that might have been used in a more effective way in the long run, but there’s still a lot of history between him and Saul that can be used to humanize our season three baddie so that he’s not just evil for evil’s sake. All in all, Homeland goes into halftime better than it came out at the beginning of season three. And if there are a lot of balls that it has the potential to drop, the potential to juggle them well for six more episodes is also there.
– Sean Colletti