Homeland, Season 3: Episode 11 – “Big Man in Tehran”
Written by Chip Johannessen and Patrick Harbinson
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Airs Sunday nights at 9 on Showtime
After what will probably go down as the best episode of the season last week, Homeland returns with a much less exciting but structurally sound penultimate episode. What it mainly does is set up next week’s finale, in which we’ll either see Carrie pull off some miracle extraction plan or Brody will be killed. Along the way, though, Brody (or, really, Damian Lewis) gets some great scenes in which he gets to mess around with the audience. Maybe I’m not a careful enough viewer, but how Brody gets from point A to point Z in “Big Man in Tehran” wasn’t telegraphed for me. For a minute there, it seemed like the way the writers were going to sideline Brody for the future would be to have him stationed in Iran until he became relevant again, popping up in the occasional I-hate-America YouTube video. Then, it seemed like they weren’t going to wait until next week to axe him, which I would have been fine with even if that kind of stuff is best reserved for the biggest of episodes. Carrie, though, wasn’t having it. Like last week, she and Brody don’t get much time together in “Big Man in Tehran,” and that time isn’t exactly in-person, but – also like last week – we see that any interaction between Carrie and Brody is somehow compelling because of the almost mythic status they’ve acquired within this series. Carrie keeps being a “bad” agent by playing off the book (she ought to have been fired without the chance of reinstatement a long time ago), and those misguided actions continue to create or extend plots for Homeland. It can be really annoying when there are certain things you know you want out of this series and the writing is paying a lot more attention to things that are far less relevant, but the ridiculousness of Carrie’s antipathy towards conventional CIA protocol is at least fun to see play out.
What’s less fun to see is poor use of certain characters or narrative elements in a TV series. Where there are a lot of pieces at your disposal, the temptation is to use as much of them as possible. But this is something I think Game of Thrones suffers from – that certain characters will get a lot of screen time even if that time ends up not being warranted because of weak stories. Alternatively, there can be recurring characters who hardly get any development despite being in nearly every episode of a show. Both Rachel and Tim on Justified fall into that latter category, but somehow the most reason season of that series was able to find a groove (point #2) with Tim and work his underused character into something that was interesting in its own right. Homeland hasn’t been able to do this with Quinn since he’s been on the show, really. And now I worry that Fara will also be someone only seen in Homeland‘s peripherals. They appear in “Big Man in Tehran” only to show that these are characters that still exist. The whole point of utilizing Fara’s family as an advantage, to me, was to pay off some of the earlier development she had shown in the first few episodes of the season. Instead, she’s all but ignored. Issues like this begin to reinforce the idea that Homeland can’t do both plot and character well despite how seamlessly it did both in its first season. It would be optimistic to say that next week’s finale will execute in both departments. It would be justified to say that it will be disappointing if it doesn’t execute.
– Sean Colletti