Homeland, Season 4, Episode 5, “About A Boy”
Written by Meredith Stiehm
Directed by Charlotte Sieling
Airs Sundays at 9pm on Showtime
“I’m a spy. I know shit.”
That line, spoken by John Redmond, is funny in the moment, but begins to feel ironic by the end of the episode. Practically everyone is off their game this week, with an abundance of questionable decisions leading to Saul getting kidnapped. By this point, we’ve spent plenty of time with Carrie, Saul, Quinn, even Fara. We know what they can do, we know how good they are at their jobs…except when the writers need them to be stupid. It all feels overly telegraphed, to the point where these uncharacteristic decisions not only frustrate on a plot level, but a character one too. It’s reminiscent of how a show like Family Guy treats its characters and its continuity, which is an unfortunate comparison to make with a high profile prestige drama.
It’s a shame, too, because seeing the name Meredith Stiehm in the credits is usually a reason to get excited (she’s written classic episodes like season one’s “The Weekend”). The episode comes off, instead, as if it were written by someone completely unfamiliar with these characters. The one treated with the least respect is Saul. He is normally careful and articulate, not impulsive. The seeds of this are sown early in the episode in a conversation with Carrie, when she tells him she is “working on the nephew” and he comments that three days is a tall order to get Aayan to trust her. He obviously knows what she’s doing, but doesn’t challenge her on it like he would of in the past, thus enabling her behaviour in a way that doesn’t feel believable or satisfying.
Worse, though, is how he handles the Farhad Ghazi spotting inside Benazir Bhutto Airport. There’s probably nothing Homeland does better than a well-directed, well-executed tail scene and this is true here, with Saul’s brief tailing of Ghazi. Saul is regularly obscured by the camera or other things as he moves, maneuvering in and out of the frame in a way that evokes what one imagines that situation would feel like. The issue is that Saul appears to not consider how convenient it is that he runs into Ghazi just at the moment he is in the airport, and that he is so out in the open. If he does consider it, his actions betray what we know about his character, especially once he starts openly gawking at him, finally following him into the bathroom. The comparison has been done to death by this point in the series, but it genuinely feels like a (lesser) moment out of 24.
It is also frustrating to see Fara lose the momentum of the last few episodes, failing to attach the tracker to the cleric’s car (with Saul in the trunk). It’s a classic ploy to have Quinn and Fara so close to Saul without knowing it, and they surely would have done more had they known he was there, but it’s an inherently maddening trope specifically meant to upset the audience. As Quinn tells Fara earlier, “You’re in it now. And guess what, you’re good at it.” She then gets an intense adrenaline rush when she spots the cleric, so it’s a little heartbreaking to see her face after she fails with the tracker, to Quinn’s obvious disappointment. She may be learning from the best, but she still has a ways to go.
What works much better are the scenes between Carrie and Aayan, with Carrie going all in (pun intended). Whatever the moral implications, these scenes are exciting as Suraj Sharma really starts to shine as Aayan. Carrie’s worked quickly, and as Aayan starts to open up, it’s thrilling to watch Sharma show a different side to his performance as he goes toe-to-toe with Claire Danes. Their chemistry is palpable, more organic than Carrie and Brody ever felt. Which is interesting, because it adds a further layer of complicated empathy. Carrie gets exactly what she wants out of him when he shows just how much he trusts her by admitting Haqqani is still alive. It would be rather simple to assume the whole thing is a (morally shady) performance by Carrie, but the writing and (especially) Danes’ performance suggests otherwise. As always, much of it is in the eyes. There seems to be real regret and sadness behind them when she talks about Brody and her daughter and legitimate happiness – or at least intense emotion – when she starts crying during sex. How much, we can’t say, and that’s interesting to play with. So is the theory that Aayan is not the innocent child he’s pretending to be, because he seems to reveal the news about Haqqani way too quickly to just be motivated by Carrie’s manipulation. Is he just letting her think she’s in control?
Only for a time, though. As Quinn spits at her, “Is there no line? Is there no fucking line?” This appears to be the main question of the season, from her lack of remorse over the drone attack to this: what kind of morality does Carrie Mathison possess? How long can she use the loss of Brody as an excuse for emotional disillusionment? Also, when are she and Quinn going to knock boots? The way she asks, “What’s it to you, anyway?”, and his flat reply of, “Nothing,” tell us that this is a thing that is still going on. It’s all very high school, and a bit of a distraction. We do realize that she is keenly aware of Quinn’s feelings for her by this point, and in his conversation with Fara about her, it also becomes clear that he’s not happy about these feelings. After three seasons of the show shouting it, do we really need another romance that insists we can’t choose who we love?