There was a moment during this episode where I questioned whether or not I could continue watching this show. It came at the end, when the audience is treated to a surprise appearance by Damian Lewis. That’s right, Brody comes back briefly and though I knew better, it still seemed conceivable that he was actually there and not a figment of Carrie’s imagination. She had already thought the guy in the hospital was Quinn, but it still seemed plausible that Homeland would bring Brody back because it didn’t know what else to do and for the headlines it’d get on Monday morning (it’s getting those anyway, of course).
In these moments, I came to realize how jaded I’ve come to feel toward Homeland. Viewers know how the show works by now, we know what’s inside its bag of tricks and how often it can bring each one out. Which is to be expected for any show in its fourth season. But there’s something about the promise that the show exhibited early on that has me still feeling like I’ve been robbed. It’s not that Homeland is a bad show now, it’s just that we were promised something great but have been forced to settle for simply good. It’s this settling that makes a moment like that hallucination, and Carrie’s episode-long breakdown, all the more frustrating.
Looking at the season in terms of its structure, “Redux” is nothing more than a stall episode. We are no further at the end of the hour than we were last week – Carrie is sidelined by her attacks and we spend the rest of the episode getting to know Haqqani. The series has reached the point where the writers know they can pull out the Carrie breakdown sparingly, maybe once a season, but that it’s always there in their back pocket for some guaranteed drama. On one level, it’s an impressive look at a bipolar, mentally ill character. On the other hand, it’s a boring narrative trick that’s pulled out of a hat every once in a while to put our hero in peril. It strikes of “giving the people what they want”, as if the writers believe the Homeland viewing audience can’t wait to see Carrie get on the crazy train. It’s conflicting.
It does play interestingly into what exactly is going on with the Pakistani intelligence and military, as her pills are replaced because of Agent Tasneem (and her loyal minion, Duck Phillips) and she is huddled into Khan, the ISI lieutenant. It’s unclear if the two are connected, or if Khan has nefarious intentions for Carrie (with a name like Khan, though…), so we’ll have to wait to find out. The real trouble with this storyline is how ridiculous the shaky-cam, noise-sensitivity approach to the hallucination feels. It’s like something out of a CBS procedural, not Homeland and the way it typically treats Carrie’s breakdowns. Granted, we don’t know what was in those pills, but the effect is awfully laughable at times, with most of the blame landing at director Carl Franklin’s feet.
What works much better are the scenes with Haqqani and Saul, letting us into Haqqani’s world and orienting us with the season’s antagonist. It is strange that we’re only getting to know anything at all about him seven episodes into the season, but it’s an excellent introduction nonetheless. The most memorable scene of “Redux” is the conversation between the two at dinner, where things get tense fast. Carrie points out earlier that Saul would have wanted them to take the shot last episode, and that seems to be confirmed with his behaviour in this scene. He acts as the mouthpiece for most Americans and for the American administration when it comes to foreign policy and the wars in the Middle East, and he just doesn’t care. He talks about how backward their version of Islam is and generally defends the American involvement in the Middle East. Haqqani gets in some good points too, and it feels odd to hear a balanced conversation between the former head of the CIA and an at-large terrorist. “America despises what it cannot understand,” he tells Saul. “If Christianity is to be judged by the misery it has caused mankind, who would ever be a Christian?” Saul replies that he’s a Jew, and the scene ends with Haqqani saying, “Yeah, well…” Homeland isn’t usually so up-front with its ideology, but it works here thanks to the performances and the equal-footing of the arguments. It’s compelling television (even if it is a slight rehash of earlier Brody-Abu Nazir material).
It’s a shame that the rest of the episode leaves me feeling so conflicted. Whenever we get a Crazy Carrie episode, it feels like diving back into a pool we’ve swam in too often, and it inevitably feels like a stalling tactic. Nothing happens, but the drama feels palpable anyway. With Lockhart on hand to add a little life to this thing, one can hope that the wheels will start to move a bit faster (the scene where Martha demands to know why no one told her about the plan to leverage federal aid to Pakistan for Saul’s return and Lockhart just taps away on his phone and says, “I’m telling you now”, is best-scene runner-up). I just hope Carrie’s breakdown will end up leading to something interesting now that she’s within Khan’s literal clutches.