Homeland, Season 4, Episode 9, “There’s Something Else Going On”
Written by Patrick Harbinson
Directed by Seith Mann
Airs Sundays at 9pm on Showtime
Homeland sometimes feels like two (or more) different shows at once. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it bites down hard on both its best and its worst tendencies within the same episode, and it can make one uneasy. But until the last couple of scenes this week, Homeland is a slow burn master-stroke of tension and emotional power. Let’s talk about that first.
Despite whatever the writers may think, the best relationship on the show by far has always been that of Carrie and Saul. The show has wisely been playing up that connection despite the two being separated. When Carrie made the (botched) decision to bomb Saul and Haqqani, everyone thought she was crazy, but we know Saul would have understood her choice and perhaps even encouraged it. Her betrayal of his trust last week felt tangible in its comprehensive manipulation. These two both seem exhausted by what this war has done to them and as she says to him in this episode’s best moment, “No more dying.”
There is a strong sense of dread overwhelming this episode, not only in the prisoner exchange but also the knowledge that some twist is coming – it’s right there in the episode title. This feeling is successful for the first 45 minutes or so, adding further depth to how Carrie has her hands tied and simply doesn’t have enough control on the exchange. Saul is the beating heart of this series, the loveable sad sack, the epitome of integrity and wisdom, and the mentor-protege relationship between him and Carrie has been the fulcrum upon which Homeland spins. That’s why it’s so devastating to see Saul so broken and not acting like himself. Referring to the kid wearing the suicide vest behind him, Saul shows a shockingly uncharacteristic lack of empathy: “He said his prayers, he thinks he’s going to fucking heaven.” This is understandable considering what he’s gone through, but even more revealing is his cracked, “You think I can live with this?” Carrie is the only person who knows how to get through to him though, by being brutally honest and deeply emotional. “You know who you sound like? Them. This is not who you are.” He stands with her.
Carrie and Saul’s moments together are some of the strongest of the season, playing off not only their strained recent status but also the rest of the series’ emotional baggage. That the look on Carrie’s face of just being done with everything matches Saul’s is telling, as is the most genuine outburst of emotion we’ve seen from Carrie this season when she breaks down into tears as she tries to convince Saul to come with her. These are two overly competent people, the best at what they do, but this war has worn them down. They are broken people, together.
The show also remembers this week that Saul has a wife who might be concerned about what’s going on with him, and her phone call with Carrie is another effective scene. Mira is worried about the CIA not caring enough about saving Saul if there’s some other gain to be made, and she is right to worry. “Lockhart is not running the exchange tomorrow, I am,” Carrie tells Mira to reassure her that Saul will come home safe. “I’m talking about you,” she answers, as if she knows about Carrie intending to drop that bomb on him a few episodes ago. The quiet pause as Carrie takes that in is the loudest moment of the episode. Mira is reminding Carrie that Saul is a person, not a strategic element, and that seems to ring acutely for her.
These scenes are incredibly powerful, which makes it rather disappointing that the final reveal feels like it comes from a lesser, more twisty procedural (it’s a bit reductive at this point to compare Homeland to 24, but come on). There are several things we need to accept about these last couple of minutes that, well, I don’t want to accept. The very idea of such an explosive cliffhanger (until December 7th, by the way, as the show takes next week off) is not necessarily a bad one, but to leave the fate of everyone in jeopardy after we believe them to be safe feels cheap. To add on to that the fact that immediately after the tense prisoner exchange, Haqqani himself and his men infiltrate the American embassy through a tunnel that seemingly everyone knows about but which is evidently not guarded whatsoever? There’s a difference between asking viewers to suspend their disbelief and just pissing us off.
“What the fuck? What the fucking fuck?” Lockhart yells, speaking for the audience (Tracy Letts is killing it this season). We knew that a twist was coming, but it’s unfortunate that Homeland has decided to rely on such flimsy reveals. Earlier in the episode, the ambassador berates Carrie for questioning her husband and threatens to end her career, and it feels a little absurd considering her previous suspicions. I should have known better- I felt dumb when the episode revealed that she was in on it with Carrie to try and get the truth out of Dennis. In comparison with the end of the episode, this little revelation isn’t much, but together these twists suggest that Homeland wants only to shock the audience however it can, whether or not it makes them feel stupid. Let’s focus instead on the rest of the episode, which promises that the series can still be as good as ever.