I don’t think we can ever win with Homeland, and we need to accept that. There will always be a frustrating polarity present, because it has always been there and it seems content to stay there. The series gives in to its best and worst tendencies on a weekly basis, thrilling in one scene with refreshing ease and then backpedalling in the next. It is a careful mediation on modern war, but it is also the 24-esque twisty action show. Sometimes, that binary opposition is entertaining and even beneficial, but other times—like this episode—it just feels disappointing.
After a few uneven weeks, Homeland is back in top form. This show always works best when it’s deeply in spy mode, tense and forcing impossible decisions. This episode is also unpredictable in a way it hasn’t been. Saul’s escape is gripping and the position it leaves Carrie in is not only a perfect moment of frustration and heartbreak, but it also seemingly breaks the bond between the two. Her betrayal is not something that Saul will easily forgive (“Fuck you, Carrie! You goddamn lied!”).
“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.
There are several reminders in this episode about how good Carrie is at her job, as if the writers are making sure we have the right perspective on her character heading into the episode’s final scene. Fara tells Quinn when he arrives, “I don’t know how she finds time to sleep.” Later, the guy John Redmond had tailing Carrie last episode (and failing) tells John, simply, “She’s good.” Considering the fact that we’ve seen Carrie often at her worst, it is valuable to remember what a good agent she is. Which brings us to that final scene.
The opening minutes of Homeland’s fourth season, designed to disorient and excite, throws us into Carrie’s new world as the CIA station chief in Kabul. This double feature premiere hits the ground running as we watch how Carrie and her team make a decision that looks as if it will have reverberations throughout the rest of the season. Welcome back, Homeland is saying, and let us get “back to basics”.
Homeland is principally discussed and appreciated as a politically-inclined thriller, an action-oriented series that manages to feel vguely relevant despite its obviously heightened nature. The show also often draws praise for its unflinching depiction of mental illness, in the many scenes we’ve gotten with Carrie struggling to keep her head in the game for the sake of national security. As Season 2 rolls along towards its endgame, however, there’s something a little different at work.