Sometimes the best bombs are the ones that don't go off. After weeks spent trying to shock us – and succeeding only to the extent that yeah, clumsiness from this show is pretty shocking – Homeland was at long last content simply to surprise us. Time after time, this episode kept its powder dry when it could have easily blown everything to bits, and was all the better for it: more believable, more emotionally focused and resonant, more genuinely unpredictable.
The clearest example of how "Two Hats," written by Alexander Cary and crisply directed by Dan Attias, made its unexploded story bombs work for it is also the most literal example: Carrie and company foiled the plot to blow up the Marine homecoming ceremony. How refreshing to see our gang get it right for a change! And how nice to avoid the standard feint/knockout two-step structure, where the heroes think they've saved the day only to suddenly discover that the real attack is still underway: There was no secondary explosive, no second terrorist goon squad, no attack in another location for which this one was just a decoy, no hotwired drones using David Estes's stolen codes blowing Carrie up in that diner parking lot. I suppose the show could walk this back next week, and I know Abu Nazir himself is still in play out there, but we can put that aside regardless: in terms of producing a single satisfying hour of television, this was so much better than the umpteenth episode-ending good-guys-lose shock to the system.
Then there's the matter of Peter Quinn, Man of Mystery. Things look grim with the guy at first: He lives like a heavily armed, paranoid hermit; he had a kid under an assumed name and is sending him and his mother money off the books; he's meeting F. Murray Abraham on a city bus, for Christ's sake. All the signs point to him as Abu Nazir's all-too-infrequently mentioned mole in the CIA: He may not be a true believer, but his talents are highly exploitable, and his weakness can be adressed for the right price.
But no, turns out Peter Quinn (if that is his real name) is neither a terrorist nor even a CIA analyst, but a CIA assassin, on staff to execute Brody the moment he's outlived his usefulness. And F. Murray Abraham isn't a terrorist mastermind but Dar Adul, an agency shot-caller who's apparently so secretive, powerful and dangerous that even the likes of Saul and Virgil react to a sighting with reverent awe, instantly realizing that everything they thought they knew about their operation is wrong simply by virtue of his involvement. In other words, Homeland did something better than simply controverting what we'd previously held to be the facts – it complicated those facts. Instead of yanking the rug out from under us, they transformed it from a bathmat into an ornate Persian.
And talk about a trigger that never gets pulled: Quinn's gun, surreptitiously pointed at Brody. That entire closing sequence was a marvel of head-scratching mystery: "What's up with this limo? What's Quinn doing in it? Why is he all suited up? Is that Brody's house? Hey, Brody's getting in the limo – does that mean he's part of the Quinn/F. Murray Abraham plot? Whoa, wait, what's he doing with that gun? Oh, that's what he's doing with that gun." This sequence leaves us so much to chew on: how Carrie would react if her beloved Brody gets summarily executed with the knowledge of half her team in defiance of all the promises they made to him; how much Dar Adul's shop has been in on this whole time; what an untrustworthy shit David Estes is; which, if any, of Quinn's hot-tempered analyst/good-hearted absentee dad/cold-blooded killer personality trifecta is the real Quinn. To its great credit, Homeland let us chew, instead of shoving it all down our throats with an OMG QUINN SHOT BRODY chaser.
Even something as relatively low-stakes as Jessica's roll in the hay with Mike fit the pattern. It's ultimately unimportant, even unnecessary, to show us that she overslept in Mike's bed and had to tiptoe back into her room, fully believing her kids might be awake to catch her – they're still fast asleep and she was worried about nothing. Nevertheless, it's one of the most emotionally honest and astute moments in the whole episode. Who hasn't experienced that kind of "oh shit I screwed up/oh phew I'm OK" whiplash, felt that unpleasant adrenaline rush subside into sweet relief? That's a beautiful little emotional detail for the show to depict, even though (or should that be "especially because"?) it doesn't advance the plot as much as Dana sitting there watching Mom's walk of shame would have.
It wasn't the first time the episode eschewed easy melodrama, either. Instead of drawing out Brody's confrontation with Nazir, it dropped us in at the very end of it and filled in the blanks with flashbacks later. Indeed, the handling of Brody was clever, even witty throughout. Dig the rhythm of his initial appearances, as he bobbed and weaved from location to location, checking in with Carrie while constantly on the move. Look at the evident, barely suppressed glee and admiration on Brody's face as he watches Estes work Vice President Walden, knowing the way to the man's heart is through his ego, or the way Brody chews the scenery with "Roya Hammad's a terrorist?!" like he'd been waiting all day to make that joke. Or, heck, look at how the show takes Dana's previously well-earned skepticism about her father and turns it into boy-who-cried-wolf disbelief. The character is already so tough to take from time to time that punking her out like this almost feels unfair, if it weren't so funny to watch her snort and scoff while hours earlier and miles away, the world's most wanted man pretty much threatened to have them all killed. Watch the show punk her dad out in turn, an opaque limo divider the only thing preventing him from seeing how close he just came to death. See what you can see when you're not dazed from the latest explosion?
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