If you're going to be faintly ridiculous, work that faint ridiculousness. That's the lesson Homeland appears to have learned, and I couldn't be happier. Well, okay, yeah, I'd be happier if Homeland were the truly great show it once was, or at least promised to be – a sober exploration of War on Terror blowback, rooted in the emotional turmoil of two rival, romantically entwined operatives broken in the blast. But will I settle for a show where the acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency locks his replacement, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a conference room, then turns the lights out just to be a dick? Hell yeah. Senator Lockhart may have put it best with his incredulous "What the fuck?" but at last, here's a what the fuck moment worth cheering for.
Throughout "Gerontion," written by Chip Johannessen and directed (with the increasing visual panache that's become the show's hallmark of late) by Carl Franklin, there's a sense that Homeland's using its more outlandish plot points to go somewhere, rather than shoot its way out of a hole it dug itself into. Take Majid Javadi's brutal murder of his ex-wife and her daughter-in-law last week, the moral and narrative centerpiece of this week's episode. Yes, it's an act of straight-up villainy just a few steps shy of tying a damsel in distress to the railroad tracks. But Saul's interrogation of his former friend reveals that this isn't a guy who lives for cruelty, but rather a guy who's discovered that cruelty is the way to make a living.
The world of retaliatory strikes, clandestine assassinations, and political persecutions Javadi inhabits is one he entered out of pragmatism, one where his aptitude for these things made him indispensable, and one where his indispensability gave him the opportunity to secretly enrich himself at the expense of his fundamentalist bosses. In Javadi, we see Saul, if Saul had let his access to the machinery of death shape his personality instead of trying to make it the other way around. More than just fear for his life, Javadi's panic at being sent back to Iran is terror over becoming just another cog in that machine instead of its operator. Ultimately it's Saul's promise to put him back in charge that motivates him to cooperate more even than a desire to keep on breathing.
Javadi's not the only gear who's not happy to keep on spinning, and honestly, maybe early retirement suits Peter Quinn. How else to explain one of the Agency's top black operatives getting caught on some suburbanite's security camera like he was posing for a selfie? Again, having an elite assassin get caught so flat-footed seems at first like an example of Homeland doing goofy-ass shit just to keep the plot wheels spinning, but look where it gets them: a tense exploration of the conflict between intelligence and law enforcement; an opportunity to test the limits of Carrie's emotional and even physical tolerance for covering up crimes for the greater good; an excuse for Dar Adal to suss out Quinn's real loyalties with what seemed like legitimately hurt feelings; a way for Quinn to face his guilt while falling on his sword for someone else's; and a magnificent, exasperated lecture from a frustrated detective in which all of Saul and Carrie and Quinn and Adal's hard work is referred to, with some justification, as simply "this shit." "You fuckin' people," he continues. "Have you ever done anything but made things worse?" Gooooood question.
The show even demonstrated a willingness to serve up surprises based not on plot twists, but in unexplored character depths. Dar Adal's betrayal of Saul to curry favor with Senator Lockhart seemed like a done deal, making his betrayal of that betrayal supremely satisfying. Whatever else Adal is, he's someone who takes the work of the CIA seriously; whatever else Saul is, he's good at that particular job. Given the choice between political expedience and a high-risk but potentially high-payoff bit of human intelligence, naturally Adal would take the latter. Lockhart's inability to see that coming would be quite an indictment of his pending leadership, but for the fact that I'm guessing pretty much everyone in the audience failed to see it coming too.
But the episode's best surprise was what it didn't do: waste any time at all on the goddamn Brody family. I try not to be too hard on that storyline, but the total lack of regret I felt over its absence has me rethinking that policy. Jettisoning Dana's pro-forma acts of teenage rebellion and self-assertion, as well as Jessica's flat exasperation with them, gave the show the time it needed to work with, y'know, the things the show's actually about. Hell, it even found time for some lovely magic-hour twilight lighting and, amazingly, a happy(ish) ending for everyone involved. Viewers included.
Last Week: Great Expectations