As a rule, rooting for the main character of the show you’re watching to get shot is a pretty clear sign that something’s gone really wrong with the show you’re watching. But rules are meant to be broken. That’s what Carrie Mathison thought when she defied a direct order and tried to stop the assassination of the man who could clear her beloved Brody’s name, even if it meant flushing months of work down the toilet like so much lithium. And that’s why, when Peter Quinn pulled the trigger and plugged Carrie in the arm, I cheered: Homeland has managed to get me as invested in its spy games as I am in the spies themselves.
That’s an impressive feat for a show that was all but ordering viewers to abandon ship at gunpoint just a few episodes ago. And granted, it had to abandon a couple of longstanding themes to pull it off: I doubt anyone misses the Brody family all that much right now (though I’m sure, sigh, that they’ll return), but it does pain me some to remember what a thoughtful treatment of war-on-terror trauma and blowback this show used to be. Still, as a pure espionage thriller, Homeland‘s working as well right now as it ever has.
For one thing, the rival spies are entertaining as all hell. I’ve done a lot of complaining about Homeland‘s tendency to turn its antagonists into comic-book villains, but come on, the idea of a white-shoe law firm secretly staffed with silencer-toting, bathtub-body-dissolving assassins is too delightful to turn up your nose at. (It’d certainly make a lot of my old college classmates a lot more interesting to talk to at class reunions.) Even Mira’s parodically French boyfriend became interesting when the show revealed that he was running game on both Berensons, cozying up to Mira to get access to Saul. Coming at the exact moment when Saul’s at the top of his own game, rendezvousing with the world’s most wanted man by traveling to Caracas to meet with Brody and positioning Majid Javadi as the tip of a spear by which the U.S. will effect regime change in Iran, it’s a quiet little gutpunch to the Berensons’ personal and professional lives alike.
It helped that the writing and filming were tight, too. Among other highlights, writers Alex Gansa (one of the showrunners) and James Yoshimura served up a William Carlos Williams quote as a clandestine code, and gave Carrie and Quinn a pretty priceless exchange in their emergency ride to the hospital: “Something’s going on.” “Yeah, you got shot.” “No shit – you shot me.” Venezuelan ganglord El Niño’s understated greeting to Saul – “You have a good flight?” – was a chuckler as well.
But they also did their best with some of the season’s softest storylines so far: the crisis of conscience experienced by Fara, a character they haven’t even bothered to give a last name to yet as best I can tell, and Carrie’s unwanted pregnancy, her neglect of which they’re handling with an admirable lack of kid gloves. Fara hasn’t been given a whole lot more to do but be competent and look worried, but her cross-cultural interplay with her father and caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place position regarding her family back in Tehran gave her a backstory that, hopefully, the character itself will soon live up to.
Meanwhile, I’d like to think that the show will have the stones to have Carrie actually go ahead and end her pregnancy and allow us to accept this like adults, but somehow I doubt it. Nominally progressive American television generally professes a belief in a woman’s right to choose, but tends to render that choice moot by eliminating unwanted pregnancies with car accidents, gunshots, and miscarriages, any one of which strikes me as more likely than Carrie correctly assessing she’s in no position to carry and raise a kid and deciding accordingly.
Director Seith Mann handled the proceedings with panache. The way he staged Carrie’s entrance into the church where she’d meet with the sinister lawyer/hitman Mr. Franklin – at one point following directly behind her with a memorable tracking shot – or Saul’s arrival at the Tower of David in Caracas suggested these characters truly were entering slightly alien new worlds. Elsewhere, a corpse’s-eye-view shot of Franklin pouring acid on the dead bomber gave a very Breaking Bad plot point a very Breaking Bad look as well.
The big news here, of course, is that Saul (and Dar Adal, by the sound of it) knew where Brody was – and the best part of that news is that this is an extremely unpredictable and unboring way to bring Brody back into play, if bring Brody back into play they must. Show of hands: Who else expected Carrie to stumble across that chump on a recon mission to uncover more of Javadi’s Caracas connections? Instead, we find out that master spy Saul is even more of a master than we thought, playing his protégé even as the two of them teamed up to play everyone else. What’s more, this explains one of the most inexplicable developments of the season so far: El Niño’s seemingly nonsensical decision to keep Brody alive and imprisoned rather than just shoot him the moment he started causing trouble. (Honestly, any valid reason for keeping Brody alive beyond “Showtime’s executives ordered them to” is a most welcome development.) Homeland‘s never lacked for either betrayals or bullets, but rarely has either been as effectively aimed as they were tonight.
Last Week: There Is No Dana