The acting director of the CIA has a plan. The first step: By publicly revealing that his protégée had an affair with a suspected terrorist during a bout of unmedicated bipolar disorder and having her involuntarily institutionalized afterwards, he lures his counterpart in Iran, an old friend who once betrayed him, into attempting to flip this protégée into working for Iran. Utilizing information that the old friend is embezzling from Iran’s intelligence service, he forces that old friend to return to Iran and secretly work for the United States. To facilitate this, he covers up the old friend’s brutal murder of his ex-wife in an American suburb by convincing the police that the CIA itself was responsible. He also briefly imprisons the CIA director-to-be, who is also the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The next step of the acting director’s plan involves taking the Marine sniper turned Al Qaeda convert turned sleeper-cell member turned Congressman turned double agent turned framed perpetrator of the deadliest terrorist attack in America since 9/11 turned world’s most wanted man and inserting him into Iran as an asylum-seeker. At that point it’s up to this quadruple agent, who was the lover of the disgraced protégée, to assassinate the old friend’s boss so that the old friend can take over the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and covertly effect a rapprochement between Iran and America.
To help the plan succeed, the acting director employs two Israeli intelligence agents provided to him by a third Israeli intelligence agent who’d been having an affair with his wife in order to spy on him on behalf of the director-to-be. He also employs the publicly disgraced unmedicated-bipolar protégée, who is in love with the quadruple agent and has defied orders on his behalf on multiple occasions, by sending her into Iran as well.
In other words, the most powerful intelligence officials in America leave the fate of a joint CIA-Mossad plot to use the world’s most wanted terrorist to murder the third highest-ranking man in the Iranian government in the hands an enormously famous man who’s repeatedly switched allegiances during interrogations and the mentally ill rogue agent who is not-so-secretly carrying his child.
Get the fuck outta here.
I can tell you the exact moment during “Big Man in Tehran,” last night’s penultimate episode of Homeland Season Three, when the accumulated implausibility of this season’s storyline finally broke me like Brody in the custody of Abu Nazir. It happened when Brody is saved from Mossad assassins by a phone call from Carrie. A woman hand-picked by the men who ordered the assassination to be there in the first place, knowing full well she’d do anything to protect the man they’re now trying to kill. A woman who, moreover, would be able to recognize the assassins given that she’d been working with them days prior. A woman who has no business filling up the soda machine in the CIA rec room, much less being the agent on the ground for the most delicate operation in agency history.
No, no, no, no, no. I just can’t take it anymore.
Forget the serious, thoughtful, challenging examination of war-on-terror blowback this thing once promised to be. Forget even the exploration of fucked-up sexual chemistry it briefly blossomed into. Even as a mere genre piece, a fun way to spend a Sunday night in the company of spooks, Homeland has collapsed. And it knows it, too, as it indicates by having Saul apologize for his plan’s complexity – “I’m aware it’s a lot of moving parts” – or having Senator Lockhart point out the obvious pitfall of using a flip-flopper like Brody to do anything more important that pick up Chipotle – “This is a guy who changes his mind.” It knows, but it doesn’t do anything to stop it. It’s not a story, it’s a Rube Goldberg device in which every individual action depends not on candles burning through strings or marbles rolling down pipes, but sasquatches sprinkling pixie dust.
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Senator Lockhart’s suddenly on board with his former enemies Saul and Dar Adal, presenting a compelling portrait of rivals putting differences aside to cooperate? Great. Damian Lewis seems in control of his performance as Brody again, keeping the character contained and able to improvise instead of flailing? Wonderful. Violence still presented as both intimate and visually striking, as when the arms of the knocked-out IRGC honcho weakly reach up to stop Brody from smothering him with a pillow but wind up looking like he’s embracing his assailant instead of fighting him, as blood oozes out from beneath his unseen face? Fantastic. But not good enough. Not anymore. And short of Saul hitting both Brody and Carrie and the show suddenly becoming about Fara and Peter Quinn, probably not ever again.
Last week: On the Borderline