Well, it was fun while it lasted. After a promising premiere that gave us a relatively restrained and relaxed hour in the company of its most compelling characters, Homeland yanked the needle off the record, stranding Carrie, Saul and company in an alternately confounding and repetitive episode. Its inarticulate title, "Uh . . . Oo . . . Aw . . . ," somehow manages to say it all.
The trouble begins with the introduction of Fara, a rookie analyst of Persian descent who's brought in to uncover and decipher financial transactions between the banker Peter Quinn killed last week and entities linked to alleged Iranian mastermind Majid Javadi. As she walks into the building wearing a headscarf, CIA employees stare at her like she's not a Muslim but a Martian; the only way Saul and Quinn's gawking could have been less subtle is if they'd done comical spit-takes. What are they, rubes? Look, maybe I'm giving the CIA too much credit here, but I'd like to think that people who get paid to collect and analyze intelligence data have seen Muslim women before, and aren't consumed with fear and rage at the sight of them.
It gets worse. Saul, who I might remind you is the Acting Director of the CIA now, berates Fara for failing to come up with evidence for the Iran connection with a tirade that wouldn't seem out of place if your racist uncle was shouting it from across the Thanksgiving table: "You wearing that thing on your head is one big fuck-you to the people that would have been your coworkers if they hadn't perished in a blast right out there." Where the hell did the calm, cosmopolitan, conciliatory Saul go, and who left this mouthbreather in charge?
The argument, it seems, is that the Langley bombing and its potentially mortal wounding of the CIA has Saul acting out of desperation, and therefore out of character. It's why he's willing to sell out his protégé Carrie to the Senate select committee, and it's why he gives Dar Adal the go-ahead to shut her up in down-and-dirty Dar Adal fashion. (He has her committed, though Saul didn't know the specifics.) That's all well and good, but it's also all the departure from his established personality the show can probably manage to successfully convey. By throwing in a sudden outbreak of crude anti-Muslim bigotry and an Iraq War-style demand for evidence supporting a preordained conclusion, Homeland gives us a Saul who's all but unrecognizable from the character he was just last week.
Other characters, unfortunately, are all too familiar. Danes is as good as ever as Carrie in full manic mode – jittery, wild-eyed, quick to behold her perceived truths as self-evident, vicious when encountering any kind of pushback or skepticism. The problem's the "as ever": We've seen this before, as Carrie's climactic character beat for Season One. That's as good as the show's ever gotten, and to go through it all again is naturally going to be a matter of diminishing returns.
The Brody family feud is no fresher. There's some detail work done with Dana's post-depression acting-out that's impressive: the morbid practicality of remodeling her blood-stained bathroom, say, or the way her sullen teenage outbursts are echoed by Carrie's increasingly childlike petulance as her friends and family try to talk her down from the ledge. And watching her wake up with her institutionalized beau in an institutional laundry room, playing with his chest and calling him beautiful before climbing on top of him for another round, is as realistically sexy a depiction of adolescent sexual experience as TV has dared to offer in my viewing. Just because it's probably not a great idea doesn't mean it can't be great fun!
But those bright spots aside, there's simply no compelling reason to be spending this much time on a story we've heard a million times before, on a show with so many compelling ideas at its disposal. The performances are solid but hardly revelatory, and they fade to gray in the light of the comparatively incandescent stuff turned in by Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend and F. Murray Abraham, even when the material they're working with is relatively weak. As with Carrie's meltdown rerun, this stuff is been-there, done-that.
What's more, nothing about Dana's plight save her final prostration on her father Brody's prayer mat – part emotional collapse, part embrace of an absent loved one, part plea for help from a higher power, any higher power – seems shaped by the unique circumstances that drove her to depression in the first place. Her big reference to her father's supposed crime only undercuts the connection further: she calls it "the second 9/11," then says, in a line I can only pray was intentionally hilarious, "It was all anybody talked about for a month and a half." Wow, a whole 45 days! For a terrorist attack that devastated our primary anti-terror organization and killed over 200 people, committed by a Congressman!
The line draws attention to a plausibility problem I'd really hoped to ignore. Call me pessimistic, but an attack like the Langley bombing would likely cause America to lose its collective shit, unleashing a nightmarish deluge of political recrimination, religious discrimination, police-state power grabs and war-machine overdrive. But if the show were to depict that, it would start reading like science fiction about a darker alternate universe rather than commentary about our own. Keeping the American political system on a relatively even keel is a necessary suspension of disbelief that's baked right into the premise. (Plenty of shows do this: Breaking Bad, for example, relied on everyone ignoring that if there were truly a demand for near-pure crystal meth, the multibillion-dollar businesses that are the drug cartels would have already provided the supply themselves, rather than waiting for a down-on-his-luck chemistry teacher to stumble into it bass-ackwards.)
But Homeland's penchant for spotlighting its weak spots stretches all the way back to the pilot, when it made sure everyone was aware of the literal blind spot in Brody's garage that allowed him to perform his prayers undetected. That same compulsion comes into play in this episode's decision to immediately follow Quinn's announcement that he's quitting the CIA because of Saul's hardball against Carrie with Quinn implying to a crooked banker that the CIA will kill him and his family unless he coughs up the evidence they're looking for. Is anyone on this show stable enough for the job responsibilities they have? And do the people whose job responsibilities include writing those characters notice?
Last week: Rising From the Wreckage