Homeland Recap: Duck Hunting

Mandy Patinkin and Tracy Letts in Homeland Photo: Kent Smith/Copyright: 2013 Showtime
Episode Title
The Yoga Play
Editor’s Rating

God Bless Senator Andrew Lockhart, who ought to be everything we hate: a smirking creep who gets pedantic about duck and goose season, has a favorite gun, and — from the pleasure he takes in pulling a fast one on Saul, who’d thought his service as acting CIA director would get him the big job — still hasn’t gotten over losing out on captain of the debate team 40 years ago. But the guy’s got a certain amount of malevolent charm, shooting slivovitz on the grounds that “I got a taste for this when I was with K4 in Kosovo. It burns away the cobwebs,” and showing up Saul, who was arrogant enough to tell Lockhart that nothing needed clearing away.

And more to the point, he provides Homeland with some intellectual energy. When David Estes died in the Langley bombing last season, the main vision for a different kind of intelligence operation died with him. Homeland never really invested much energy in staging a debate about whether human intelligence or data dumps and drone strikes were a wiser path forward for the intelligence community. After all, it built its first-season cred on the idea that drone strikes produced lethal blowback for the United States.

Lockhart’s still set up as a villain here, a politician who got spun by Saul when he fell for Carrie’s story and is failing upwards as a result, with plans to double down on the drones once he evicts Saul from the director’s suite in Langley. But in his conversation with Saul in the duck blind, Lockhart’s not entirely in the wrong. “The old games are proving less and less effective. Obsolete, even,” Lockhart explains. “Double agents, coat-trailing, stimulated defections.” From everything we’ve seen over Homeland’s previous two seasons — particularly given the death of the vice president, which the show seems to forget that Brody caused and enjoyed — there’s truth in that. “They’re the gold standards of intelligence,” Saul insists, and when Lockhart shoots back “They’re also the most unreliable,” they’re both correct.

Homeland’s never been better this season than when Saul and Lockhart have been having at each other. Saul’s already shown himself to be a deft bureaucratic infighter, whether he’s pulling the trigger on the Tin Man operation to try to buy the CIA a win or accomplishing a double diversion by throwing Carrie to the piranhas in the press. Let’s just hope that Saul’s poisonous toast at the dinner anointing Lockhart ahead of his nomination, which warned not just his rival but the relevant senators that “The senator’s made a career criticizing the agency he’s about the lead. His first job, in my opinion, is to win the hearts and minds of the men and women in harm’s way. Otherwise he’s just another political appointee holding up his finger to see which way the wind’s blowing,” is the salvo that heats up the war between the two men, rather than an exit speech. The prospect of Saul and Dar Adal scheming to keep Langley in their devious collective grasp as they ride every bus in the greater Washington area together warms my heart like no other Homeland possibility could.

As for everything else? Quinn may tell Carrie that “What you put yourself through, it was fucking incredible,” but my interest in seeing what Carrie can endure in her Iranian captors’ hands is more academic than it is heart-racing. “Carrie Mathison’s a huge fucking draw,” Saul told Quinn when he brought the younger man in to their operation. But he might as well have been speaking directly to critics — or to Showtime advertisers. Claire Danes gives great trauma chin (though Morgan Saylor’s full-on face-crumple gave her a serious run for her money), and given Homeland’s ratings and fourth-season renewal this week, it seems likely that Carrie will continue hopping on and off her meds and in and out of CIA favor for many years to come. Given that, it’s hard for me to be too tense about her fate, no matter how intense the precariousness of the moment.

But as plot developments go, having Carrie get rustled out of her own house by the very Iranian spies Saul thinks she’s spun, and then sunk her chances with, is a nice little twist. If nothing else, I’m glad to see Saul have another good fencing partner this season.

And I hope that Dana’s return home from her extended misadventure with Leo represents a course correction for the domestic side of Homeland. If Saul’s discussion of Carrie’s appeal to the Iranians felt like him addressing the critics, Jessica and Carrie’s exchange in Carrie’s foyer felt like a jab at the Dana-haters. “Dana’s a bright girl, she’ll see through him,” Carrie insisted of the girl she inadvertently persuaded to turn her father away from a suicide bombing so long ago. “Dana’s in love, she’ll see what she wants to see,” Jessica warned the woman who stole her husband from her. And for the sake of Dana’s standing with viewers, I was glad to see her borrow a bit of the CIA playbook and turn interrogator, picking apart Leo’s story about his brother’s death. “Before you said that he’d done it in front of you? ... In front of you? Next door? How can that feel like the same thing?” Dana demanded. “You know better than anyone else what these people make up,” Leo said, trying to deflect her. “Except in my case, they didn’t make anything up,” Dana plowed ahead.

These days Homeland feels more like Leo, a spinner of pretty stories that paper over holes, than aligned with the kind of truth-telling Dana demands, and that the show claimed to be providing in its first season. But as I’m resigning myself to the idea of Homeland as more action drama than excavation of the War on Terror, “The Yoga Play” was a reminder that it can set up a fun, nasty pas de deux in congressional hearing rooms and duck blinds, especially when it sets aside the love stories upon which it’s been so intensely fixated.