Homeland Recap: Knowing the Game

Photo: Kent Smith/Showtime
Episode Title
A Red Wheelbarrow
Editor’s Rating

While I was watching last night’s episode of Homeland, I tweeted, “I sometimes feel like all of #Homeland could be solved by Liz Lemon in Dealbreaker mode.” Trying to reconcile with your war-hero husband even though you’ve fallen in love with his best friend, and he’s secretly planning to blow up a bunker full of U.S. officials? Deal-breaker! The vice-president’s cute son wants you to cover up vehicular manslaughter? Deal-breaker! Thinking of keeping a baby you conceived with a guy who’s currently shooting up in a Venezuelan slum to avoid the pain of solitary confinement? Deal-breaker! And trying to make it work with your wife of 35 years, even though her ex-lover doesn’t want to go away, and maybe is putting intercepts on your home computer, which you might foolishly be using for CIA work? Okay, that’s a bit less of a deal-breaker than usual, though that may just be my weakness for Saul and his beard and his brunch-cooking skills.

The fact remains, though, that I’m coming to terms with the fact that Homeland is a show in which the characters don’t make the same decisions and choices that actual, rational humans would. And that’s a shift that’s generally helped me enjoy the show more than I did in its transitional period. These days, I think of Homeland like a slightly less wackadoo Scandal, and my urges to make financially imprudent tequila runs crop up less frequently.

Peter Quinn, for example, is starting to rival Scandal’s poor Huck for the title of television’s hypercompetent Job. First, he ended up shooting a child in the season-opening, CIA-saving strike on the people responsible for financing the Langley bombing. It’s downright sadistic of Homeland to have put him in a situation where, to preserve the integrity of an operation that Quinn has said will be his last at the CIA, he’s forced to shoot Carrie, who isn’t just Quinn’s partner in intelligence-community-induced mental-health issues, but happens to be a pregnant lady. I suppose it’s possible that Carrie could continue to keep her pregnancy a secret, even as she goes through what will have to be emergency surgery to repair her nicked artery. But if the new goal of Homeland is to torture everyone involved as much as possible for our entertainment, the sadist in me dearly hopes that Quinn, at least, gets let in on Carrie’s growing secret.

Similarly, it would be terribly disappointing if Homeland decided to take a turn toward the sober, and reveals that the ex that Mira’s trying to shed, ostensible-sociologist Alan Bernard (William Abadie), is just some common stalker. A year ago, I might have been spluttering with indignation at the prospect that Saul was going to replace Carrie as a source of romantic drama for Homeland. Now, I’ll be horribly disappointed if Alan doesn’t turn out to be an agent of some terrible nefariousness. I’d prefer that he be working for Javadi — though it’s hard to think Homeland could surpass the nasty surprise of Javadi’s personal revenge of two weeks past — finding some way to turn the tables on Saul. But if he’s introducing an entirely new enemy into the game, I might be willing to hop onboard.

Scandal followed up its plotline that involved the president smothering a little old lady who happened to be a Supreme Court justice with the introduction of B-316, the most extrajudicial intelligence agency of all time. It’s Homeland’s turn, post hacking the vice-president’s pacemaker, to ante up.

But the truth is that Homeland doesn’t appear quite ready to make the leap to the realm that Scandal occupies, in which emotional realities are more important than actual facts. And there are a number of story lines in this week’s episode that strain plausibility, and not in a way that pays off in helping us realize a larger truth

First, there’s Fara’s story line. Are we really supposed to believe that the CIA doesn’t know that Fara and her father have family living in Tehran who could make them targets? If they don’t, that’s another incident of negligence to add to the CIA’s ledger of errors. And I mean the one that viewers are keeping at home, including missing that the vice-president’s death was a murder, rather than the kind that are driving Senator Andrew Lockhart to his own very special kind of heart failure. If the CIA does know that Fara has Iranian relatives who could potentially be vulnerable to repercussions from Javadi, how is it that Carrie and Quinn don’t go looking for her immediately when she doesn’t show up at work for two days, leaving a hunky fellow from the Inspector General’s office (played by Brian Letscher, who in keeping with this week’s theme, plays Secret Service Agent Tom on Scandal) to do it for them?

It’s one thing to illustrate that doing the work of spying is hard, or to give us a juicily entertaining evil spymaster like Scandal’s Rowan Pope. It’s another to create obstacles for your characters that are based on them being stupid and bad at their jobs on a rudimentary level.

And worst, there’s Carrie’s pregnancy. I do not believe for an instant that Carrie Mathison’s mothering instincts are going to kick in automatically because she got accidentally pregnant, whether she’d been indulging in “1800 milligrams of lithium … [and] A lot of drinking. A lot,” or on one of her clean-living kicks. It’s incredibly dull to see Carrie of all characters get caught up in the near-universal rule that a female television character will be eaten by a lion before she legally terminates a pregnancy. Worse, it’s a violation of the character’s spiky independence and highly particular set of priorities and obsessions. It would have been a season-one-level gesture of realism and psychological insight for Carrie to end her pregnancy in a doctor’s office rather than in an accidental shooting. But Homeland isn’t that kind of show anymore.

What kind of show it’s actually going to become remains to be seen. But the past several weeks, as Homeland moved closer to a practice of using pulpy tropes to deliver electroshock therapy and further from a sober dedication to the truth, it’s been a lot more fun to watch. Maybe “Where the fuck is Saul?” can become the new invocation of “white hats.”