TV Review: Homeland S04E11 “Krieg Nicht Lieb”

To be honest, Homeland S04’s penultimate episode wasn’t exactly how I imagined it to be. Haissam Haqqani should be dead by now, thus closing the Kabul-Islamabad chapter so that the finale will be more at home on the unresolved character drama among the show’s triumvirates. But like Peter Quinn’s watery-eyed frustrations, I was left hanging. I was ready to be blown into bits once he detonates the pipe bomb (though Carrie Mathison’s presence made it implausible), only to be doused in disbelief after the gaping involvement of his former boss, Dar Adal. Not only did “Krieg Nicht Lieb” felt like a filler episode, the conspiracy behind Dar is a questionable catalyst on the events in Pakistan; the extent of which threatens a quicksand that could vanish what Homeland remarkably built in its stellar fourth season. It also mined a confounding hole that added to the piling issues the finale has to patch. Despite my reservations on the shocking twist, the better half of E11 is the emphatic toast to the tremendous growth of the show’s two spy leads. Homeland will always be hinged on the love for one’s country, but seeing Carrie and Quinn embark on their patriotic missions (together or apart) have been fulfilling because of the genuine relationship they cultivated. Wherever this may lead (Homeland inured me from unhappy endings), I am still on board with this two. But before I revel in this beautiful partnership, let me first address the elephant in the room who made his startling comeback (without doughnuts for everyone).

 

Showed alongside Saul Berenson in an unaired scene (Dar’s dialogue about ‘people first before the mission’ was a foreshadowing in Quinn’s botched operation), F. Murray Abraham was in the title credits which I thought was for the Previously clip (but Nazanin Boniadi wasn’t credited so…) but I was completely surprised to see him inside Haqqani’s car (insert Andrew Lockhart expletives here). Carrie and the soon-to-be replaced CIA director were totally uninformed of Dar’s connection to Haqqani. Dar’s late reveal raises an inferno of questions that crowds the season-long conflicts the finale has to resolve. I’d like to believe that he is untainted of any Taliban connections and his rendezvous with Haqqani is official (which Lockhart pertained to Carrie in their long distance call). But if the CIA doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, what is Dar’s participation with Haqqani all about? Is he brokering a treaty of sorts or is it just a setup for a final terrorist takedown? Dar’s addition in the Pakistan plot doesn’t tell yet when did he jump in, making his timetable very critical in the season-long story. The worst juncture would be Dar’s involvement right from the beginning (in Sandy Bachman’s murder) which would be a manipulative ploy that collapses what S04 had thrived in rebuilding itself from the rocky past seasons. If Dar plays that game, everyone is reduced to pawns for his grand puppetry, including Saul whose capture could have been also part of the plan. I may sound exaggerated in speculating Dar’s involvement but throughout his history in the show, Dar hasn’t been a transparent character I could count on. Despite backing up Saul in S03, Dar is cloaked in nefariousness, and heading the CIA’s shadow department makes him more opaque. Translated onscreen, F. Murray Abraham is beguiling in the one-sided persona and it will be thrilling to see him back with a meatier role for the finale. Gods and Gansa be good that Dar only began talking to terrorists after the U.S. embassy attack (it could have dissolved diplomatic relations but that doesn’t close the door for the black ops director to step in). But what is Dar Adal’s endgame? He doesn’t seem to poise himself as Lockhart’s successor (nor help Saul reclaim the directorship) but why did he take part of whatever the covert higher-ups are planning? And what did he get in exchange? This twist should better lead to somewhere reasonable. It makes me wonder how his protégé would react if Carrie breaks in the news. But judging on the E12 promo, Quinn’s all set for the mission Dar has in store for him.

 

And now we talk about Quinn, whose storyline this season impresses with a turnaround of renewed purpose from the resigned and traumatized assassin he was in the start of S04. It turns out that he many times wanted to leave the CIA, as divulged by his German embassy lady friend (with benefits) who helped him logistically for the mission. Quinn’s love-hate relationship with his job is already history (Copenhagen 2008 was just a journal entry). Even before, I firmly believed that Quinn wouldn’t easily quit the Agency but now I pity him since he’s more straddled with his occupation that has become his mere identity. Maybe E12 could be Quinn’s last mission as his finite chance for vengeance, unless he changes his mind again. What’s intriguing is the audience discovers this piece of Quinn’s puzzle along with Carrie who encounters the hit man for the first time. She may not be as informed as Astrid on Quinn’s behavior but Carrie knew him too well that he won’t detonate the bomb as long as she lays herself in the line. The Carrie-Quinn phone conversation during the riot reminded me of the Carrie-Brody courtyard scene in “Big Man in Tehran”. But while the latter recharged the chemistry between the two actors, the former talked through the most organic relationship in the show. Over the course of two and a half seasons, Carrie and Quinn’s intimacy leaped the professional boundary and comfortably nested on the personal strings between them. The writers are not in a hurry (which is a good thing) as they continue to explore what these two can bring out to each other; in E11’s case, a reversal of roles (see “A Red Wheelbarrow” for reference). This time, Carrie tries to rattle sense back to Quinn as she pleads him not to press the detonator. Quinn grudgingly obliges, the second time he does since he agreed in returning to Islamabad (shout-out to Rupert Friend for his restrained performance). This episode surprised me on how much Carrie emphasized (at least seven times) in bringing back Quinn. Could this be the emergence of unrecognized feelings for her colleague or acceptance of a battle she/they lost? The pronouns lost me on what Carrie wants to say but surely there is no I in ‘team’ (if you get what I mean)?

 

A part of me is still unconvinced that Carrie does love Quinn (please don’t persecute me yet) but there need not to be an evidence aside from what E11 presented. First, she tried to reach him after learning her father passed away. Second, even the grim news didn’t immediately eject her from Pakistan because she has to leave with Quinn. If “Geronition” saw Carrie needing Quinn’s help in clearing Brody’s name, “Krieg Nicht Lieb” stressed how much she needed him in her life. Maybe Carrie doesn’t realize those feelings yet but it’s affirming that she reciprocates Quinn’s affection and declare it through their own language. I wasn’t able to write a lengthy recap on “Shalwar Kameez” but the one thing that turned me off is how it forcibly drilled on Quinn’s feelings for Carrie that he himself has yet to acknowledge. E11 worked for Carrie as how E03 worked for Quinn but the difference is that Carrie is making professions of not leaving and losing Quinn to other people, not the other way around. Maybe Carrie felt responsible because she reinstalled him and has to beg him out of Pakistan. Nevertheless, her investment in Quinn’s safety and welfare comes inherent of their characters’ journey, unlike how some critics complained of Quinn sudden developed feelings for Carrie. Romance aside, E11 also served as a parallel for Carrie and Quinn as they reengaged themselves to people outside the ops room. Quinn wore his old clothes in Astrid’s apartment while Carrie donned her maternal instinct for her daughter.

 

In one of the show’s most heartwarming moments, Carrie’s brief video call with Frannie hints on how a loving mother she can be. In what was a nightmare nine episodes ago, Carrie is not afraid of her own child anymore. Losing her father would be instrumental on making her realize the significance of becoming a parent, especially in her situation. I guess I’m more open on the prospects of adding motherhood in Carrie’s résumé. Perhaps the endgame is for Carrie to be successful single parent (which feels too good to be true for this type of show) but the writers don’t shy from the challenges it confronts Carrie (like post-partum depression), making the maternal arc more humane and realistic as possible. Pakistan also provided an eye opener for Carrie in the kids department through the boy wearing the bomb vest in E09 and the young Aayan, although the flashbacks in E11 was unnecessary, ruining Carrie’s deathly impulse as she falls into Haqqani’s procession. I also learned not to trust her with a gun so the entire scene of her targeting Haqqani felt futile. Tossed with a touchy Aasar Khan, I thought Dar’s reveal could have been played differently. But the image of Dar seated at the back of Haqqani’s car captured what he had been all along – a behind-the-scene, furtive player holding the reins of the curtains in the season-long opera.

 

The S04 finale is going to be the heaviest in terms of the numerous loose ends it has to close to appease viewers during the 10-month long hiatus. Aside from the dangling career futures of Carrie, Saul and Quinn, E12 has to address the burgeoning Carrie and Quinn relationship (it has to, goddamn it). Not to mention Carrie’s more specific concerns regarding her daughter, Frank’s funeral and the return of her mother. How about a closure on the Boyds and the ISI? E11’s late reveal on Dar also complicates the season’s war zone. “Krieg Nicht Lieb” doesn’t tailgate the accelerating action of “13 Hours in Islamabad” but detours to a higher stake, like a slingshot aimed at the higher target. I’m growing more anxious in knowing what is long time coming. Homeland’s finales have a certain notoriety in delivering an emotional roller coaster and I’m eager to know where “Long Time Coming” will rank among “Marine One”, “The Star” and “The Choice” (in descending order). I’m ready to become undone next Sunday. Are you?

 

Next Episode: “Long Time Coming”

TV Review: Homeland S04E10 “13 Hours in Islamabad”

Bullets, blood and belts reigned on Homeland’s lashing return after its two-week hiatus, ricocheting the action inside and outside the embassy that defined the season’s epic battle and closes the grim hour through genuine character moments and a harrowing set-up of its season finale. Time matters the most in “13 Hours in Islamabad”; how the seconds dreadfully dissolve to lifeless bodies as Haissam Haqqani rushes the embassy commandos in turning over the treasured CIA intelligence; how the (10) minutes of inaction left the Americans mortally suffering from the bitter medicine as ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi insinuated; how it took the eponymous torrid hours for Peter Quinn to snap back to the assassin he vehemently hoarded to finish the mission; and how the days counted into Carrie Mathison as the sanctified voice of reason, becoming the anchor of her team at such sinking moment and perhaps the lighthouse for another who has gone rouge. Regardless of allegiances, “13 Hours in Islamabad” is a climatic collective effort that propelled everyone at Carrie’s orbit on their own circles and let their fates be decided. The blistering results were reminiscent of “The Choice” where each character has his/her defining moment moving forward but E10’s not yet the end despite how catastrophic the aftermath is. Definitely worthy the (agonizing) wait, “13 Hours in Islamabad” is the most alive that Homeland has been since S01’s adrenaline-fueled paranoia, not just by the suspenseful kinetic kickoff but also the emotional flurry of every character until the closing minutes. Leaving plenty of fatalities, it’s tough to be optimistic of what Carrie and Quinn could do to win the unkind war but my hope for S04 sustaining such exhilarating momentum in its last two episodes is ever alive and kicking.

 

Straight from the horrendous headline, Homeland staged its fictional version of the 2012 Benghazi attack. U.S. Ambassador Martha Boyd’s life was spared (unlike her actual counterpart) but the 36 American lives lost included Deputy Station Chief John Redmond and young CIA agent Fara Sherazi. Introduced as the bitter and inebriated supposed-to-be successor, Redmond proved to be reliable, as punctuated by his memorable one-liners (“I’m a spy, I know shit.” in delivering Dennis and “I’m with you.” at Carrie during the prisoner exchange). I also like his honesty to her back at the ops room in “From A to B and Back Again”. Meanwhile, Fara just joined the foreign stint; her willingness to learn that tests her idealism was a refreshing perspective from the callousness around her. But her brief shelf life didn’t live up to her character’s potential (Fara’s plate is an opportunity to address a new spin to the typical Muslim roles of the genre). In trying to reason out her death, maybe the catch in the shocking twist is that Fara wasn’t supposed to be there and her being a Muslim who has ties with the CIA irked Haqqani. The grisly siege is destined to produce victims of war out of Fara, John, and the others — the necessary damages which also echoed Aayan’s anticipated but equally devastating death. A part of me retorts that the writers don’t want to develop another female character aside from Carrie. But in the end, the embassy attack is a glaring evidence that Homeland doesn’t balk on taking risks (no one is safe except for the show’s current trifecta) and the war on terror will always be accompanied of irreversible casualties.

 

Martha also stood out in the episode by juggling her responsibilities as the steely diplomat and the wretched wife. No matter how flawed her relationship is to CIA Director Andrew Lockhart and Dennis, together they were symbiotic in fleshing out their characters. I enjoyed watching Martha and Lockhart wrestle their clashing political, diplomatic, and military views which are more reflective of real bureaucratic struggles than the cartoonish charade of warring CIA directors in S03. On the other hand, Homeland produced one of its most confusing and disturbing scenes as Martha consented on Dennis’ final attempt to do the right thing for her. (At first I was bewildered) but discovering his cowardice made Dennis more unbearable and disgusting as painted by Martha’s signature sneer. Death is too merciful for Dennis; he deserved whatever treatment he’ll be indicted back in the U.S. As for Martha and the salvaged Saul Berenson, I have no idea how they’ll thrive when they return, but that’s not to say E10’s conclusion is finite for them. The Carrie-Saul dynamic was rekindled and so much potent this season while there’s more beyond the cigarette talks Carrie and Martha share. Contrast to the scorning public’s impression that she’s a sociopath, Carrie is most involved with the people around her in S04. Her relationships with colleagues, assets, and Pakistani equals were the driving force of the story; directly or not, she moves everyone from their one-dimensional inertia. That’s also to mention the rapport she has built with them, particularly Lockhart whom Carrie comforted after swallowing his own dose of culpability by surrendering the CIA assets list in exchange of Fara’s life. It makes me think of what would Carrie have done if she was in Lockhart’s position (since she’s the only one capable of making pragmatic decisions during highly stressful situations) but like her drone strike order in E06, it was a tough call. The domino effect of fallibility will just prolong their unstable footing in Islamabad, thus the President’s order of retraction from Pakistan. But Carrie can’t go home just yet. Because Quinn.

 

S04 can be dissected on the medium-term conflicts other than Carrie’s, whose arc is the season’s backbone. The first three episodes opened a bigger role for Quinn experiencing PTSD and tried to release himself from the agency, only to be brought back in by Carrie. E04-E06 created an asset out of Aayan whose arc was concluded by a shot in the head. E07-E09 effectively integrated a captive Saul back to the heart of the story. Quinn was sidelined in the middle episodes but for the last quarter, the wheel stirs back to him as he attempts to single-handedly kill Haqqani. Rupert Friend becomes the reliable action man in E10 but aside from showing off his assassin moves, he becomes reinvested to the mission. Haqqani stabbing Fara was Quinn’s tipping point (much like Aayan’s death to Carrie’s) and he was unstoppable, being swift in entrapping Taliban-infested ISI guards. The writers struck again their penchant for role reversal; Quinn tries to make sense out of Carrie’s auto-piloted drone royalty in the first two episodes while Carrie stays behind to return Quinn who’s more dangerously charged as the military man he was in the final two episodes. As foreshadowed by his speech in “About a Boy”, Quinn’s patriotic crusade will just earn him more enemies in the likes of the ISI (the hunt headed by Aasar Khan). How deep Quinn will dig himself into the rabbit hole and how he’ll be able to excavate himself are the burning questions in “Krieg Nicht Lieb” (and possibly E12). The similarity of Carrie and Brody’s conversation in “Goodnight” and Carrie and Quinn’s in “13 Hours in Islamabad” is chilling, but the difference is that Quinn doesn’t need to be saved (and if he does, he wouldn’t want it to be Carrie). I’m glad that the show’s finally unveiling the pre-S02 of Quinn and E10 was just a glimpse of it. Being the inured individual performer he was, Quinn probably has his tools and methods planned out, maybe including his own extraction plan. It would be interesting how Carrie would react to this unleashed version of Quinn and how her approach would be if she joins him, if not their usual ‘fighting fire with fire’ dalliance.

 

Next week’s penultimate episode cages Carrie and Quinn in the most perilous predicament together. Will Quinn succeed in taking down Haqqani? Will Carrie return to the U.S. alone? Perhaps E11 would follow closely the structure of “Big Man in Tehran”, with stakes soaring on its volatile characters. Homeland holds an impressive streak of riveting episodes in its second half. The first 20 minutes of “13 Hours in Islamabad” matches the taut cinematic level while the other half embraces the ensemble in their last ditch for preservation. A gripping fusion of tremendous pay-offs and delirious set-up, E10 was an excellent showcase of action, suspense, and drama that only Homeland best delivers. Here’s to hoping that “Krieg Nicht Lieb” would be kind to whatever heart-stopping scenes it has in store. But I’m not complaining.

 

Next Episode: “Krieg Nicht Lieb”

TV Review: Homeland S04E09 “There’s Something Else Going On”

What she knows, what the audience knows, and what we don’t know is coming.

 

Everything happened as expected in E09 – Dennis Boyd’s admission of his treasonous ties, Saul Berenson’s successful prisoner exchange, and Haissam Haqqani’s infiltration of the U.S. embassy – but the means of achieving these outcomes trickled from the strained flowchart of wrong choices. Like Martha Boyd’s remorseful ‘how did we end up here?’, E09 is the implosion of the first eight episodes’ jagged liaison between cause and effect; a culmination of the seeds (the initial conflict of drone strikes versus collateral damages) planted in the season premiere that has grown into a foreboding tree, shadowing everyone under its reach. What I knew beforehand was just a heads-up, like Carrie Mathison’s intuition that there’s something else going on. But seeing how it all ended up to E09’s explosive cliffhanger is a riveting result only Homeland can deliver.

 

Bearing S04’s most straightforward title, “There’s Something Else Going On” is Homeland’s most glaring critique of the fight against terror by invoking the show’s core dynamic for the potent personification. They may either be the two versions of America or a matured daughter talking down her elderly parent; Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin superbly sold the vehement volley of turning the former CIA’s uncooperative stand of playing the pawn by The Drone Queen. But Carrie has relinquished herself of the title; it was her more empowered and conscious self that persuaded Saul the futility of his adamancy to the 14-year war they are raging; that a death of an innocent, no matter whose side he is, is an unacceptable price to pay for the cessation of the adults’ war game; and that a promise of keeping him alive is the right thing to do despite the precarious trade off. The show could have other means of portraying its geopolitical rhetoric but Homeland hits two birds with one stone, the other one being resonant of Carrie and Saul’s sullen relationship in S03. Considering that they only have at least ten scenes together in S04, Carrie and Saul were effective messengers of reproving flawed perspectives on foreign policy that cascades to delicate gap between them. E09 was an emotionally charged reunion following last week’s broken vow of “escape or die”, but this time, Carrie assured Saul of “no more dying”. The writers convincingly kept Saul as a centerpiece in S04 by being a catalyst to Carrie’s impassioned eureka and cementing that during the tension-filled prisoner exchange sequence. He and Carrie will definitely survive the convoy attack but at what point will he still be useful in the next episodes? Will he and Carrie finally get to talk (and resolve) their unspoken hostility? Will he become more of Carrie’s personal cornerstone once the show gives its respectable send-off to Carrie’s father (James Rebhorn)? It’s too early and uncertain to talk about the future of the characters but I’m hoping for an amiable resolution after the turbulent emotional ride Carrie and Saul shared this season.

 

Another character with a gloomy prospect is Martha who finally siphoned from her despicable husband his handler (ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi) and the content of the note she furtively passed to him in “Halfway to a Donut”. Skipping the scene of her learning about Dennis’ misdeeds, E09 jumped to Martha’s cooperation in bringing out Dennis and simply doing her job as the U.S. ambassador (a classy TV gesture of ‘show, don’t tell’). We don’t know the magnitude of how Martha’s career would crumble because of her husband’s treason but for now, I’m excited (and wary) to see her take charge in an embassy attack; along with the classic wordsmith, CIA Director Andrew Lockhart, on E10’s forbidding title, “13 Hours in Islamabad”. Another arising uncertainty is how fiction will bend the ill-fated reality of the 2012 Benghazi attack. The number 13 is no better omen in eliciting dread (triskaidekaphobia and the claustrophobic feel of the embassy lockdown) in an action-packed episode. Since when did Tasneem and her cohorts staged this terrorist’s tableau? Was it planned after Sandy Bachman’s death? Or after knowing that the CIA is sniffing their trail through Farhad Ghazi which eventually led to Saul’s abduction (and took advantage of the prisoner exchange’s timing)? Haqqani is four steps ahead of its prey scrambling on its dwindled American forces. So far, S04 has been adroit in delivering action sequences particularly in E01 and E08 but the jeopardized characters trapped in the embassy, not to mention the sizzling aftershock outside, make E10 a heavier dose of the usual tension Homeland prescribes weekly. The ordeal begins when the show resumes on December 7.

 

Prompted by the reboot, a change of scenery is proven to be auspicious for Homeland that has been upping the espionage entertainment by refreshingly integrating the trades of its inhabited industry. S04’s notable showcase of covert creativity is the deployment of drones during the most dramatic scenes in E06 and E08 with a minimalist touch of blue circles and green triangles in classifying the ‘us’ and ‘them’. Thematically, the drone visual is also reflective of Carrie’s amount of power during drastic situations, scaling from powered to strike to powerlessness. As for E09, the prisoner exchange scene was one of the most suspenseful Homeland has ever produced, intensified by the boy wearing a suicide vest and Saul’s courier wagging the detonator at the tarmac (which could be an outskirt in South Africa freshly painted with driving lines). Confined in D.C. for the first three seasons, Homeland is most flexible logistically in S04; the resourcefulness in transforming South Africa to three different locations (Kabul, Islamabad, and D.C.) makes the production team an unsung hero in settling the authenticity of its narrative. The season’s antagonists (Haqqani, Dennis, and Tasneem) are also more effective and beguiling in their respective squares on the CIA and the ISI’s chess match. If only the show doesn’t balk on the development of its original supporting cast… but I would reserve my judgment after the season finale.

 

“There’s Something Else Going On” is a taut installment that crashes and burns the blindsided CIA since the stateside detonation in “The Choice”. Witnessing the events that led to Haqqani and his retinue slithering at the U.S. embassy’s secret tunnel is the rejuvenated and exhilarating payoff Homeland accomplished in its comeback season. There’s nothing much else to say because of the episode’s straightforwardness (I wasn’t reeling from the unexpected RPG blow. I was more relieved that the embassy attack is finally happening.) and the uncertainty of the final three. Until then, check out my list of the non-spy related acts Carrie has done in S04.

TV Review: Homeland S04E08 “Halfway to a Donut”

For the second time in S04, viewers are acquainted on how taxing the situation room can be. The smell of thick, tension-filled atmosphere. The sharp alertness of locating and keeping the asset alive via tracked phone call. The omnipotent drone visuals enabling its users to see the bigger picture. And lastly, the familiar, bitter taste of an operation’s resigned aftermath. “Halfway to a Donut” returns to the situation room after last week’s detour to the hallucinated memory lane. But unlike the culminating scene that defined “From A to B and Back Again”, E08 was the fourth season’s most suspenseful hour that revisited the shadowy brilliance of S01. Consistent throughout, “Halfway to a Donut” hitchhikes the unnerving thrills of espionage at key locations: ISI Colonel Aasar Khan’s mansion, the U.S. embassy, Saul Berenson’s prison and escape from the maze-like Makeen. While E06 delivered the season’s most heart-stopping scene, E08 fleshed out its most heartbreaking by gravitating back to the show’s core relationship and engaging Carrie Mathison into a much-needed introspection of her unofficial title as The Drone Queen. So much for the bulk of medicines for a terrorist’s consumption and tampered pills to subvert a station chief. No drug can save the life-and-death situation presented in this episode but I’m glad to say Carrie is back, clearheaded, enlightened, and ripe for payback.

 

I argued last week about the narrative purpose of “Redux” that ended with the surreal twist of Aasar as Carrie’s hallucination of Nicholas Brody. The ISI remained dominant over its scrambling chess partner but Aasar strays from Tasneem Qureshi’s sly orchestrations and approaches the CIA’s queen. “Halfway to the Donut” edified Aasar’s unknown nature that flipped from his antagonistic table talk with Saul in “Iron in the Fire” to his sympathy towards Carrie, leading to her discovery of Dennis Boyd’s menace. Aasar adds to the complexity in the tense dynamic between the two intelligence agencies. Before their joint conference with the CIA, Aasar retorted on Tasneem’s dirty game of discrediting the Kabul station chief in which he had witnessed Carrie’s most fragile state first-hand. The CIA and the ISI are treading testier waters like Battleship but Carrie knows at the least that she can trust Aasar. Unlike Tasneem’s exploitation of Carrie’s weakness, Aasar became empathic yet cautious of his newly formed allegiance with Carrie. To be fair, “Redux” wasn’t just the chance for viewers to ‘experience’ Carrie but it also anchored Aasar’s sympathy and respect for her. It’s not yet revealed how significant Aasar’s role is in the coming episodes or if he is the absolute foil to Tasneem in spite of his genuine intentions. Aasar seems the most ‘likable’ person in the ISI right now, but if Homeland’s camerawork were to judge, don’t let your guard down just yet.

 

Miles away from Aasar’s bachelor pad, a wandering Jew trekked the mountains with a banner of “Escape or Die”, under the watch of the CIA drone feeding visuals in CIA Islamabad station. Saul’s escape felt too easy, like a prescribed showcase of rusty spy skills, but the real thrill starts when he scurries in the alleyways at Carrie’s instruction. I’m glad that my conflicted thoughts on Saul’s storyline played out well in E08 but I was not prepared to see them reunited in such heartbreaking moment. As Carrie tries to talk down Saul from suicide, their beautiful history in the first two seasons flurried at once. The emotional punch wasn’t just released by Claire Danes pleading “I’m here! I’m here.” to a fatalistic Mandy Patinkin. While “Redux” recounted the reason of the show’s reboot, “Halfway to a Donut” revisited the show’s ‘ground zero’ dynamic of Carrie and Saul. For the sake of high-stake dramatics, Homeland successfully conjured a powerful scene that one wouldn’t see coming in the beginning of the show. Even if they haven’t reconciled from the S03’s straining events, (or would they still have the chance?), it was transparent in Carrie’s voice that she won’t let her mentor/pseudo-father die. But by keeping him alive meant betraying Saul (at least now they are even). Danes and Patinkin’s teamwork delivered the most tragic scene between their characters yet. There was another t-word but I’ll leave the acidulous CIA director Andrew Lockhart to remember that.

 

“Halfway to a Donut” utilized the same elements of “From A to B and Back Again” but improves them, particularly on Carrie’s demeanor. Her functionality in E08 matched the productiveness she had shown in “Shalwar Kameez”, although the odds were not in the CIA’s favor this time. It will always be fascinating to see Carrie perform her job at her element which was a quick rebound from her rock bottom last week. She’s the only one to realize that the CIA drone in Makeen will tip off their extraction plan. Her composure and control in directing Saul was impeccable (echoing the tense conversation with Brody in “Good Night”). But like she and Lockhart noted, no one wants this to happen. How could sacrificing Saul as collateral damage in E06 was the right call and baiting himself to take out the Taliban was the wrong choice? Carrie doesn’t only recognize the personal repercussion of betraying Saul but also sees for the first time the big picture – that their line of work is ordained by only wrong choices with no virtuous outcome to celebrate their cause. It’s an impassioned eureka for Carrie who began the season as a hardened, callous, and fixated Kabul Station Chief who remotely wipes out targets regardless of the innocents involved. Some would argue Carrie’s late enlightenment since she had denounced the show’s previous monsters (Vice President Walden, Abu Nazir) before adapting the same cold-bloodedness in S04. But like her career ascent from a disputed analyst to the youngest station chief in Homeland’s history, Carrie’s introspection comes inherent to her season arc where she had found herself in a position of power and in the latter episodes, became powerless of what the drone visual is showing her. First was Aayan’s death and now Saul’s capture became her wake-up call, the latter more significant because it’s more personal. Like Martha Boyd, Carrie has to suck up the fallibilities that rooted from Sandy Bachman’s wrong intel. Carrie has to plan her way in making the best out of the prisoner exchange and Dennis’ inquiry next week. With a clearer mind and better grasp of the consequences, we could only hope that she’ll succeed, even if there’s something else going on.

 

Director Lesli Linka Glatter passes the reins of juggling the scenes inside and outside the situation room to Alex Graves to tremendous results, replacing the shock value with vulnerable sentimentality between Homeland’s fundamental characters. I was indifferent to Saul since S03 but his courtyard scene was enough to make me care back. However, I’m wary that if Saul’s captivity will be prolonged until the season finale, how would he have a meatier role other than being locked up in a cell (and next week’s crucial sequence at the runway)? Technical-wise, the distressing musical score and ‘perceptive’ cinematography were note-worthy this episode, plus the noir setting of the final scene. “Halfway to a Donut” is more covert than the playful title suggests. What did Tasneem write to Dennis? Will Carrie turn him into a double agent? How will Saul’s recapture corrode his relationship with Carrie? Homeland has long been exploring the grayness of battling the war on terror but S04 is the starkest depiction of international crisis straight from the headlines. And with inspiration from the 2012 Benghazi attack coming up, the show’s resonance places it in a credible position since S01.

 

Quick observations:

  • I am not a big Lockhart fan but he won me over this episode. He was an acidic fountain of quotable quotes but kidding aside, his bluntness and belligerence instigated the much-needed traction in Martha’s platonic presiding of the CIA-ISI joint conference.
  • I’ll always be at awe of Claire Danes. She controlled her torrent of emotions like a race car driver shifting a gear stick.
  • The last person Carrie opened up with was Saul (those are my treasured moments in S01). After seven episodes, Quinn was finally able to drill into Carrie’s consciousness. Maybe he was just exhausted. Or maybe can’t think of something to say because he was surprised by Carrie’s admission.
  • I may not always agree with Carrie’s decision but I learned to trust her instincts. Trust Carrie in this E09 sneak peek. There is something else going on.
  • I’m looking forward on splitting Carrie and Quinn in E09 after five episodes together. But I’m also dreading the possibility that something bad would happen with Quinn left in the embassy while Carrie oversees the prisoner exchange.
  • I felt bad for Martha (again). No one is interested in the meeting (CIA too preoccupied while ISI already ‘knows’) and her husband is about to be busted. How unfair for someone who’s simply doing her job.
  • Another Homeland troll: Saul himself is to blame on whatever he experienced in the past three episodes. Lesson learned: never ever stalk someone at the airport without backup.
  • I got a feeling we’ll know the reason why Tasneem is so busy uprooting Kabul Station Chiefs next week.

 

NEXT EPISODE: “There’s Something Else Going On”

Keep your sanity close, “Enemy” closer

I decided to watch the Canadian psychological thriller ENEMY at the eve of Halloween, clueless of its horrifying ending. I’m not bitten by arachnophobia nor haunted by a dubious doppelganger, but the film eerily summons the alarming score of fear. But what is it in ENEMY to fear about? The haunting imagery of eight-legged freaks? The mind-boggling narrative that lingers on the unconsciousness? Or in the case of Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters, the unpredictability of the present that distorts the reality of yesterday and tomorrow? A curious roundabout of identity, conclusion, and meaning, ENEMY is an enigmatic case of metaphysical cinema – a circumferential adventure whose only way out is in… and you just can’t easily recover from it.

 

(Spoilers below)

It was only upon the film recommendation of a colleague when history professor Adam Bell discovered Anthony Claire, a small-time actor who eerily resembles him; the conclusion too bizarre that they are twins separated from birth. Things don’t go decidedly planned after the two decided to meet as their obsession towards each other ends grimly. Anthony apparently died in a car crash with Adam’s girlfriend whom he took to a spoiled romantic getaway while Adam stood calmly (and knowingly) in front of a giant spider which was Anthony’s pregnant wife – a completely startling revelation that adds to the film’s many mysteries. ENEMY isn’t just a simple case of twists and turns that leads to a finite finish. Director Denis Villeneuve’s arcane thriller has a life of its own, following its own order of existence as warned by the film’s opening line, “Chaos is ordered yet undeciphered.” The quote makes sense as ENEMY left viewers grappling on what exactly happened to Adam and Anthony and how the erotica show (at the beginning) and the monster show (in the end) were connected. Aside from its tangling cinematic course, the most important question remains undeciphered: what is ENEMY all about?

 

First meeting.

Slowly offering clues about Gyllenhaal’s characters, ENEMY baffles about the true nature of Adam/Anthony, the narrative sequence, and its disturbing symbolism. At the middle of the film, I was caught up with the idea that Adam/Anthony could be suffering from split personality disorder, although that felt like a ruse since ENEMY seemed slated to bigger themes. The spiders (shown in three different sizes and occasions) further complicate the already obscure picture as ominous metaphors, which according to Slate could refer to an allegory used by Jose Sarmago, author of The Double from which the film is loosely adapted. Among the many theories proffered online is my guess that Anthony, who was cheating his pregnant wife, survived the car crash but ended up having amnesia, leading him to forget his earlier career and become a history professor (Adam) until he saw himself in the film that flushed him to an existential crisis. But the small details don’t quite add up. There’s a missing link in transferring from acting to teaching history (which is ironic if Adam/Anthony did have amnesia) and the scar near the abdomen is too implausible to be the only remnant of the car crash. If anything ENEMY validates aside from Gyllenhaal’s riveting portrayal and Villeneuve’s precise direction is the uncanny ability to disturb, daze and dare viewers to think beyond their comfort zones. It’s one of the frustratingly mindf— movies of recent memory that makes ENEMY darkly playful. It secretly guffaws on being smarter than everyone in the room. No one can fully comprehend what the film is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the try.

 

Jake Gyllenhaal as history professor Adam Bell.

The beginning of the film introduces the concept of a totalitarian government which has full control of what it wants to tell and share to its people and how it does so. In such manner, the government limits the information that the citizens have the right to know, which is also subject to the medium used, for instance, entertainment (by the Romans) and education (which Adam represents). Maybe that’s the same approach ENEMY is treating its viewers; it doesn’t fully disclose the nature of its characters, thus the dangling web of mysteries. But unlike the Romans or the fascism (which the spiders are said to symbolize), ENEMY doesn’t spoon-feed the facts but allows us to freely discuss and interpret the chaos it left. The engrossing outcome is the opposite of the rigidness in the undemocratic authority mentioned in the film. By revealing few, viewers tend to wonder more. Contrary to the totalitarians and fascists, ENEMY doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of its viewers, though it may confound at first. It’s one of the recent challenging films not for popcorn viewing… and who else will watch it but you?

 

Digressing giant spiders, governments and Gyllenhaals, who is the enemy in ENEMY? Anthony seemed more antagonistic than Adam but what if the title refers not to an evil doppelganger but to his biggest enemy… himself? Past the theories of Adam/Anthony’s existence, what if he was haunted by guilt of having a mistress or his failed acting career? From the moment the twins met, ENEMY examines the consequences of one’s actions and how they stray beyond control. If Adam did not try to look for his apparent double, he wouldn’t trap himself to a deceitful web with his sanity on the line. I found more sympathy in Adam than Anthony but his final shot makes me question everything I had known about him prior… His discerning calmness is unnerving along with the terrified giant spider in front of him. Maybe I relied at the wrong perspective. Maybe what Adam had known all along – which is unknown to the viewers – is what exactly to be feared about.

TV Review: Homeland S04E07 “Redux”

For its second half opener, Homeland rummaged in its closet of unsentimental belongings to revive three mementos of its capriciously morbid past. “Redux” brought back the ‘psychological’ sub-genre*, engrossedly and palpably pursuing Carrie’s drug-induced breakdown that played well on the twisted ending. Nicholas Brody is brought back to life, briefly and beguilingly. Similar to its preceding episode, E07 incorporated the familiar cynics of its pre-S04 emotional baggage. But unlike E06’s heart-stopping payoff, “Redux” left a helpless Carrie Mathison to her rock bottom this season, triggered by Homeland-ian plot devices that downplayed her fascinating psychology with questionable intentions. “Redux” seemed the ripe moment to explore Carrie’s eroded callousness. But I didn’t expect hallucinogens to be involved. Not like this.

 

Tasneem Qureshi and Dennis Boyd are professional and dirty players, this time infringing Carrie’s medicines. But why? To rattle the mental health of the challenged Kabul Station Chief as part of a demolition job? I hope it doesn’t reach the point where Dennis is so good in his gift that Carrie and co. would be blindsided on what grave plot Tasneem (and others) is conspiring. (Peter Quinn should better catch this duck before he quacks anew.) Dennis also secretly manipulated his wife by stopping her from vacating the Pakistan ambassador post, but for Martha, it’s an empowering bid to galvanize her position of power to CIA Director Andrew Lockhart. If there’s anything E07 had done aside from destabilizing Carrie’s core, it is to set up the prickly political mantle between Pakistan and the USA. Saul Berenson would soon join the conference but televised, distraught and begging against whatever demands the Taliban proposed for his release. As the supporting characters collide, I’m eager to see a recuperated Carrie back in the central conflict of saving Saul after she had unknowingly gravitated towards the black hole. She embraced the hallucinogen’s surreal reality, cradling her in a precarious situation that will not only make the ISI question her sanity but also utilize this new intelligence to their advantage.

 

But what does the ISI really want to do with Carrie?  She was never a target in Sandy Bachman’s murder but why do they have to meddle with her state of mind? Better yet, what’s the supposed outcome of dedicating an episode to Carrie’s hallucinatory descent?

 

For what it’s worth, “Redux” was tremendously engaged in vividly portraying an emphatic Carrie through her heightened sensations as a result of the hallucinogen (along with the seeping manic post-E06). But the distorted visuals and amplified sounds were no match to the unfortunate delusion of seeing and believing that Brody’s alive. The suppressed longing and love that explodes from her is a bewildering testament (and reflection) on why Carrie loves Brody so much, until now. In the past episodes, Carrie visited Brody’s old house with their daughter (“Trylon and Perisphere”) and confided Aayan half-truths about Brody (“About a Boy”) but “Redux” is the first time we see her mourn for him. Though Aasar’s words led her to believe Brody’s alive, such confrontation would not do if Carrie’s psychological condition is imperiled. “Redux” initiates on addressing Carrie’s culpability in Brody’s death (“I was willing to let you die.”) but I want her to do so in her stable state (no drugs involved). If Carrie forgets what transpired in “Redux”, then the hallucination sequence is narratively unrewarding, except for making Carrie’s senses tangible (and more understandable) to viewers.

 

But Brody isn’t the only one whom Carrie hallucinated. She recognizes Quinn’s caring for her, although agitatedly when she saw him as the hospital guard accosting her. (“Oh. Because you care about me.” is her provoking reply to Quinn’s “Saul’s not the one I worry about.” in the car.) How Quinn is Carrie’s ‘bad news’ was captured here: Carrie needs him for the job but she doesn’t ask for his unsolicited judgments. Quinn is concerned on Carrie’s well-being but he’s communicating it poorly. He’s forcing Carrie to ruminate the ‘rabbit hole’ but she just can’t commit to the introspection yet (“You think I have to listen to that s*** all over again?!”). Carrie’s acknowledgement of her auto-piloted amorality could be her arc’s endgame this season, along with dropping her Brody baggage. How she will eventually open herself up is left in the fate of the remaining episodes.

 

Defined as ‘brought back’, “Redux” doesn’t only return a beloved character (it’s always terrific to see Lewis but he wasn’t really the Brody we know in his brief appearance) but also dwells in its familiar trope of dangling Carrie’s damaged psychology. For Carrie’s fragility to be shattered by a pill, how does it become purposeful to the season-long story aside from substantiating Carrie’s character drama? What is its narrative payoff in moving the show forward? While it glimpsed on her internal struggles and hyper sensory reactions, “Redux” unapologetically sends Carrie to her most helpless state and it’s frustrating that what I can only offer (or feel) as a viewer is pity. What’s also depressing is how she haplessly relieved herself by downing more pills, unaware of its aggravating effects. I did like the twist in the end but this isn’t the Carrie I want to see, no matter how flawed she is. I did like how the show brought back Brody but I don’t want Carrie to be brought back in this desolate state with drugs involved (which felt like an unruly plot device). What Carrie experienced was a disservice to her unyielding and inured character. I imagined her eventual breakdown to be purely emotional but not psychotic. Just not like this.

 

S04’s divisive episode so far, “Redux” is an anti-climatic follow-up that focused on Carrie’s sanity after the explosive events in the situation room. Despite my reservations on the show’s resort to ‘bringing back’ Carrie to her shaky core, I wondered if Carrie’s resolution of Brody’s death will be treated finitely this season. Brody will always be part of the show but I don’t want Carrie’s grief to be dragged on to the next season (we are renewed!). Only five episodes are left and I hope they’ll be more satisfying than what had been of E07.

 

Quick observations:

  • The thought of Carrie actually kissing Aasar makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know if he’s involved in Tasneem’s operations but E08 should provide a better view.
  • Saul’s realization that Haissam Haqqani has a more fulfilling and happier family life than he has.
  • I wonder how my reaction would change, had I not known Damian would be back.
  • This episode trolled at me, especially the twist.
  • Dar Adal, where are you? Your BFF’s captured by terrorists. Shouldn’t you be arranging a black ops mission to save him?
  • *The psychological sub-genre is part of the show’s DNA but it was most blatant in this episode since early S03.
  • Quinn to Carrie: “You’re gonna have to talk to me sooner or later.” Happens in 2015.

 

Next Episode: “Halfway to a Donut”

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

BIG HERO 6

Boasting a cultural mash-up set in the futuristic fusion of San Francisco and Tokyo, BIG HERO 6 is an enjoyable diversion by Disney’s deployment of the little-known Marvel property. Making up for its perceptible plot line are the delightful visuals, engaging robotic slapstick, friendlier character treatment from the comics,  and affecting battery at the heart of young genius Hiro Hamada and marshmallow-like but multi-functional machine named Baymax that builds to a ‘satisfying’ animated adventure for the young and old alike.

Rating: 3.0/5.0