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

TV Review: Homeland S04E06 “From A to B and Back Again”

What happens in the situation room, stays in the situation room. But for us, it was one-heck of a Homeland entertainment.

 

The first half of Homeland’s tensely unraveling fourth season was concluded by its most suspenseful and breathless episode. It’s the second straight week that the remnants of Brody’s ill-fated arch were exhumed (sorry for the pun). But while “About a Boy” undressed Carrie’s emotional scars, “From A to B and Back Again” drilled Carrie’s excruciating chest box that the next episode (formidably entitled “Redux”) is an eruption upsettingly due. While Homeland doesn’t retreat on flashbacks to anchor its dramatic gravitas, Aayan ambling the same tight rope Brody trudged in S03 shoved Carrie to her breaking point. The similarity of their situation and how it dissolves to the distressing aftermath of Carrie’s failed operation was the risk the show purposefully took. Killing a character that the viewers had grown sympathy and proceeding with a “Quinn-tervention” rather than wiping the target was a gamble to start the season’s second half next week. But for anything else to be argued (which I’ll discuss later), “From A to B and Back Again” is a stupefying showcase of Homeland’s assets: the suspense of merely watching an operation spin out of control; the shock despite the hint of foreshadowing; and the superb performances that fleshes the strata of its characters.

 

Before delving to the core of S04E06, director Lesli Linka Glatter and writer Chip Johannessen deserve a shout-out for an exhilarating midseason episode. Glatter also directed “The Drone Queen” whose final minutes was intensely mortifying but she topped it in “From A to B and Back Again” as the simultaneous scenes in the situation room, the Pakistani countryside and the binding drone visual climaxed the serial espionage the show best delivers. Television has its own way of spoon-feeding what viewers must feel but for Homeland, it allows us to be critical of the thematic consequences and our own emotions from the mere viewing of the situation in the situation room. We’d seen Carrie Mathison and company in their surveillance at home/office/rented room, on the ground, and their bird’s eye view of a high-risk operation. From privacy issues to the conundrum of drone strikes over collateral damage, Homeland cunningly disengages a rhetoric of burning questions arising from yet another fractious situation. One can only gape and ruminate on the possibilities of the helpless fall-out if Carrie, Saul and Quinn switched places. Devastating as it was, “From A to B and Back Again” is a satisfying midseason conclusion that ushers a darker second half.

 

Aayan Ibrahim’s days are numbered from the moment he was captured by Carrie’s drone… and she watches remotely when his terrorist uncle killed him. He was the living reminder of the season’s central theme on the amorality of drone strikes and with him dead, the rueful juxtaposition of collateral damages became starker. Aayan’s final days were a painful foreshadowing (the prayer, phone call, ride to the other side), considering that his final moments closely resembled that of Brody’s in “Good Night”. All the same, Aayan’s eventual demise was gut-wrenching. Unlike Brody who had peacefully accepted his fate, Aayan was completely naïve of his imminent destination. The duplicitous betrayal by a family relative and a woman whom he just confessed his ill-born love was just shattering for a young man who had only been used as bait by both parties. An unconsciously victim, Aayan is just a boy after all – restless yet desperate, wary yet trusting. After orchestrating an ambush at the safe house (to my surprise), Carrie successfully prodded Aayan to contact and meet Haissam Haqqani but the terrorist is a step ahead by revealing a distraught Saul Berenson. Bidding his gratefulness to his nephew, Haqqani rewarded Aayan a headshot and as Carrie wrestles in control of an opportune drone strike, Peter Quinn galvanizes to shake her senses. “It’s Saul down there. Saul…” he pleads against her rigid willingness to sacrifice her mentor for the mission. That’s how the show segues from one fallen collateral damage to an endangered another.

 

It’s unclear how Haqqani decided to take Saul with him when he met Aayan. Could it be that ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi quickly relayed Dennis Boyd’s gathered evidence from the safe house? If so, the ISI is slyer than it appears — protecting a terrorist, staging an ambush of a CIA Station Chief and now, kidnapping an ex-CIA director. Or it could be that only Tasneem’s allegiances are in question. (SPECULATIVE) Recall that she confirmed to ISI General Aasar Khan in “About a Boy” that Saul was Carrie’s mentor. How would Haqqani discover that and use the same word to Aayan? Seeing Haqqani’s decoys slipped away onscreen is a frustrating fall-out that Carrie’s (first physical demonstration) venting of her anger was an understatement. But she contains herself in the last minutes, all the more alerting a tormenting manic episode that she has not yet unleashed for more than six months.

 

But the burning questions remain. Would Saul want Carrie to proceed with the drone strike, knowing that it will be the end of him? If they trade places, would Saul order the command knowing Carrie’s in danger? If Quinn had not stopped Carrie, will she still be hailed as The Drone Queen because of the successful mission or rebuffed on letting an American citizen, more notably an ex-CIA official, killed under her watch? Even before Saul appeared, Carrie was determined to strike despite Aayan’s presence. Will the reception of the drone outcome change if an innocent young Pakistani with familial ties to a terrorist or Saul was the price to pay? Homeland continues to knead its viewers as some found a new angle of condemning Carrie’s impetus on her call. I’d argue that taking the shot was the right operative move though the extent of Carrie’s descent to the rabbit hole could ultimately make her a monster that Vice President Walden and Abu Nazir were, regardless of who becomes the collateral. (But maybe that’s also the same reason why Quinn intervened, to prevent Carrie from doing to Saul what Haqqani did to his own nephew.) Losing Saul on the process would also reprieve him of the inquiry and/or torture that the Taliban has in store for him. Yet there’s no reason for killing off his character. Like Quinn opined, the emotional and psychological contentions crawl out. How could Carrie let her mentor-father figure be killed along with the terrorists? Had she not thought of the guilt and the emptiness that happens after? It’s hard to imagine the consequences of Carrie and Quinn’s (who also has his share of indecisions this episode) choices and viewers are left to deliberate the ending. I’d rather rationalize the scene and see how it plays in the season’s second half.

 

The end of S04E06 sees the pendulum of collateral damage swing from Aayan to Saul. To be honest, I am conflicted on Saul’s story line this season. He was sidelined by Carrie who wants to act independently from him; he unsuspectingly walks into a trap by the ISI; and the remaining season seems to focus on his extraction plan. There are two sides in looking at Saul’s situation. First is its glaring political magnitude that will cause friction on the relationship between the CIA and ISI, hand-in-hand with their national governments. How the ex-CIA director landed to one of the world’s top terrorist group and to make matters worse, coordinated by the ISI is a murky territory that the CIA has to clear up. Second, that person is Saul and it felt melodramatic that the show’s way of keeping him integrated in the story is by making him hostage. A veteran of Middle Eastern affairs, Saul could still keep his cool while exchanging wise words with terrorists, just like his insightful table conversations in “Iron in the Fire” but I’m certainly not looking forward to see him be tortured. On the other hand, I’d like to think of Saul’s captivity as an opportunity to explore not just his importance to the overall story but his sole importance to Carrie. I’m not quite sure that S04E06 has wholly portrayed Carrie processing the double whammy of Aayan’s death and Saul’s kidnapping because her rage in the last minute was the effect of her helplessness in the failed operation. It would be a sentimental prospect to revisit their relationship that has suffered a fissure last season. How Carrie will act to save Saul could lead to repairing their relationship but it all boils down on to her realization of Saul’s significance in her life. Though Aayan’s death did have an effect on her, I don’t think it’s enough for Carrie to bring herself back to the ground. Maybe Saul would complete the catalyst she needs in order to confront herself. Aayan’s chapter in Carrie’s life has expired and it’s time to discover how Saul fits into the bigger picture.

 

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I do have one concern which I’ll leave to discuss on the next episode recap in order to validate my thoughts but overall, “From A to B and Back Again” is the reboot’s best episode to date. One of the show’s most emotional deaths, Aayan would not be as affecting if it weren’t for Suraj Sharma. That was the veritable end of the road for his character and a proper send-off as well. Don’t get too attached to a guest character but for now, John Redmond is slowly growing in me. I hope Fara redeems herself after Carrie verbally flayed her. Pity that she’s relegated to containing hefty bags for the service of her own country. As for Quinn, he’s not actually doing a good job of caring for Carrie and criticizing her actions. He deserves a certain kick on next week’s episode. The brilliance of Claire Danes is overwhelming; every episode she dazzles like a diamond with the many rough edges of an allotrope.

 

Until next time. Happy ‘duck’ hunting.

 

NEXT EPISODE: “Redux”

Movie Review: Begin Again, John Wick

BEGIN AGAIN

Seven years since captivating indie lovers and Oscar voters of the modern classic ‘Once’, writer-director John Carney returns with bigger stars jamming to more mainstream records in BEGIN AGAIN. His second musical have the more star power (attracting musically-inclined Oscar nominees and The Voice coaches) and more accessible music (with a shinier New York guitar case than the dilapidated one in Dublin) yet its appealing spark doesn’t quite match the soulful glow of its predecessor. Begin Again may have undergone a mainstream treatment on its music, atmosphere and characters, but it still plays consistently on Carney’s coursework of endearing platonic musicals.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

 

JOHN WICK

With a wicked atmosphere, sleek action sequences, and an intriguing character to elevate itself from bland assassin innuendo, JOHN WICK is a stylish, welcome return to kinetic form by Keanu Reeves, resulting to an agreeable consensus that his retired hit man days are far from over.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

TV Review: Homeland S04E05 “About a Boy”

There’s a hidden gem of having to re-watch this new season of Homeland, which I haven’t done for its past three seasons. Partly because it was an era I don’t want to revisit (particularly the second half of S02 and the whole S03) chronicling Carrie in her wrenching crusade to keep the love of her life alive, only to thrust him to the front line for the greater good. For sure, the tragedy of Carrie’s character is TV’s least enjoyable entertainment but who would deprive sympathy from her? That, and the fascinating ways her oscillating familiarity still manages to shock, keeps me hooked. Specifically for this episode, a second watch granted an insightful precedent to what looks like a fierce follow-up. Contrary to its title, last night’s episode is still about Carrie, with three scenes of her as the subject of conversation and intelligence gathering. But About a Boy is not just about her, nor the eponymous Aayan; but the emergence of new complications magnifying the stakes of its next episodes.

 

Transpiring the one-day turn of furtive events, About a Boy seemed to kindle S04’s frustrating, slow-burner feel. But looking closely at the calendar, the past five episodes happened swiftly in less than two weeks, with the characters already ripe of their respective high-stakes drama. The most threatening run-in is Saul’s kidnapping at the airport, orchestrated by ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi. Echoing ISI Colonel Aasar Khan from “Iron in the Fire”, it’s neither Saul as Carrie’s mentor nor Saul the private citizen that would simmer the ongoing geo-political spy game. Abducting the former CIA director en route to the mountainous Taliban territory should raise the American alarm, thus prompting its incumbent to land in Pakistan. Triggered by Sandy Bachman’s death, the convoluted domino effect further snarls the CIA and ISI, although the Pakistani intelligence has the upper-hand this week. Desperate to return in the game, Saul unsuspectingly took the obvious bait. Judging S04E06’s promo, Carrie possibly knowing Saul as hostage will flare up the situation room. There’s a comparison on her ill-conceived capture by Abu Nazir in “Two Hats” but Saul’s situation (and how it lead to that) is more believable than the dissenting S02 scheme.

 

More of Carrie’s emotional cracks surface the day after her tryst with Aayan as she lies her way to get his sympathy, with only two more days before her cover blows. The happenings in the safe house looked like homage to “The Weekend” but with the “Redux” episode still coming up, it convinced me that Carrie and Aayan won’t be spending S04E07 together. Carrie’s half-truths about her baby’s father successfully got Aayan’s attention but to see Carrie use the personal strife she has yet to confront is another miserable occasion of how much she sacrifices herself for the greater good. Carrie’s moments of genuine emotions is questioned than believed by others, and her mid-coital breakdown is categorized as a manipulative ploy along with the blurted ballad, “I f***ing love you, Quinn. You know that, don’t you?” Carrie’s justification of her controversial means becomes Quinn’s matchstick of searing into her work ethics. Their arm-braced, heated conversation materializes the ‘push-and-pull’ dynamic Rupert Friend has twice commented. Clearly Quinn is reacting not out of jealousy but as an agitated subordinate who lost track of their target and a non-practitioner of the ‘Mathison Method’. But instead of retorting “Mind you own f***ing business”, Carrie tersely explains herself and the scene ends with a classic Carrie-Quinn OC bout that only keeps the tension between them burning.

 

Speaking of business, grumpy Quinn is paired up with Fara as they check out Haissam Haqqani’s hiding place. Quinn, ever the cheerer (remember “I’m not. You’re good.”), keeps Fara focused despite her qualms and fills her in on the spy handbook. There’s a subtle moment when Fara asks Quinn on his acquaintance with Carrie and he swallows his curt replies; the silence in between were more telling. But for a second episode in a row, Fara shows how far she’s gone from the reluctant analyst in S03. Their attempt to track the cleric’s car failed (Quinn will be more infuriated to know who’s gagged in the compartment) but in Fara, patience to a novice spy is a virtue. Curious, brave and learning, she’s fast turning into the next female spy to root for. Although Fara’s still in the middle of the ‘Mathison Method’ crash course, it’s enlivening to see her stand up for herself, especially against her teacher (a face-off I’m very much looking forward to).

 

Back in the embassy, Dennis becomes Martha’s unknowingly biggest problem as he digs dirt on Carrie’s apartment (on ISI’s orders), only to see a picture with her daughter and her supply of medicine (how the wily Tasneem will use them against Carrie, we don’t know). The Boyds are becoming the Berensons 2.0 and I do hope that Martha could finally show how fierce she is as a woman in power (having been introduced as Carrie’s equally tough counterpart) and I can’t wait to see her find out the more unforgivable crime her husband has committed.

 

Just two weeks of operations in its five episodes, Homeland takes calculated strides to unwind its season-long mystery caught between international espionage and the personal lives of its characters. About a Boy felt like a breather before the intense first-half season capper but in some ways, it wasn’t. Saul’s kidnapping will add fuel to the fire and Carrie’s vulnerability is becoming more evident… And who said the new season is a slow-burner?

 

NEXT EPISODE: “From A to B and Back Again”