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”