TV Review: Homeland S04E12 “Long Time Coming”

If there’s anything Homeland has taught me over the course of four seasons, it is not to make expectations. Because it just keeps on thwarting them — be it the conventional standards of television or just my fickle theories about the show. Weeks before the finale, I was speculating on how Homeland will package itself in its fifth season and how the late casting of the Mathison matriarch will enrich Carrie’s side of character drama. I once said that Homeland, post-Brody, will be focused on a new villain per season (like 24), instantly assuming that Carrie and co. will defeat terrorists; while the mom-storyline would deepen Carrie’s personal story as long as it is integrated to the season-long conflict. Watching “Long Time Coming” made me realized the futility of these theories because the show continuously defies them, for better or worse. Ignoring the misstep on Carrie’s mom, the S04 finale proves that Homeland isn’t just audacious on hacking off characters but also its stealth of subverting expectations even if you think you’re already familiar with the show. Lacking the conspicuous explosions and whiplash of the past season finales, “Long Time Coming” is a delicate and cunning maneuver for the show moving forward. It may have painted mixed feedback after the initial viewing but once its gutting final scene sinks in, it will make you realize that the clever anti-climatic closer is dedicated to the show’s discerning viewer.

 

To be honest, “Long Time Coming” had the same effect on me as E10’s befuddling belt scene. But E12 was the grand culmination of character arcs that made me cheer for it more. To borrow words from critics, the finale was quiet (set in the serene suburb) but disquieting; it finds Carrie, Saul and Quinn settled back in the States after the nightmarish stint in Islamabad but being home became unsettling once the larger picture loomed before them. Some would say that the finale’s featured twist was actually not having a twist at all and that last week’s reveal of Dar Adal was a blindsiding narrative push. But for me, I award the stupefying twist of the season to Saul who successfully betrayed every ounce of compassion he earned during his Taliban ordeal. Saul’s desperation in scoring a CIA comeback tastes like bile because his actions led to bitter consequences. It was his self-righteousness that entangled him with terrorists and trickled to the annihilation of 36 Americans whom he’s now willing to bury just to plant himself back to the Agency. I still don’t understand why Dar is so ardent in securing Saul’s tenure, to the point of negotiating with Haissam Haqqani in exchange of the video which is the only impediment to Saul’s imminent return. Does Dar have a hidden agenda in helping to reinstall Saul? Their team up is an interesting set-up that rattles the restored dynamic between Saul and Carrie. I, for one, wasn’t looking forward on seeing Saul back in Langley but I am amazed on how the writers shifted angles on keeping him relevant this season: he was initially pushed away by Carrie from her orbit and becomes the emotional torque at the middle of the story and burns the bridge and build a new one pillared by his relentless ambition in the last episode. It’s vague if Saul is smeared by power he was conferred in S03 (though he made it clear before that he wasn’t the politicking type) or he simply wasn’t the man who he seemed was as Carrie’s former touchstone. I came to think that Saul the bear is actually an opportunistic predator who pries himself to the CIA just to serve his own self-interest. In the end, it was not Dar who’s playing the con game after all, but Saul. His S04 journey trekked from sympathetic to frustrating yet it was very effective. The searing final sequence of him and Carrie staring at each other was a muted yet potent moment that punctures what was the patched wound before the finale. I am cautiously optimistic of Saul’s position next year but I’m certainly looking forward on Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham who deftly slither as the Agency’s sly old timers. They’re an excellent foil against their protégés but apart from the spy stuff, there’s a lot to be talked about between Carrie and Quinn.

 

After 32 episodes, the kiss (that finally sailed the ship) has arrived and for those who are scratching their heads on the suddenness of Carrie and Quinn’s romance, you aren’t paying attention in the past three seasons. It was definitely long time coming in the show’s private psyche, aside from the domestic conflict arising in Carrie’s mother. Homeland became far-fetched and laborious when it concentrated on Carrie and Brody’s romance but I believe that her relationship with Quinn better serves the show thematically. More than just the serial adventure of patriotism, what differentiates Homeland from its contemporaries is how the characters are treated as human beings, making their actions inherent on who they are and not just dictated by any plot device. At some points in the show, Carrie, Quinn and Saul were flustered in herculean conditions as they defend their country. But in the end, they are just normal people longing for the normalcy of home that their vocation stripped from them. Maybe one of the reason why I liked the flawed “Trylon and Perisphere” is it exposed the ugly humanness of its characters, from Carrie’s post-natal depression to Quinn’s PTSD. “Long Time Coming” is patterned in E02’s DNA, although it brought together Carrie and Quinn a wistful chance of a normal life together. Islamabad was a grave chapter in their lives but the beauty of it is that Carrie and Quinn weathered the worst and that battlefield cemented their relationship as they encountered each other’s demons. Because of his job, Quinn has become a wanderer drifting on whether to quit or not, yet he found his chance of a home in Carrie. But their midnight romantic revelation was an ill Cinderella moment as they were lured back to their CIA shoes. You just have to hate the timing of it all. Carrie and Quinn’s romance may have ended in a cliffhanger but I’m in the minority who liked it, basically because I find it hard to imagine their possible arrangement (these normal people are made extraordinary by their jobs). And in an ill-advised move for the finale, Carrie still has an unresolved demon to face that make her stall her next move on Quinn – her mother.

 

Frank’s funeral (in a loving tribute to the departed James Rebhorn) wasn’t just the catalyst for Carrie and Quinn to finally release their feelings for each other. Before the burial, her estranged mother Ellen (Victoria Clark) tried to reach out to her daughters. Maggie was welcoming, much like my anticipation upon learning of Ellen’s integration to the story since the Mathison patriarch passed away. It turns out that my reaction would be the same as Carrie’s — uninviting and crusty on her mother’s return. The least engaging part of the finale, the mother-daughter scenes were cold and melodramatic that don’t hit the emotional punch of Carrie’s teary discussion with Frank and Maggie in “The Star”. To echo a fellow viewer, Ellen could have been a means for Carrie to acknowledge her daughter, parallel to their reconciliation. Regardless of the outcomes, Carrie and Ellen were similar in submitting to their impulses that led them to abandon their children (the former escaping through work while the latter in her many dalliances). But Carrie has grown now. Maybe she doesn’t need her mother in order to reengage with Frannie (events in Islamabad could have made her long for her remaining loved ones at home). Instead, Carrie realizes that she can be loved despite her condition because it’s not her shared illness with her dad that drove her mom away but Ellen’s weakness. For Ellen to be used as a plot device to enlighten Carrie’s blossoming relationship with Quinn makes me think that she isn’t much of a significant role unlike Frank in Carrie’s life. What happens next is just ‘too little, too late’.

 

Like Saul, I am also fascinated on how the writers fleshed out Quinn’s character this season (and kudos on Rupert Friend for his layered performance and one of the MVPs this season). Before, Quinn was no more than an observer (looking through distant eyes) and Carrie’s sympathizer. Although the audience were made known a part of Quinn’s past (his child), we only knew less about him except for his evocative feelings for Carrie. His bigger role in S04 was well-earned (in my opinion) as we discover the man separate from Carrie. During the mid-season, I was wary if I would still like the Quinn who gradually emerged onscreen – impatient when patience was needed more, gauche when the good cop would be more effective and unstable when his composure could shut the detonator down. But Quinn is equally flawed like Carrie and together they make a more complete picture of the restless search of one’s personal permanence in the impersonal world they live in. Underneath the typical coldblooded assassin, Quinn became the show’s moral compass who ironically is lost on his own – his déjà vu of quitting the CIA is as normal as his ragged breathing. He finally found a finite reason of leaving through Carrie but beneath his grand gesture of offering a life with him, Quinn has an insecure heart that crumbles when he’s rejected of loving the woman who thinks she can’t be loved. Quinn was ultimately driven to go black once again as his desperate attempt to get out and stay out was shattered by Carrie’s ‘no’. This resolution becomes the midpoint of a meandering yet conniving episode that ends with the three storylines wrapped altogether: Ellen leading to Carrie’s realization of wanting to have a life with Quinn but his suspicious absence led to her discovery of Dar and Saul’s plan, en route to a destabilized personal and work dynamics for S05.

 

“Long Time Coming” is like a simmering kettle left on an alighted stove. Not only did I appreciate its red herrings for S05 but it also provides a realistic finish for the show’s most resonant season. War was not won in 14 years, even most implausible in just one season. Carrie and co. lost and the audience has to accept the stillness of it. At the end of the day, Homeland is more than just a macroscopic look in geopolitical tensions and international espionage. As sappy as it sounds, ‘home is where the heart is’ and for Homeland, the heart will always be Carrie and her cathartic journey of acceptance and redemption. Praises will never stop pouring on Claire Danes’ masterful and wholly portrayal of a woman who has grown so much in the show’s four seasons. On the other hand, Homeland won’t ever escape the scrutiny of its political setting but like the critics, I find myself wondering about the show’s future creative execution. Will Homeland ever be Homeland again? The show has unpredictably evolved from what it was four years ago, an intimate psychological cat-and-mouse thriller that transformed to the predators and preys of the bigger fight against terrorism. Homeland catered to the many facets of the thriller genre but it will be best remembered on how it balances the action, suspense and intrigue to its core character story. No other show is given such a narrative leeway than Homeland and I put my faith on the writers on where they want to see Carrie, Saul and Quinn next season, along with the new antagonist. The development of their arcs was terrific; who would have thought that Saul can be Carrie’s adversary and Carrie’s careful confirmation of her reciprocated feelings for Quinn? While the S04 didn’t check on the Boyds and their Pakistani counterparts (a short snippet on Tasneem Qureshi shows that she’s in a league more powerful that Aasar Khan), I hope S05 could bring them back, one way or another, as the fifth season could be an opportunity to widen the spy circle with new characters (that the show excellently casts) with questionable allegiances, just like Brody was, but this time in tighter and more nooses (pun intended).

 

Final notes:

  • Thank you for reading my recaps! I’ll be back to business once S05 airs in 10 months but if you’re interested in reading my instantaneous thoughts, just can check out my blog: myhoneyisfilm.tumblr.com
  • My favorite episodes in the season are “From A to B and Back Again”, “Halfway to a Donut”, “There’s Something Else Going On” and “13 Hours in Islamabad”.
  • Quinn will be successful on his open-ended mission. Just don’t how long a time jump S05 will make.
  • The season beginning and ending with Carrie inside the car, jazz playing, where she was a passenger on her auto-piloted mission and lastly her hands on the stirring wheel yet lost — is one of the show’s most powerful images.
  • The Kiss. Enough said.
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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 tword 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”

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”

Previously… on Homeland (S04E01-E03)

Nearly three weeks since its Season 4 premiere, it really felt good to be back home. Showtime’s critically acclaimed spy drama HOMELAND has never felt so reinvigorated as compared to its past two seasons. Dropping its Brody baggage (for now), the new season engrosses itself not just to a single portrait of a terrorist but to a bigger canvas of the war on terror: the grayness of collateral damage and red herrings on international relations. But for the show’s protagonist, the war on terror will always be personal. Four seasons (and counting), the show would not be as compelling as it is if not for the mercury that is Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). With a new mission and untapped dynamic(s) ready to engage, HOMELAND continues to ripple layers on Carrie’s prodigious yet vulnerable character, while it remains relevant on the conversation of terrorism, feminism, and the ugliness of reality.

 

Episode One: THE DRONE QUEEN

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Ending with a horrifying aftertaste of Sandy Bachman’s (Corey Stoll) murder, THE DRONE QUEEN is an intense first-hour that sets up the season-long conflict on the professional and political consequences of ‘checking names of the kill list’. More foreign than the new ground operations is the Kabul CIA Station chief Carrie’s rigidity and relentlessness, dejecting herself from motherhood and remorse that were conceived in Season Three. Now employed in the private sector, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) offers unsolicited remarks on war in front of his company’s potential contractors: the U.S. Department of Defense while Islamabad-based Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) reunites with Carrie, only to be guilt-driven and tormented by Sandy’s shocking demise. Brought to the core of the drone strike’s collateral damage is the new character of Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma). THE DRONE QUEEN follows the beguiling “Pilot” in HOMELAND’s adrenaline-pumped season premiere. Leaving viewers gripping on the edge of their seats, THE DRONE QUEEN holds a renewed promise of intrigue as it successfully steps out from the shadows of its former lead character and finally becomes the show that it should have been.

 

Episode Two: TRYLON AND PERISPHERE

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Supplementing the action-packed heights of “The Drone Queen”, TRYLON AND PERISPHERE is an emotional whirlpool that follows Carrie and Quinn’s return to the U.S. after the murder of the Islamabad CIA Station Chief. Forced to trespass her duty as a mother, Carrie hatched her imminent return overseas by blackmailing CIA Director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) on treason (because of Sandy’s possible exchange of intelligence). Meanwhile, Quinn tries to drown the grave reemergence of his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) through whiskey and turned his mundane hotel room into a love nest. Carrie and Quinn’s contrasting reactions to Sandy’s death are nuanced and emphatic; and the parallels between them grew starker in Carrie’s suspenseful bath tub scene with her daughter and Quinn’s havoc at the diner. Between accountability on her misguided mission and responsibility to her daughter, Carrie chose the former while Quinn refuses to return just yet. As Carrie flies back to Pakistan as the new Islamabad Station Chief, she stares at the window (a scene similar to her car ride at the beginning of “The Drone Queen”) but she’s not as hardened as she was with her shaky “I’m fine”. Yet she suppresses it harder.

 

Episode Three: SHALWAR KAMEEZ

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HOMELAND hasn’t halted yet the tango of parallels between Carrie and Quinn as their story-lines in SHALWAR KAMEEZ becomes the yin and yang of each other. Carrie, back in Pakistan, is highly efficient in her best element: successfully convincing Martha Boyd (Laila Robins), the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan, to lift the embassy lock down; winning the ram against John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe), the Islamabad Deputy Station Chief; setting up a second station with Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi) and Max (Maury Sterling); and most importantly, getting in contact with Aayan (a charged scene that titillated Carrie’s state of play). Back in the U.S., Quinn copes through his binge-drinking and obsessive viewing of the uploaded video on Sandy’s murder after the thrice occasions of heckling the ‘Carrie card’ against him. But a crucial evidence pulls him back to Carrie and despite his finite It’s not about you in “Trylon and Perisphere”, Quinn is drawn back to her team. His final shot after the phone call perfectly captured his internal dilemma that he can’t simply escape.

Too blunt in pressuring its character, SHALWAR KAMEEZ could have downplayed in confronting Quinn about his feelings for Carrie. But contrast to reviewers who called the episode as a foundation on a possible romantic relationship, it worked for me as Quinn’s introspection in his clash of interest between preserving his humanity and helping the hardest person to say no to (the mutually exclusivity between the two is not yet proven but the succeeding episodes would). A man of few words and many of action, Quinn is made more intriguing by the choices he made (as provoked by the CIA interviewer, he chose Carrie; while in “The Choice” he told David Estes that he didn’t kill Brody because of her). But the question of whether Quinn is in love or bears genuine affection towards her as a respected co-worker still hangs and how altogether it will affect his return to Pakistan further fleshes out Quinn as one of the important individuals in Carrie’s life. However, I do hope Quinn will not just be a romantic buffer for Carrie because regardless of his true feelings, he is an interesting character: his transformation from a black-and-white assassin to a gray moral compass was cultivated well; and that will surely make HOMELAND more humane not just in Carrie’s perspective.

 

NEXT EPISODE: the spy craft sizzles on “IRON IN THE FIRE”