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”

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TV Review: Homeland S04E04 “Iron in the Fire”

New intelligence unraveled as Carrie and co. went further down the rabbit hole in IRON IN THE FIRE, an episode fully geared on the thrills of espionage not only wheeled on the CIA operations, but also torqued on its Pakistani counterpart. Finally emerging as part of the chess game than a plot device, the ISI sheds stealth-mode from tailing surveillance to a more tangible presence that further escalates the conspiracy that befell on the season four premiere. It’s the savory spy stuff that substantiates the progressive episode spawning more questions which reveals the bigger motive behind Sandy Bachman’s murder. The fear of the unknown is crippling but HOMELAND’s ability to play the con game of the unpredictable makes the show so compelling and a-rousing (coughs to Aayan). Ready the blankets and take a seat beside your new-found asset; let the recap begin!

 

New Girl

Working on foreign territory, it made sense that HOMELAND booked new characters who’ll wear the shoes of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s largest intelligence service agency. The show’s depiction of its overseas settings is often criticized but admirably, HOMELAND has been grounded by the stark reality and remained neutral on tackling the political aspects of its omnipotent theme. I wonder how the portrayal of the ISI could add to the complex set-up but the idea of two agencies battling each other is intriguing, all the more that the face we see on the ground is a woman. Nimrat Kaur’s casting as ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi has been interesting and I can’t wait how involved her character will be in the season-long conflict. The thought of her going head-to-head with Carrie is even more exciting. Already proving herself in the misogynistic world of intelligence, S04 sees Carrie engaging on a new dynamic, ironically with the same gender. She’s got Fara to mentor, Martha to be her proxy-mentor/ally, and now Tasneem as a potential enemy (although Carrie doesn’t know her yet). Would it be that the new girl will push Carrie to the limit? We’ll see on the next episodes.

 

Mole 2.0

Speaking of Tasneem, she apprehended a certain professor who was revealed to be Sandy’s inside man on the drone strike’s coordinates… who turned out to be the Martha Boyd’s husband, Dennis. The Boyds scuffle on committing to their careers and marriage (Martha’s disheveled look and unaware treason of her husband got me anxious about her). Sandy forged a two-way street of intel exchange through Dennis and a Pakistani source whom he was supposed to meet before he died. But the question is, why did Dennis connive with Sandy to get those classified intel? What’s in it for him? Was he not aware that the ISI, as Tasneem said, is benefiting from? There are so many questions that lead to a dead-end. But has anyone noticed the parallel on Saul and Martha’s significant others? Mira was unknowingly sleeping with Andrew Lockhart’s hired agent in last season, but for Dennis, it’s a deep rabbit hole he’s drained himself into.

 

Most Valuable Player

Another big reveal last night (aside from the source of Sandy’s intel) is that Haissam Haqqani, the target of Carrie’s botched drone strike, is alive, thanks to Fara’s determined pursuit of Aayan. It’s an immense compensation for her gone-wrong meeting with him in “Shalwar Kameez”. The transition from meek to daring Fara was a welcome boost to Nazanin Boniadi’s character, now that she’s more expected to be seen on the ground while Carrie’s juggling being station chief and a handler (more to that later). She’s still learning the spy craft that teams her up with Max and they somehow make a more composed pair than the tension-filled Carrie and Quinn. Before Fara left the car, Max cautioned her to not do anything stupid, but don’t expect that dialogue to work out for the other two. I do like how their scenes (Fara and Max following Aayan while Carrie and Quinn argue a stake-out over another ISI agent) interplay thrillingly. The show is meatier if it treats viewers with well-executed covert operations and fastening them together in the end. It’s a tense and gripping entertainment that HOMELAND best delivers.

 

Bad Guy

Remember Carrie and Quinn’s snarky conversation during their surveillance in “New Car Smell”? They’re back behind the camera watching Farhad Ghazi’s footage but this time their talk becomes personal, which further attest on how much their working-personal relationship deepened for the past two seasons. Carrie once again asked Quinn why he didn’t go with her in Kabul and Quinn answers that covert operation was over for him after killing a child in Caracas. For a moment, Carrie’s voice breaks when she shouted ‘No’ upon Quinn’s sullen statement that he’s a bad guy. But instead she wants him focused on the job that he ultimately accepted despite his reservations. I was waiting for the concrete proof on how Quinn would be Carrie’s moral conscience (an actual dialogue, not just cursing) and this scene clicked to it. Many times in the episode did Quinn got into Carrie’s skin and her retaliation was enough to confirm it. I’m not exactly sure on how Carrie is ‘bad news’ to Quinn since she needed him for the mission. Is it considered bad if Quinn continues to prod her enmity in order to humanize her? But the notion of being the bad guy got me curious. Carrie and Quinn have their different methods in performing their job for the greater good. Her needing to hear “I’m a bad guy” seemed like Quinn’s strategy of having Carrie think about her job and what she has let it done to her. It’s not a question of who’s meaner and more culpable. It’s a thought-provoking move; especially when a viewer continues to digest the great lengths Carrie do for her job, which leads us to the final moment of the episode…

 

Mirror, Mirror

Carrie examines herself at the mirror, and pauses before she proceeds with her play on Aayan. To be honest, I wasn’t shocked on the culmination of Carrie’s seduction although at first I was peeved by the thought of it. What changed my mind? Maybe on how the first 45 minutes of the episode built to it and how well Claire Danes and Suraj Sharma calculatedly eased up on Aayan’s consensual permission to Carrie’s initiation. Carrie had used sex before to accomplish her operations but the necessity of doing it with Aayan comes to question. When did she realize that she has to seduce him, to make him emotionally (and physically, forgive the pun) attached to her? And her more professional job description as a station chief also raises an eyebrow to her latest act. I’m not an expert on Carrie’s psyche but based on the past three seasons, Carrie is more comfortable when she’s hands-on to her assets. (Related, but digressing) I think her being station chief comes with her brilliance and not her leadership skills (she’s more of an individual performer). But the more important thing is, Carrie knows what she is doing. She’s planned it all along and readied herself when the moment is ripe. She’s not as reckless like she was with a certain terrorist in “The Good Soldier”. Sex is part of her play but the tricky thing would be not letting herself be emotionally attached because that could just snap a band, if something awry goes off.

 

Oh, Saul also got two important dates in IRON IN THE FIRE, first is with an old friend (called Bunny) from the Pakistan army and second was from a younger official in the ISI. Turns out that Sandy is the sole target of the mob and why the ISI orchestrated the murder is still unknown. Saul is so desperate to be back in the game (I thought he’ll be leaving Pakistan soon?) But seeing Mandy Patinkin course his way through international politics with the Pakistani officials makes me reminiscent of the S01 Saul. I miss the bear.

The opening credits first hears the line “It’s Alice in f***ing wonderland” from Martha. Wait ‘till she knows what her husband’s done aside from plagiarizing. IRON IN THE FIRE got me convinced that the new season will see Carrie in her most dangerous fairy-tale yet. I’m all in the rabbit hole. Are you?

 

NEXT EPISODE: “About a Boy”

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”