TV Review: Homeland S04E10 “13 Hours in Islamabad”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Next Episode: “Krieg Nicht Lieb”

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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”