Monday, 3 November 2014

Homeland S04E02 review


Episode rating - 7

For those who are curious – “Perisphere and Trylon” was a joint exhibit at New York’s World Fair in 1939 ( The idea was the ‘city of tomorrow’, a sort of utopian, futuristic vision of life. I’m not sure what convoluted idea Homeland’s writers are trying to push, but is it something to do with comparing what we think is a utopia with what is really dystopia?

Anyway, there are three outstanding questions from the inaugural episode:

(1) Who was Sandy Bachman’s contact and what was happening between them?
(2) Why did this contact suddenly turn against Sandy?
(3) Who in Islamabad knew about Sandy’s arrangement?

This episode only the second part of question 1, with Carrie realising that somebody in Islamabad tried to blow the whistle on Bachman, because he was trading American secrets for Pakistani ones. For his efforts, this whistleblower was stuck in archives for the rest of time. But this is not where Homeland’s heart is right now - we spend way more time dealing with the psychological and professional fallout from episode 1: Carrie got a massive ‘demotion’ and attempted to resume her defence of “not-the-worst-but-still-pretty-bad mother of the year”. Bachman was dead, leaving behind a widow and small children. But the emotional heart of this episode and possibly the season is Quinn – he had been quietly falling apart and now the seams are too big for others to not notice. In a funny scene, an extremely drunk Quinn is lobbing vodka bottles into his motel’s swimming pool, only to be told off by the Hotel Manager, a young and somewhat pretty, if quite chubby lady. 

Upon realising that he is drunker than a boiled owl, she manages to get him into bed (well, sofa). In the morning, he asks her if she wants to have breakfast. Aww. The subtext here seems to be: “oh wow, CIA hottie Peter Quinn has sex with this obese woman and is ACTUALLY NICE TO HER the next morning! Even though she’s fat! Isn’t that such fresh writing?!” No. It’s called decency. That he is such a fundamentally decent guy is probably remarkable given what’s happened to him, but to an extent, he’s just reaching out so he can feel something that isn’t shame or disgust at what he’s done for work. Then almost inexplicably, at breakfast, the writers seem to think she has to explain why she’s so fat, and so we get a pointless and slightly irritating discussion about chicken nuggets being one of the major “food groups” where she grew up. 

Anyway, a couple of morons in the diner start laughing at Quinn's new girlfriend's, er, stature. Quinn enquires politely about what these two were laughing about, leading to the second WTF moment of the episode (first being Bachman’s widow's statement about Islamabad CIA post being "safe"), and that is this: one of the bozos cracks an unbelievably passé, 1980s joke: about the weighing scale saying “one at a time please” when she gets on it. Then this happens.

As they say in the North American patois, he opened a can of whoop-ass on these guys. But really...I was still shocked at how stupid the joke was. Homeland’s writers must be really distracted by other stuff in this episode if this nonsense is the best they can do. Darned if I haven’t seen a man defend a woman's honour with his fists in almost every teen show ever and about a hundred Bollywood movies. Having scheduled an appointment between bozo #1’s face and the table, Quinn ends up in jail. Jokes aside, Quinn’s disquiet at what his team does has finally cracked the veneer of self-control he had been exercising. On the plus side, we get a great line from Quinn: “No that’s ok, I speak dumbass, what is it?” Rupert Friend's delivery is impeccable.

On the other side of the CIA divide, we see Haqqani’s nephew being harangued by the media but refreshingly, his response is quite nuanced: how are the Pakistanis any different to the Americans? The Americans murdered people at the wedding and the Islamabad mob murdered a CIA chief. This doesn’t quite ring true given that the mob killed one of the people responsible for the Haqqani massacre, while the Americans killed mostly innocent people. But anyway, Aayan doesn’t really want to engage in the political-philosophical facets of this situation. He has a mission – we’re not sure exactly what but it involves vials of some sort of serum or possibly vaccine? He travels to a remote-ish town and deposits it with his sort-of-girlfriend with, you guessed it, an angry dad. In the final scenes of the episode, we see him being assaulted and intimidated by a bunch of goons into keeping his mouth shut. Hmm, another mystery!

“…and now I fill Freedom of Information requests from conspiracy nuts in Ohio. Are we done?”

So back at work, we see Lockhart give Carrie a dressing-down. It turns out repercussions have moved significantly upwards with the State Department looking for the first opportunity to knock Lockhart and his AfPak exploits flat on its face. Unless Carrie and co get their act together, the CIA presence in that whole region may be shut down. Unfortunately, Homeland is not interested in the politics of this whole fandango - Lockhart and his political travails only get airtime when he has to talk to Carrie. Anyway, a great moment ensues when Lockhart says “Look at it this way – you’ll get to spend time with your kid”. I’m fairly sure he meant it in a nice, conciliatory way, but Carrie’s face fell so hard at this, I almost laughed. Carrie is terrified of spending time with her baby.

Meanwhile, plot-wise, Carrie tracks down the CIA operative who was recalled from Islamabad and unsurprisingly, it turns out that he’s quite cagey. More on this later. First, it’s the “Carrie and baby” show – having fed and changed Frannie and nearly drowned her in the bath (!), she takes her to visit what used to be her (deceased) dad’s house. So where Quinn connects with his motel Manager, Carrie reaches out to the only person she can – her daughter. She reveals to Frannie what we all suspected all along, which is that without Brody, Carrie has no idea why she had Frannie and what to do with her now. It’s interesting but also odd that the writers felt the need to include this facet to Carrie, since it’s a dead end, because before long, she’s back in the world of intrigue and intel in Pakistan. Oh well. “Psychological insight” – box ticked. However, I should mention at this point that Claire Danes does an excellent job illustrating just how broken and alone her character really is. Although I don’t like the script in places, her performance is superb.

Anyway, Carrie then takes the baby to the CIA to meet the Islamabad leak, Harris (played by yet another English actor, Adam Godley). This is about as embarrassing as it sounds, as he points out. But it pays off, as Harris tells Carrie that Bachman was trading secrets for good intel, and when Harris tried to reveal this, Lockhart hid him in archives. So Carrie does what any good office worker should do, which is to blackmail her boss into giving her a promotion (Islamabad station chief). And then Lockhart says something slightly random insulting to Pakistan: “Why do you even want to go to that shithole?...It’s not even a real country, it’s a fucking acronym!”. Hmm, thanks for that geo-anthropological insight, Homeland. [P.S. The name is based on an acronym, it is not in itself one. Like, whatever.]

Saul and Dar Adal – these scenes are usually low key but important. Turns out Secretary of State Parker wants to bring Saul back into the fold – as if that will change anything. Saul made big mistakes too, and he also let Carrie do whatever she wanted to do. Ergo, Saul would not have prevented any of this storm from going down. Oh well, I guess we’re now setup for Saul coming back as CIA chief.

We catch up with Carrie and Quinn in the chapel, where Quinn tells Carrie how he won’t be coming to Islamabad with her. He’s going to repent some more. The final shot of the episode is quite poignant, with Carrie sitting alone at the back of a CIA plane, being asked by the staff if she needs anything. “I’m fine”, she replies. The crewmember leaves. “I’m fine” she repeats, surveying the empty plane.


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