A review of tonight’s “Homeland” coming up just as soon as I’d be worried if I was a duck…
When I objected to the twist at the end of last week’s episode, the arguments I made were mainly about the plausibility of a long con that, as Alex Gansa explained the next day, was hatched by Carrie and Saul shortly after the CIA bombing, meaning that everything we saw over the season’s first four episodes was part of the game. And the thing is, you could probably go scene by scene through those episodes and find justifications for most of Carrie’s behavior, whether it’s her keeping her guard up in case of hidden surveillance or her reacting to Saul taking things farther than she expected him to, but that’s almost besides the point. Whether or not the twist works on a mechanical level, it was cheap storytelling. It built big emotional moments – “Fuck you, Saul,” for instance – around conflicts that weren’t what we actually thought they were. (In that case, either Carrie’s faking her anger in case the nurses are watching, or she just didn’t expect this particular move, at this length, to be part of the plan.)
As NPR’s Linda Holmes wrote the day after “Game On” aired, there is a wide gulf between keeping the audience in the dark on Brody’s motivations, in a context where we knew going in that this was a mystery, and doing it here with Saul and Carrie, where we have no reason to not take everything that’s happening at face value. This isn’t the sort of show “Homeland” was, and “everything you thought you knew was wrong” plotting isn’t the sort of trickeration it should be leaning on at this point.
And I revisit all of that at the top of this review of “The Yoga Play” to note two things: 1)Not a single thing that happened in this episode, nor in what presumably will happen going forward, would have played out any differently had the audience been in on the scheme all along; and 2)The parts of the episode that were effective – which was pretty much anything not related to Dana and Leo – only put the audience in the dark in the same ways that Carrie or Saul were.
Politics have never been Saul’s strong suit, so it shouldn’t be a shock that the president would pass him over for the permanent CIA director job – nor, frankly, that the gig would go to Senator Lockhart. In the wake of a massive, public, deadly failure, the easiest way to signal to the public that things won’t be business as usual is to give the job to the Agency’s loudest critic. And given how bad Saul is at that part of his (now short-term) job, it also makes sense that he would have been kept out of the loop on the decision. I hope Lockhart turns out to be more complex once he’s in the job – even Estes was given a bit of nuance from time to time, though his primary story function was to stand in Carrie and/or Saul’s way – but in the meantime, this development puts a ticking clock on the Carrie operation, and possibly the season, depending on how the remaining episodes are structured chronologically. We could theoretically spend the rest of this season on Saul’s last two weeks in the gig, or else there will come a point where Lockhart is in charge while Carrie is still in the field, and he will have to be told exactly why the scapegoat for the CIA’s enormous Brody failure is now the Agency’s most important asset. Should be a fun conversation, if nothing else.
And as for Carrie herself, her story closes on a cliffhanger, with our big target, Javadi (played by character actor Shaun Toub) bringing her in for the face-to-face meeting she requested, only under much rougher, more terrifying circumstances than she imagined. (Some great work from Claire Danes in the strip search scene.) Javadi makes a joke about Carrie keeping in shape with yoga, and she and we have no idea if it’s a pointed reference to the eponymous gambit Carrie used to slip surveillance for a few minutes to meet with Agent Hall, or if it’s just another reference to American culture from a man we’ve already seen enjoying a messy hamburger.
That is the sort of tension “Homeland” does so well. We have to have certain constants we can believe in, or the show falls apart and becomes just a series of tricks. Carrie is erratic – here going off her meds and trying to help in the search for Dana, even though it jeopardizes her own mission (and doesn’t ultimately accomplish anything, since Dana is found without Carrie’s help) – but we see what she sees, we know what she knows, and if we’re not required to believe everything she believes, it’s only because we can see more of Carrie than she can see of herself. Carrie being unaware of whether her cover has held is genuine suspense; Carrie and Saul being in cahoots without the audience knowing is just a stunt, and one that undercuts the credibility of what comes later, because if the writers will do it once, what’s to keep them from doing it again?
That said, the Carrie material was very strong here – including more from Virgil and the return of his brother Max, whose role as Carrie’s verbal punching bag remains amusing – and if the operation Carrie and Saul have set up goes to interesting places, the twist will ultimately be a dumb decision but not a fatal one.
But oy, the Dana stuff. There’s nothing here quite on the stupefying level of Dana reciting graveside poetry, but I remain baffled that Gansa and company keep thinking it’s a great idea to hook Dana up with emotionally erratic boyfriends. I get the attempted parallel to Brody, but it doesn’t matter because Leo and Finn are such weak characters, and the writing for those stories always feels like it’s been imported from another show. Leo is presumably out of the picture now, and Morgan Saylor has clearly studied well the art of screen crying from her Emmy-winning female co-star, but I’d be happy to take a good long break from the Brody family for a while. Anything would be preferable at this point; if they want to give us an hour of Saul and Fara discussing forensic accounting, so long as it does not somehow tie in to Chris Brody’s karate lessons, I’m all for it.
Now, based on the comments to the “Game On” review, some of you were all-in on the Sal/Carrie twist, while others were as put off as I was (if not more). For the former group, was “The Yoga Play” what you were hoping for as the next step in the plan? And for the latter group, did the episode at least let you put aside your dislike of what happened last week?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com