“Homeland” is back for a fourth season, and while I don't plan to cover the show regularly anymore, I have some thoughts on the two-hour premiere, coming up just as soon as I wage a 1-year war 14 times…
“You know what? Fuck you! No, really, Carrie. Fuck you! What the hell is wrong with you?” -Quinn
Once upon a time, Showtime was going to air only a single “Homeland” episode tonight, paired with the debut of Dominic West and company in “The Affair.” At a certain point – possibly because “The Affair” appears to be behind schedule (critics still haven't seen more than the first episode) – the plan changed to the double feature we got instead. But in terms of shaping the real-world narrative about the state of “Homeland” post-Brody, I think the show would have been much better off with the original scheduling.
On its own, “The Drone Queen” does a very respectable job rebooting the show for this new era. You still have to pretend that Carrie wouldn't have been fired and/or tried for treason for the many stunts she pulled in season 3, rather than being promoted twice (first to Istanbul station chief, then to Kabul), but if you're willing to go with that, the premiere puts her and the show on pretty solid ground. We have a new political mess to deal with as a result of the rocket strike on the wedding reception, the mystery of who was supplying Sandy with his intel, and a harrowing action sequence towards the end where Carrie and Quinn try and fail to rescue Sandy from the mob (thus explaining how Corey Stoll can juggle both this show and his regular gig on “The Strain”).
The new setting works well (with Cape Town standing in for Islamabad), it feels like an expansion of the world of the show rather than a wholesale transformation, and it puts the focus back on Carrie Mathison, brilliant spy rather than Carrie Mathison, rogue mental patient. It didn't make me fall for the show anew, but it suggested that moving beyond Brody was the healthiest thing the show could have possibly done at this point.
And then Carrie goes home and briefly attempts to drown her baby.
Here's the thing: post-partum depression, and an inability to connect with a newborn, is a genuine thing, and not just for new moms like Carrie who already have other mental health issues. Do I believe that the character Claire Danes played in the previous three seasons would feel no attachment to her Brody-spawn? Absolutely. Do I believe that she might even contemplate drowning the tot to spare her a lifetime of having Carrie as her mother? Sure. Would reckless, ill Carrie actually dip Frannie's head below the bath water for a moment to see if she could go through with it? I suppose.
But should a show that has gradually turned Carrie from a prickly, damaged, fascinating new anti-heroine archetype into this horribly unlikable parody of herself show her thinking – let alone trying – this? No way in hell. When you're trying to rehabilitate your main character – now the unquestioned central character, with Brody gone and Saul sidelined in the private sector – about the last thing you want to do is to show her endangering the life of a baby, even for a few seconds, and even if it might fit an interpretation of the character.
This isn't hard. If I want to convince you that my car company's newest model won't spontaneously combust anymore, I'm not going to publicly test drive it across a minefield. If my mission is to make you forget that my restaurant gave a lot of people food poisoning, I don't name a new dish Poached Salmonella. And if I want the audience to stop hating my main character, I don't show her trying to drown her own baby, even if it's only for a few seconds.
There are some more missteps in next week's episode involving Quinn that are in some way even more annoying than the bathtub incident, and maybe I'll write a short review of that to go into more detail. But combined, tonight's second episode and next week's installment made me feel comfortable in getting off the “Homeland” train as a regular reviewer, even though I expect to keep watching it. This remains a show with a number of obvious strengths, but also a number of obvious weaknesses that the creative team – in both word and deed – seems completely unaware of, or at least unwilling to fix. So I'll watch for the performances, and the suspense, and I'll roll my eyes at a lot of what Carrie says and does, and at the various contortions the story goes through. And I'll think often of how much better we all would have been if Brody's vest hadn't malfunctioned at the end of season 1.
Some other thoughts:
* Episode 2 is called “Trylon and Perisphere,” which was the name of two of the structures from the New York World's Fair of 1939-40. It was also used as the headquarters for World War II-era superhero team the All-Star Squadron.
* These episodes were presented without the show's divisive main title sequence. I've been told by Showtime that the credits will be back in an altered form: “The music will be the same, but some of the imagery in the montage will be different to reflect the real world current events that have unfolded since the original sequence was put together 3 years ago.”
* Among the things these early episodes do well: introducing Aayan, the lone survivor of the wedding bombing, putting a sympathetic and complicated face on what Carrie and Sandy did. (Even Lockhart finds the kid reasonable, and we're meant to think everything Lockhart says is stupid, even though he's right more often than not.) It's unclear why he has all those drug vials in his dorm that he needs to stash with a classmate, but I'm sure that will be explained in time.
* At press tour, Gansa said the show would at some point address the death of James Rebhorn, but at least at this point, Carrie and Maggie's father is simply always out at the park or doing other things – and being much of little help to Maggie in caring for the baby in Carrie's absence.
* It's a shame Stoll's day job means he couldn't stick around, because watching Sandy sneak out through the embassy basement en route to meet his contact, all I could think was how perfectly Stoll would have fit in one of the '70s political thrillers like “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of the Condor” that “Homeland” owes a big creative debt to.
* With Damian Lewis gone for good, Rupert Friend is getting a lot more to do as Quinn, who's going through another round of PTSD after the mob incident that ends with Sandy's murder. The look of utter relief and peace on his face as he listens to the apartment manager making small talk in the diner – being exposed to a normal human being who has nothing to do with all the things that haunt his dreams – was striking, and then played into his violent overreaction to the jerks who were mocking her for her size.
* Hands up, everyone who was disappointed that, when Carrie parked by the old Brody house to show Frannie where her daddy used to live, Chris didn't emerge to karate chop his half-sister to freedom?
* Also? I know that Carrie is supposed to be a bad and inattentive mother? But you never ride with the baby in the front seat! Ever! That's almost as reckless on its own as her hopping into Harris' car while Frannie was back in Carrie's, potentially about to be abandoned if Harris just drove off.
What did everybody else think? Did you find these two a satisfying reboot, or a frustrating reminder of the series' flaws? And is there anyone who, like a few friends I know who have seen the early screeners, who got to the bathtub scene and said, “That's it for me!”?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org