The third season of Homeland has been a wildly up-and-down season, one in which two out of every three episodes flails. It’s that every third episode, however, that salvages the season, that makes all the preposterous plot turns, the banal wait-and-see, the useless subplots, and the increasingly tiresome Claire Danes’ character worth suffering through, eyes rolled squarely into the back of our heads. Last night’s episode of Homeland, “Big Man in Tehran,” was one of those “third” episodes, and while most of what happened in the previous two episodes was ridiculous enough to bring me to the point of anger, the payoff was worth it.
It was mostly worth it because, for the first time since Brody flipped early in season two, those feelings of uncertainty that we used to attribute to the character finally returned. After Brody worked his way inside of Iran, became something of a local celebrity, and refused an exfiltration, Saul and Lockhart arranged to have two Mossad agents take Brody out. Knowing he was about to be shot, Brody worked his way into the the office of Iran’s military leader, Akbari. In that exchange, there were a few seconds when the audience wasn’t sure if Brody would kill Ackbari or turn on the CIA and Javadi. Granted, there was a 70/30 chance in my mind that Brody would kill him, but that 30 percent of uncertainty?! That was what we loved about the first season of Homeland. It kept us on our toes; it wasn’t just that the plot turns were unpredictable, it was that the character motivations were even more unpredictable. For the first time all season, we didn’t know what was going on in Brody’s mind.
I missed that about Homeland, and it was so satisfying that I forgave the show for passing up a moment — when Brody and Carrie were talking on their phones outside of a mosque — that would’ve been the perfect time to take out Brody and achieve maximum emotional impact. That would’ve been a hugely bold move, though one that essentially would’ve rendered the entire season pointless.
In fact, anything other than Brody killing Akbari would’ve rendered everything that happened in the previous 10 episodes moot, which is why we knew — more likely than not — that Brody would kill Ackbari. But how great would it have been if it’d gone the other way? If Brody made a selfish play, if the anti-American sentiment that nearly drove Brody to a suicide bombing resurfaced in his conversation with Abu Nazir’s widow, and instead of trying to be a hero for America, he tried to become a hero for Iran? It might have put the entire show back on the course that it had mapped out in the first season, and it might have created a compelling reason to keep Brody around after this season, which is something I don’t see right now.
In fact, that entire sequence — from the time that Saul ordered the assassination until Brody killed Akbari — was so good that, in the moment, we were able to overlook some of the typically preposterous events that brought us there. Putting aside the musical montage that magically healed Brody of his heroin addiction two episodes ago and the ridiculous circumstances that brought him to Iran in the first place, there was also the matter of Carrie — who had been in Congressional hearings televised in the United States, and who had been romantically linked to Brody in those PUBLIC hearings — not being recognized by anyone, even though she was only a few feet away from Brody on two occasions. There was also the matter of Saul using the “grease ball who f**ked my ex-wife” to help in the mission, but then, this show has always strained credulity to keep certain characters involved in the action. Also, why would the military leader of Iran ever allow himself to be alone in the same room with Brody?
Yet, the directing in last night’s episode (by Daniel Minahan, who has also directed 5 episodes of Game of Thrones) was so good, and Damian Lewis’ performance so convincing, that we were allowed, once again, to overlook the show’s flaws. In fact, last night offered the best reason so far to keep Brody around, and there’s an argument to be made that if anyone should be killed off, it ought to be Carrie. The fact that she’s still an operative for the CIA is almost as ridiculous as the fact that the CIA is using the man accused of bombing Langley and known to have plotted against the Vice President to assassinate Akbari. It’s not that Claire Danes is bad — she’s fantastic. It’s that I don’t know that I can stomach another season of her histrionics, and I’d much rather see Brody sweat his regrets over helping the United States topple a terrorist organization with which he has some sympathy.
Next week’s finale should tell us a lot about whether this season of Homeland on the whole will be a success, despite its many problems, or whether it may be time to bail. I don’t think there’s any doubt about the fact that the plan Saul put into place in the season premiere will succeed. It obviously will. But the casualties will matter. Realistically, there’s no way Brody escapes Ackbari’s office, which means that Homeland has to go full-24 to extract him, which in turn suggests that we will have to fully recalibrate our expectations for the series moving ahead (if you haven’t already). If he’s killed, but the plan succeeds anyway, maybe we can expect a return to form, but the ship has already sailed on the idea that any future scenarios in Homeland would fall under the category of plausible. Thankfully we still have Mandy Patinkin, who sells bullsh*t better than any other actor on television, to make even the most ridiculous plotlines sound believable.