A review of tonight’s “Homeland” coming up just as soon as I answer a question with a big gaping nothing…
Well before he tells Carrie of his desire to quit, Quinn spends much of “Gerontion” with an expression on his face suggesting he has seen and done too much in his career and isn’t sure why he’s still here. Senator Lockhart, meanwhile, has spent the last few episodes dismissing the Saul Berenson version of the CIA as an embarrassing relic of an earlier time that either needs reinventing or destroying. And Detective Johnson, the local homicide cop who has the misfortune to catch the case involving Javadi’s ex-wife and daughter-in-law, shares that sentiment, asking Quinn about the value of the intelligence community, “Have you ever done anything but make things worse?”
I doubt Chip Johannessen was aiming for any meta commentary with all of this. But I couldn’t help listening to all these questions about the CIA’s long-term value and start wondering about the long-term value of “Homeland” itself.
Last season – even in the first season, when we didn’t know what Brody’s loyalties were, or whether he would blow himself up – we would speculate on what a post-Brody version of “Homeland” would look like. The most obvious scenario would be Carrie and Saul going after other terrorists, which is more or less what we’ve gotten this season, along with some ill-conceived stuff involving Dana (thankfully absent this week). And if I’m feeling Quinn’s confessional spirit, I have to say that this incarnation of “Homeland” isn’t doing a lot for me.
We’re more than halfway into the season now, and we have a pretty good idea of the stakes and the various conflicts: Saul turning Javadi into an asset, Lockhart trying to burn Saul to the ground, Quinn’s desire to quit and now Carrie’s attempt to prove Brody’s innocence. But despite some strong individual moments – this week, for instance, Saul trapping Lockhart in the conference room (and blacking out the windows) to allow Javadi’s plane to leave the country – I find myself emotionally invested in very little of it. I didn’t hate “Gerontion” by any means, but I also wasn’t excited by it the way I’ve been by the best parts of “Homeland” seasons 1 and 2.
The last couple of episodes have filled in some of the blanks in Saul and Javadi’s shared history, but not enough to make their interrogation matter in the way the Carrie/Brody one did back in “Q&A.”(*) The writers have tried to goose our interest in things through surprise reveals – Carrie and Saul were in cahoots! Carrie has been pregnant the whole time! – that for me, at least, have had the opposite effect, and suggest they didn’t feel like the Javadi operation was strong enough to hold our interest without a few stunts along the way.
(*) I do wonder, though, how “Gerontion” would have felt if it had spent much more time on the interrogation, in the way that “Q&A” mostly did (though that episode did also feature the Finn hit-and-run incident).
And because of that, I can understand the reluctance – whether by Gansa and Gordon, by Showtime executives, or a combination of the two – to be done with Brody as quickly as “Homeland” could have been. There was a clear spark between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, and when you coupled their chemistry with the question of Brody’s allegiances, the rest of the show became icing. Brody has long since outlived his usefulness, but the other parts of the show haven’t magically become cake to properly replace him. Quinn’s a useful character, but his inner torment doesn’t grab me. I love Saul, and there have been times this season and last where Mandy Patinkin’s performance has felt like the only thing holding this whole operation together, but it’s turning out that he can’t carry the show by himself.
And Carrie? Carrie’s pretty much a wreck, between the constant cycling on and off her meds (which may be realistic but is dramatically inert at this point), the fixation on Brody (back again after being dormant for much of this season) and now our understanding that anything we are told about her can be revealed to be a lie an episode or two later.
Once upon a time, it felt like Carrie + Saul vs. Terrorists would be a sturdy framework for the long-running version of “Homeland” we know the show is going to be thanks to its high ratings and Showtime’s reluctance to pull the plug on its hits. But this is only the first season where they’ve tried it, and my interest’s already fading.
Maybe if the series moves entirely beyond Brody next season, it can finally carve out an interesting new identity for itself. But I watch this in-between version of “Homeland” and find myself wondering, like Quinn, like Lockhart, and like Detective Johnson, exactly what the point is.
Some other thoughts:
* The episode’s title comes from the T.S. Eliot poem, in which an elderly man who primarily lived in the 19th Century tries to make sense of post-World War I Europe. It fits neatly into Lockhart’s conception of Saul and Dar as 20th Century fossils, and Saul’s own hope that as an old man he can finally fix things in a way he couldn’t when he was young.
* Clark Johnson has previously directed four episodes of “Homeland,” including the mini-“Homicide” reunion that was “Tower of David,” featuring a script partially written by Henry Bromell and a guest appearance by Erik Todd Dellums, whose evil drug lord Luther Mahoney used to vex Johnson’s Detective Lewis. Here, he finally steps in front of the camera to play a homicide cop from Maryland, and though he wasn’t around long enough to prove as charming as Meldrick used to be, it’s always a pleasure to watch the guy act. Like Ron Howard, it’s easy to understand why Johnson made directing his main thing, but he’s an awfully good actor, too.
* This week, in Alan Sepinwall Proposes A Digital Tie-In Series That Will Never Happen But Should, I would like to request that Showtime give us a web show that just involves F. Murray Abraham – whether in character as Dar Adal or not – uttering profanities. In general, cable drama has desensitized me to cursing, but something about the way the F-word sounds in those rich, cultured, Oscar-winning tones makes it seem new and shocking and beautiful.
What does everybody else think? This deep into season 3, how are you feeling about the show?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org