“Uh… Ooo… Aw…” (which what the hell?) is a stronger episode of television than “Tin Man Is Down.” It moves with more confidence and authority, and its storylines nicely spin along. The direction—from new directing producer Lesli Linka Glatter—especially is good stuff, nicely isolating viewers within the emotional distress Carrie and Dana feel, while pulling back from any emotional distress other characters feel. (Notice how the camera leaves the room to observe Fara quietly dealing with her needless upbraiding from Saul from afar.) It’s still not Homeland firing on all cylinders. But unlike the premiere, it made me much more confident that all involved have an idea of how to get back to what the show looks like at its best.
Of course, it also contained one of the dumbest fucking scenes in Homeland history, and this show has had some dumb fucking scenes.
Saul’s explosion at Fara about her headscarf is just the stupidest thing ever. I can try to hand-wave it away. I can see that Mandy Patinkin is playing this more as Saul exhausted at having to deal with one more thing, and I can add in the fact that Fara is just another inexperienced, green CIA worker on top of so many new recruits in the wake of the Langley bombing. (The show is doing a much better job dealing with the fallout of that event than it has just about any other terrorist attack in previous seasons.) But Saul having some sort of latent intolerance of Muslims in the workplace kinda feels like it would have come up at any point before this. He takes out all of his anger on Fara for no particular reason, then gives it an intolerant tint, and I’m left wondering why the series felt the need to go there, other than to try and show how much stress he’s under. Honestly, him exploding at her for not knowing the ropes would have been good enough. We’d already seen everybody staring at her as she walked into the building. That was enough to put us in her headspace. I get that Saul then finding her work useful toward the episode’s end is supposed to complete this mini-arc, but it just didn’t track with the Saul that I’ve come to know.
Other than that, though, this was a solid episode and cements that the series is more committed to dealing with the emotional fallout after the season-two finale than it is getting some other terrorist plot spinning (though there are elements of that). What’s most interesting to me here is how easy it is for the show to sideline Carrie Mathison completely, something that would have been unthinkable even late last season. There’s a long section where the episode simply deals with what’s going on in the CIA and with Dana going rogue to see Leo one more time, and we barely check in with Carrie, presumably because whatever she’s up to isn’t that interesting. And it feels like the right choice. This, as I mentioned last week, is the episode that brought me all the way back around to being invested in Carrie’s story arc, and a lot of that has to do with how she’s so acted upon in this episode, leaving her lower than she’s ever been over the course of the series. I honestly don’t know how she comes back from this, but I can’t wait to find out.
See, the hidden secret of Homeland, the thing that made me think it could rebound from whatever problems people saw in season two, is that though many of its most important relationships run through Nicholas Brody, enough of them don’t that there was room to play around with what the show looked like. In particular, the Carrie-Saul relationship has always seemed like the stealth center of the show, and it’s something the show has turned to more and more in the back half of season two and these first two of season three. His paternal feelings toward her have been warped by the secrets she’s kept from him and the way her life has spiraled out of control. She’s become an easy scapegoat for the Langley bombing, so he made her one. But now, he wants to pretend he still cares about her, and it’s harder for her to see that he does, if he does at all. (I was going to write in a thing here about how Carrie has always functioned as a weird tether to Saul’s better nature, while Dar seems to be all about his worst impulses, but I don’t really know if I think that, so I’ll just leave it as a half-formed theory.)
What I especially appreciate about this is how it’s finally letting us see how the characters in this world actually see Carrie and Brody, something that’s invaluable. The first two seasons were so much about the connection between the two characters that the forest could sometimes get lost for the trees. Now, however, we’re able to see how people deal with Carrie when she’s in one of her very worst manic episodes, and it’s not fun to watch. There’s still an underlying compassion here—both from the show toward Carrie and from all of these characters toward her—but there’s an overbearing exhaustion as well. Carrie might believe she can see things she missed when on her meds when she’s off them, but to everybody else, she becomes harder and harder to deal with.
The same goes true for Brody, as nearly all of the scenes in his old home are about him and about his absence, without ever really talking about him. Dana’s suicide attempt has given everybody something else to talk about, but they’re avoiding the elephant in the room: that their father was a terrorist (at least from their point of view). I know not all of you enjoy this Dana-and-Jessica storyline, and I do wish that Dana’s half was less about a boy being her reason to live (no matter how realistic that is to how a teenage girl might actually operate). But I like the way that this is continuing to show the emotional and human cost of Nick Brody’s decisions, the way that what he once believed to be an honorable act continues to reverberate through what’s left of the life he left behind.
Through this house haunted by his ghost, Dana treads carefully, trying like hell not to set off anyone around her in the wake of her genuine desire to see her life ended. And yet Glatter’s camera and Chip Johannessen’s script are careful to show that Dana’s seeing things more clearly than anyone else. Notice the shot when Dana comes back home with her mother and walks away from her down the hall. Glatter keeps her in tight close-up, while everything else fades away in the background. (Glatter uses this same trick with Carrie a couple of times: Both Carrie and Dana think they’re the only ones seeing the world clearly, no matter how accurate or inaccurate that may be.) Dana, like so many young, stupid teenagers in love, fancies that everything means more to her than it does anybody else. That means that she unnecessarily worries everybody by sneaking out to see Leo, but it also means that she’s able to put her finger on the problem sooner than either Jessica or Chris (still waiting to go to that karate thing, most likely) can. Dana isn’t crazy. Jessica isn’t crazy. Nick was crazy, and the family is still paying the price for the way he was ground up by both sides in the War on Terror.
In “lighter” news, the CIA is hot on the track of The Magician, finding him because Fara has identified some bank transactions that look suspicious and thinks they’re covering for transactions send to Iranian nationals who may have been funding the Langley bombing. (My suspicion is this season is going to deal with the team discovering the Iranian government financed the bombing at least in part, which is going to seem a little weird in a world where the new Iranian president is tweeting at our president, but I digress.) The bankers in question are called into the CIA to explain themselves, but they refuse to divulge anymore information, even when Fara points out all of the atrocities they’ve underwritten or helped to underwrite. Fortunately, a visit from Peter Quinn, who’s experiencing five or six crises of conscience of his own, gets everything on track, and Fara discovers that the usual banking fees removed from wire transfers have simply disappeared. Something like $45 million has gone to an unknown individual, and Saul suspects finding that money will lead in the right direction. (He stops short of apologizing to her for his outburst and giving her a celebratory high five, but maybe that will come in episode three. Really, I just want to see Mandy Patinkin giving everybody high fives.)
There are a lot of things to like here, outside of the aforementioned Saul outburst. In particular, I like how few people the CIA seems to employ anymore. At times, it feels like a workplace drama where everybody’s involved in each other’s lives, but that’s probably appropriate for how devastated the agency was by the bombing. One gets the sense that Fara is the entirety of the transactions department, and while that might have felt ridiculous in earlier seasons, it feels weirdly appropriate in this one. Also, I like that this is underlining that this show knows how to tell lots of different kinds of spy stories. It tried on the bang-bang, explode-y 24 type of show for size last season and found it wanting, so now it’s doing something a little more grounded in persuasion and skullduggery, a little more like John le Carré, and that’s working just fine so far.
The show also continues to attempt to turn weaknesses into strengths. Remember how in the season finale there was that ridiculous scene where Quinn showed up at Estes’ house to say that he doesn’t shoot bad guys, and that’s why he wasn’t shooting Brody? It remains one of the stupidest things in the show’s run—a scene transparently present to justify the continued existence of Nicholas Brody long past when his story function seemed to have run out—but this season, Quinn is inadvertently turning into the CIA’s conscience. He feels awful about the way that kid died during last week’s mission (though I hope more than emotional heartburn comes of this). He doesn’t like what Saul and Dar are doing to Carrie, and he’s not afraid to say it. And he’s the only person who shows up for her psychiatric hearing as a character witness, even though she doesn’t really want him there and thinks he’s in on it. Homeland could use a character who wears his heart on his sleeve but isn’t consumed by manic depression and/or his need to strike back at the country he was born in, and Quinn fits that role surprisingly well.
All of which brings us back to Carrie, who finds herself placed under an involuntary psychiatric hold after she threatens to expose agency secrets to the newspaper. (Everybody in the Homeland universe reads the newspaper. I think this show takes place in 1987 sometimes. In our reality, Carrie would likely be leaking to Glenn Greenwald or somebody similar.) It’s merely a formality at first, a way for the agency to keep her from spilling all of the things it wants to stay quiet, but it very quickly becomes the real thing, when Carrie loses it at her hearing and tries to make a break for it, then attacks the men tasked with restraining her. What was to be a quick release to the care of her family turns into her being sedated and held in a hospital, turned into a shell of herself and glaring at Saul when he tries to show what compassion he feels for her. “Fuck you, Saul,” she says, through a mouth that sounds filled with cotton, and the episode ends.
It’s a daring, devastating note to end on. I don’t know how the show comes back from it. I don’t know how Carrie and Saul repair their relationship, just as I don’t quite know what the information Fara uncovered will lead to and I don’t understand just how Brody is going to fit into this whole picture. But it’s better to have some of these open questions hanging out there than it is to have any real idea of where this is all going. I said last season that what Homeland is great at, even when it’s not so great, is depicting the cost of these people’s decisions and line of work, of showing how this grand War on Terror has a way of turning people into husks of who they were. I suspect Carrie Mathison fights her way back, but that she could be brought so low illustrates this incredibly well. There are no easy answers here, just more pain.
- It got lost in the sea of Breaking Bad’s finale, so I’d love if you’d go back and read my interview with Alex Gansa. I think he has some interesting things to say about how he felt about season two and where season three will be heading. (There are no real spoilers past this episode, though some came up in our unedited conversation, and they made me weirdly curious to see how this season proceeds.)
- Hey, the opening credits are back, apropos of nothing. I assumed they would be long gone, since the show is so much less about Brody now, but I guess nobody wanted to come up with something new.
- That’s Nazanin Boniadi as Fara. If you think you recognize her, it’s because she played Nora on How I Met Your Mother. (If you think you recognize Leo, it’s because he played Zach on Dexter. The CBS Studios/20th Century Fox television machine: keeping the same guest stars in business since 1942.)
- There are times when Quinn talks that Rupert Friend’s growly American accent makes him sound distractingly like Richard over on Boardwalk Empire.
- I dearly hope F. Murray Abraham gets more to do than dance around and be the squirrely little devil on Saul’s shoulder.
- I knew Abraham and Sarita Choudhury (who plays Mira) had been promoted to series regulars. I didn’t know Tracy Letts would be as well. It’s hard to see a role for him in the show going past this season, and his place in the opening credits terrifies me that he’ll end up being the season’s bad guy (since that would be such a 24 thing to do), but it’s always nice to see him getting work.
- Echoes of the NSA scandal: The banker wants to know how on Earth the CIA would have gotten a hold of that email. Meanwhile, in this reality, we know all too well.