Claire Danes, Morgan Spector (Photo: Antony Platt/Showtime)

“We’ve been here before,” Carrie Mathison’s sister Maggie astutely notes at one point during “Standoff,” and although Carrie denies it, those of us who have watched all six-plus seasons of Homeland know exactly what Maggie is talking about. It’s not just that Carrie is back in a full-blown manic state, unable to distinguish between the reality of the government conspiracy she’s trying to uncover and her delusions. It’s that, for the second week in a row, the last half of the episode finds her dealing with a largely irrelevant setback almost entirely of her own making.

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What’s not quite clear at this point in the season is why Carrie is behaving so erratically. Is it true that her tolerance for Lithium has made the drug ineffective, or has she simply convinced herself that’s the case? Is this a condition that can be treated by tweaking her medication, or has she come to doubt herself because of the reactions of those around her? Whatever the case, the end result is the same as Homeland finds itself treading a very well-worn narrative path. The major difference this time is that Carrie is unemployed and cut off from all of the major players, so the writers are having a hard time keeping her involved.

That’s why Dante, a character who has made it very clear that he wants nothing more to do with Carrie, has to have a less-than-convincing change of heart. Quite honestly, when the relentless pounding on the door forced Carrie out of bed only to find Dante suddenly eager to work with her again, I was half-convinced we were in dreamland. Was this a wish fulfillment fantasy brought on by Carrie’s change of meds? As it turns out, the unreality of the moment cannot be chalked up to hallucination, but rather to narrative convenience. We can’t leave Carrie in bed for the rest of the hour, so before long she’s gobbling her niece’s Adderall and heading out to spy on Simone Martin, the woman from the surveillance footage of Wellington’s home.

That’s where things go sideways, because after searching Martin’s apartment and collecting what may be valuable evidence, Carrie is stopped by the cops, at which point she does everything possible to escalate the situation. This is really tedious stuff, mainly because it plays out in such obligatory fashion. Carrie antagonizes the officers and their superior at the station to the point where they have no choice but to book her, which is precisely what she’s trying to avoid. Raising the specter of last season’s grueling CPS melodrama is just a bad idea, especially since there’s never any doubt that Dante will pull the right strings to get her released with no record of her arrest. I’d like to think there’s at least some social commentary at work here, what with the African-American cops being patient beyond the point of reason with the white lady, but that may be just my imagination.

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Matthew Servitto, Mandy Patinkin (Photo: Antony Platt/Showtime)

It’s always odd when the scenes involving the show’s protagonist feel like filler, but that’s a sign of how removed Carrie has been from the action so far this season. This week, most of that action takes place at the backwoods compound where O’Keefe is still holed up. Saul arrives accompanied by an FBI convoy, but chooses to go it alone, for he is Saul. At first he appears to make some progress, as President Keane reluctant agrees to meet O’Keefe’s terms of surrender, including (naturally) a televised trial. As it turns out, however, this is merely a stalling tactic allowing time for reinforcements to arrive in the form of more flannel-wearing, gun-toting white dudes in pickup trucks. (Except...didn’t Saul say all the roads were blocked? I guess these guys know the secret trails through the woods.)

Saul is taken hostage and released so quickly that it barely qualifies as a plot point, but the situation as a whole is escalating into a Waco-type fiasco. Back in Washington, Wellington urges a distraction in the time-honored American fashion of dropping bombs on a foreign country. Although he briefly appeared to be the voice of reason, Wellington is well on his way toward becoming the number one villain in the White House, as he orders the strike on an Iranian weapons shipment despite President Keane’s crystal clear objections. (Such an order generally has to come straight from the president’s mouth, but hey, just this once.)

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It’s been a fragmented season so far, but we’re only three episodes in so there’s plenty of time to pull it all together. Here’s hoping Carrie gets pulled into the main narrative sweep sooner than later, because her side-quests are starting to feel like reruns.

Stray observations

  • Matthew Servitto, the actor playing the lead FBI agent, has been a near-constant TV presence for at least 20 years, but I still think of him as Tony’s frenemy Agent Harris from The Sopranos. That’s why I’m not going to look up the name of his character; I’d rather just think Harris has been reassigned to the redneck gun nut division.
  • The subdued ending, with Carrie and Dante sitting quietly outside a high school football field, can mean only one thing: they’re going to fall into bed together within two episodes.

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