Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Homeland: “Gerontion”

Illustration for article titled Homeland: “Gerontion”

Goddamn Nicholas Brody. Seriously. I don’t care about him anymore. Whatever I care about in this season of Homeland—which is admittedly built on a shaky, flimsy foundation—is entirely extraneous from the continued existence of Nicholas Brody. In discussing this episode with my wife immediately after watching the screener, she pointed out a number of interesting directions the “Carrie tries to exonerate Brody” storyline could head in, including the one I suspect will turn out to be the case. (She believes Javadi is using Carrie’s Achilles’ heel to set her up and/or punish his lawyers, perhaps to get back at Saul, in the former case, and just to be a dick in the latter case.) And I’ll admit my interest perked up a bit at the notion of how even if Brody wasn’t involved in the bombing directly, he still might have passed off his keys with the tacit knowledge of what was going to happen. That might be interesting.

But seriously. I’m so over Brody, and the notion that the last half of this season is going to bring that particular storyline—not to mention the idea of hashing over whether Brody is guilty or innocent yet again—just has me nauseated, even as I’m convinced this is going to be a chance to exonerate Brody somehow, so that he can keep being on the show, but now with all of the mystery sapped out of his character. Homeland hasn’t been perfect this season, not by a long shot, but what it has done in the last few episodes is shown us a version of the show without Brody that could work quite well once the series is out from under the weight of that particular storyline. The bond between Carrie and Saul and the way the show is picking it apart and examining it make for a relationship that’s at once fascinating and more sustainable as a TV series than the Carrie and Brody teenage fuckfest was. I don’t know what this show looks like with Brody in it anymore, and just this plot point rearing its head all over again—when I already knew it would have to at some point—made me react more negatively to the episode as a whole than I probably should have.

On the whole, “Gerontion” was a bit plodding, but it continued the show’s slow, slow course correction in ways that should have gotten me more interested in the direction of the series going forward. The scenes between Saul and Javadi were as intriguing and well-handled as you might want them to be, given that they featured two really great actors just doing their thing. The scenes where Carrie and Quinn work to cover up Javadi’s involvement in the murder of his ex-wife and daughter-in-law were a solid B-story for the show and nicely underlined the season’s growing critique of the national security state’s effects on its employees. The themes were highlighted a little too heavily for my tastes—hell, Quinn says them point blank toward episode’s end—and we watched Fara grab a scissors in close-up, just for the sake of having suspense in a scene that didn’t really need suspense, but the bulk of this episode was a good piece-moving episode. Hell, the Brody family even sat this one out, and I know that will make some of you happy.

If I have a major complaint about this other part of the episode, it’s that Senator Lockhart is just a cartoon villain at this point. I feel like we don’t know anything about him at all, so all he exists to do is stand between the characters and their goals this season, folding his arms and making a smug face when they try to, say, embed an operative deep within the Iranian government. Like, I can understand his qualms with what Saul is trying to do intellectually—in that it’s sort of insane that Saul expects this all to work out exactly as he wants (though I wouldn’t quibble with Saul’s godlike powers at this point, exactly)—but in the execution of that idea, it just comes off as him being petty to be petty, and that’s rarely the way you want an antagonist to act on a show like this. The problem with this storyline is that Saul is proven right, again and again and again, so Lockhart’s opposition to him, while intellectually reasonable if you force yourself to think about things from his point of view, seems pointless to us because we’ve just met this guy, and he was introduced to us as an antagonist. Of course we’re going to side with Saul.

A lot of the stuff that’s happening this season feels to me like a fairly common danger for shows that reach their third or fourth seasons. In those seasons, the writers assume the viewers of a series are familiar enough with the show and its world to be able to delve into some more psychologically or emotionally complex territory than they could at the start. But the problem is that for as much as the audience or critics might dissect a show, they’re never going to dissect it as much as the writers already are, so intellectual and psychological nuances the writers believe are making it from the screen to the audience are often left in the gap between the writers’ conceptualizations and the viewers’ limited scope of understanding. Think, for instance, of the way that The Sopranos bumped up against this in its third and fourth seasons, especially, when it was trying to show the audience why Tony was worthy of condemnation, and the audience mostly wanted to celebrate him (at least at the time; the show got much better at convincing the audience of his depravity as it went along, and now, with that knowledge, it’s much easier to read into those middle seasons).

That’s some of what’s happening here, I think. The writers probably have this whole complicated rationale for why Lockhart behaves the way he does, but it’s just not making it off the screen, where he’s playing as just a goofy villain who needs to be locked in a conference room when he tries to alert the president to what’s up with Javadi. Similar things are happening with the storyline about public and political perceptions of the CIA in the wake of the Langley bombing, which feel more like academic dissertations on how people might think about the CIA if such a thing happened. Some of you have been pointing out all of the ways that the Dana storyline elegantly echoes what has happened to both her father and Carrie, and you’re absolutely right. But it all has the feeling of a late-night bull session in the writers’ room, where everybody talks about the characters and gets really deep into what they’re feeling and forgets to let the audience in on the joke.


This also explains some of the after-effects of the twist, which the show is now frantically trying to backfill, perhaps having realized somewhere along the line that the whole thing might play as just a little ridiculous. I just keep wondering what would have happened if the first scene of the season had been Saul and Carrie talking out what they were trying to do, and then literally everything else had played out as it did. That would have eliminated the multiple readings the writers evidently intended us to have for some of the early episodes in the wake of the twist, but that’s already happened for many viewers, simply because the twist ended up making what emotional investment they believed themselves to have in the early going feel cheap and hollow. And I can’t help but think it would have made many of the later scenes—Carrie’s first contact with the lawyer, her breakdown over seeing Saul testify against her, etc.—feel that much richer in emotional and psychological terms. And it certainly would have helped underline the season’s major thematic arc of the cost of this work on the agents, as we watched Carrie go through everything she did at the behest of the one man she still thought she could trust. (As a bonus, it might have made the pregnancy thing play less shittily, because it wouldn’t have felt so much like yet another twist.)

If there’s one thread I’m clinging to this season, one throughline that’s keeping me from writing this all off as a botch of a season and a series that never had the guts to truly reinvent itself, it’s the way the show is interrogating the character of Saul Berenson. Saul’s presence as the paternal center of the CIA is no longer a given within the show’s universe, and the more that characters like Javadi—unreliable narrators, sure, but more or less accurate in what they’re saying—poke at who he is and what he does, the more we realize that the cost of so-called “human intelligence” is very, very high, particularly for someone like Carrie. I sort of feel like the show has rushed Quinn’s character arc to get him to the point where he’s actively questioning the point of what the CIA is doing—remember when he was a super-cool, bad-ass assassin? Yeah, that was like half a year ago in show time—but it’s nice to have a more reliable pole placed opposite Saul’s calm certainty in the righteousness of what he’s doing to say that, no, Saul has completely lost his mind in basically letting justice for a brutal double murder slide because he thinks he can somehow completely change the way the game is played in the Middle East.


Saul’s grand plan for what he’s trying to do is another of those things that’s more interesting intellectually, rather than emotionally, but at least it dovetails nicely with all of the other things the show is doing both with and to Saul. The man doesn’t really trust Javadi, and he has no way to know that what he’s doing will work. (He thinks he can control him, but Saul has had a tendency this season of pushing pieces around and assuming he’s the only person playing the game while forgetting he has opponents.) But he has to take this blind jump out into the unknown because it’s the only play he believes himself to have left. Saul’s need to have everything in its safely positioned little box extends even to his marriage, which he seemed almost ready to give up on last week, only to return to a place where he wants to be with Mira in this week’s episode, even as Mira has slept with Alain.

Plus, the episode’s entitled “Gerontion,” which is the title of a poem by T.S. Eliot told from the point of view of an old man who realizes he’s wasted his life. That’s the constant refrain of the scenes between Saul and Javadi, which are all really strong scenes. (Now I kind of just want to see a show about old guy spies. Maybe the whole team that makes this show should just make that next year instead of season four.) Shaun Toub is playing Javadi as the kind of man who can commit murder, sure, but also can sit and have a perfectly reasonable conversation with a former compatriot about the follies of their youth, and he’s a great match for Mandy Patinkin, who’s playing Saul as a man who instantly regrets the things he’s about to do, then does them anyway, and is making that feel remarkably consistent with the Saul we once knew, which makes it all the easier to read this Saul back over the old one. “Here I am, an old man in a dry month” begins Eliot’s poem, and it’s all too easy to hear that phrase in every shot of Patinkin’s warm but increasingly strained face. He’s taking this one stab at completely changing the board, at throwing all of the pieces off of it, but even as Javadi leaves the safe house, he’s already playing everyone around him. Espionage, like everything else, relies on people, and it’s difficult to make plans when people, unpredictable, complicated people, are at the center of them.


Anyway, I just don’t know. I still like a lot of this show, and I am interested to see how this Javadi plot sorts itself out, particularly the more involved Saul is in its center. And even as Carrie increasingly gets relegated to B stories, I did like watching her and Quinn realize just what he would have to do to quiet the police investigation around the murder and the scene where Quinn admits to the murder and lets Clark Johnson (whose police officer character should absolutely return sometime) think him an absolute animal. But there’s just so much that’s dumb, and now Carrie’s going to try to exonerate Brody with Quinn’s help, and I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. This is all mostly good, yes, and I hope my grade reflects that, but good Lord, my faith in this show is just about shot.

Stray observations:

  • I really do wish the show had cut from that close-up of Fara’s hand grabbing the scissors to her cutting something out of construction paper for an art project. Her strained anger at the thought of Javadi returning to his country was a million times more effective than any close-up could have been.
  • While I outlined all of the ways that Saul probably shouldn’t have too much hope he can solve the Middle East by returning Javadi to it under his control, it is so very Saul to try to fix all of this by trying to put right something that went wrong back in the late ‘70s that he was directly involved in.
  • I had hoped the show would mostly ignore Carrie’s pregnancy for a few weeks, so I wouldn’t have to think about it, but, no, she got morning sickness at the crime scene. (I suppose those who don’t want to believe that she’s pregnant could think she’s just sickened by the sight of what she helped cover up, and I’d like to be out there with you guys, but man, I just don’t trust this show to not have a Brody baby.)
  • Next week’s episode is called “A Red Wheelbarrow.” Somebody completed a class in poetry one semester, it would seem.
  • Okay, another thing I liked about this week’s episode: I love how slippery Dar Adal is. Either that or I’ve just made peace with it. His immediate sucking up to Saul after the operation was a success made me much more interested in seeing what his ultimate game is.
  • And, okay, it was pretty funny when Saul made it impossible to see into or out of the conference room so Lockhart would just be stuck in there.
  • Number of people who work at the CIA this week: Six. It would seem Saul hired a secretary.