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

Homeland: “Shalwar Kameez”

Illustration for article titled Homeland: “Shalwar Kameez”

I’m not convinced that Homeland’s titles make sense anymore, but I’m interested enough in tonight’s title, “Shalwar Kameez,” to make a stab at an interpretation. A shalwar kameez is a Punjabi outfit for either men or women (though primarily women in my experience), worn all through the Indian subcontinent—including, of course, Pakistan. “Shalwar” refers to the pants, “kameez” to the top (it’s the same root word as “chemise”). There’s a third item, a long scarf-type thing, that is optional, which is why it’s not in the name.

No one in this episode wears a shalwar kameez—not Aayan, not Fara, not Carrie, when she makes herself an impromptu headscarf. But it’s a two-part garment, and one doesn’t really work without the other. I think Homeland is setting up Quinn and Carrie’s working relationship to be two parts of the same whole; they work better together. Though I guess you could wear the component parts alone, no one really does.

It is a lot to spring unrequited love on an audience three episodes into a shaky fourth season—one that is desperately trying to find its way without another love interest who just died. I talked to a few critics who disliked the episode, and Mo Ryan at The Huffington Post offered me her take: Trying to shoehorn a new romance into the show smacks of trying to recreate Quinn into Brody 2.0. The writing team isn’t doing something new and different—it’s scrambling to create the same dynamic that made the show successful. She added:

Look back at season-one reviews of Homeland—it was not, ”Hey everyone, we love this show that is about doomed romance,” it was more, “What is connection and truth in a surveillance society? How can these damaged people with major trust issues find meaning or just relief in a world full of conflicting information?”

Mo is definitely right, I’m not even going to pretend to disagree with that. When it comes to structure and pacing and common sense, there is something terribly desperate about introducing the notion not only that Quinn and Carrie might be a thing but that Quinn is harboring some kind of secret love for her, in a show that is typically gritty and gray—that’s a romance-novel plot, and not a terribly original one, at that. The show was guilty of this in season two, when it started spinning the Brody/Carrie romance into some kind of star-crossed lovers’ narrative. This is not a show that is primarily about romance, and when it starts to move in that direction, it loses its nuance. The third season succeeded when it let Brody and Carrie’s relationship become complicated (again), and it wouldn’t let that happen until the very last episode, “The Star.”

But as someone who has been watching Peter Quinn slowly grow and develop on the margins of Homeland, I loved this development. I admit that my excitement for doomed romance and complicated spy plots might be more than most—and I’m not going to deny that the sudden revelation of Quinn’s feelings is almost too romantic to be believed. But from my point of view, Homeland is a show about the increasingly complicated layers of international espionage—and the mostly broken people who practice it. What this week offers is a glimpse into the life of one more broken person: Peter Quinn, who we’ve seen disintegrating for quite a while now.


I think where I differ from the most obvious interpretation of the episode is that I’m pushing back on the idea that Quinn is secretly in love with Carrie. I think he is feeling something, privately, yes. I think he has a weakness for caring for Carrie, or disproportionate affection for her, sure. But based on his reactions in this episode, it seems like this bias towards Carrie is news to him, too. And he seems just as upset about it as the toughest critic of this storyline might be—going so far as attempting to quit his job several times, throwing his cell phone into the pool, taking up with another woman, manhandling a whole bunch of different people, and oh yeah, drinking and replaying the YouTube videos of Sandy’s abduction and murder over and over again.

Fara reminds us that the best operations are 90 percent true—and that’s what stuck with me when thinking about the plausibility or value of Carrie and Quinn having some kind of established romantic relationship. Mo, and a few other critics I spoke to, observed to me that if the show had built up to the relationship, it would feel more earned. But from my point of view—because I’ve been assuming Quinn and Carrie are headed for a relationship ever since he showed up—there’s something more appealing about admitting the obvious, the 90 percent, and then letting the part that isn’t settled yet resolve itself in time. Even if Quinn had no romantic feelings for Carrie, his cronies at the CIA would assume there was something there, because they lived, and Sandy didn’t. So it made perfect sense to me, bringing that out into the open—admitting what we all know to be true already.

Illustration for article titled Homeland: “Shalwar Kameez”

There is something very powerful about undeniable truths—those desires that can’t really be changed, even if they can be controlled. But there’s also something really painful about them, and it’s mostly the pain that I found myself focusing on. It’s not that the relationship is interesting because it’s romantic—I’m finding myself drawn to the dynamic between Quinn and Carrie because it’s complicated. And because despite its other flaws, Homeland has paid a lot of attention to the way these two characters are growing, whatever dynamic Quinn and Carrie have and are developing is pretty different from what she had with Brody. Perhaps Brody was also a war-scarred veteran, but Brody was always a terrorist—always married—always totally unattainable. Quinn is, by contrast, so much more available that it probably hasn’t even crossed Carrie’s mind to be into him. They’re both more comfortable on the (totally terrifying) job than at home with their respective kids; they certainly know each other by now, way more than Brody and Carrie ever did.


And as far as the timing of this revelation goes—three episodes into the season, therefore defining what the season is going to be about—I want to say, optimistically, that more than romance, this season is going to be about trauma. Unpacking, specifically, the trauma of that first episode, with both the airstrike that killed 40 people at a wedding and the mob that attacked Carrie, Sandy, and Quinn in Islamabad. And trying to solve the mystery at the center of that trauma.

Plus—and I do think this is pretty important—it is not like Carrie is going to have any interest whatsoever in Quinn’s feelings for her right now. It’s unlikely that Quinn is going to bring it up; they’re probably going to sleep together well before he admits to caring about her, and even if and when that happens—Carrie seems to have little to no space for empathy for another human being right now. That’s part of Quinn’s total disenchantment with himself—Carrie could not care less about him, mired as she is in her own shit.


What’s missing from this story is how this complicated relationship comes to bear on international relations. Maybe it doesn’t, except that both parties are going to be working to dismantle a case in Islamabad.

But it is telling, I think, that little seeds of inconvenient attraction are being sewn all over Islamabad—Max’s open adoration of Fara; Fara’s attempt to seduce Aayan; Carrie’s inadvertent (or maybe deliberate? It was really difficult to parse that scene) sexual tension with Aayan. Even Saul comes to the embassy and reconnects with an old flame. I’m willing to believe that Homeland has a story it wants to tell about sexual energy coinciding with hunting down terrorists. The story of the first few seasons seemed to be that the intimacy of catching a terrorist tangled with the intimacy of falling in love. Maybe this is the logical extension of that same idea.


Or? Maybe this is all going to hell in a handbasket. I’m definitely reading this episode optimistically, based partly on my own faith in the actors and what I’ve enjoyed from the show so far. What I can attest to is my own reaction, and it was that the end of “Shalwar Kameez” had be more intrigued and excited about what happens next on Homeland than anything I’ve seen in the past season and more. That is a good thing, even if I don’t know yet how the execution will play out.

Stray observations:

  • Goodbye, Quinn’s building manager whose name was so rarely said as to be basically nonexistent. You were a cool character—and for real, this back and forth between you and Quinn reveal so much of his fractured mental state:

“You don’t know what you heard or didn’t hear, do you understand?”
“Jesus, Peter, you’re scaring me.”
“You should be scared. These people do not fuck around.”
“What I wanted to say to you is that nobody should have to go through what you went through. Nobody. And if that guy shows up here again, I’d say it to his face.”
“I’d like to see that. I really would.”

  • “She was your fiancee?” “For about two minutes. A hundred years ago.”
  • “Tyranny of secrets.” “Tyranny of keeping them.”
  • Carrie’s method of de-escalation with Ayaan in the bathroom—shushing him against a totally fake threat—is both brilliant and deviously terrible. This poor kid.
  • “You won’t ever see me again if you don’t want to. But you should want to.”
  • Okay, I tried to make the most non-’shipper argument for why Carrie and Quinn might make sense together. But this exchange just made my heart turn over, possibly because I am history’s greatest monster: “Shit, Carrie, you know you’re the hardest person in the world to say no to.” “God, I fucking love you Quinn, you know that, don’t you.” “…Yeah.” [Quinn blankly stares into space.]
  • As you may already know, I’m leaving The A.V. Club at the end of this week, so this is my last review of Homeland here. Josh Modell will be taking over weekly coverage of the show, starting next Sunday. Thank you all for reading!