A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Homeland is back, and back in style. Season 3 suffered a lot from odd plot twists and a loss of emotional plausibility. But with the hanging by crane of Nicholas Brody, the show came back with a clean slate. There is a ton of critical baggage that is throwing its hands up and screaming that Homeland will never be Season 1 again. And that’s true, in a sense. Homeland will never again be Season 1 and I don’t mean that as a detriment. Homeland began with a tug of war between Carrie and Brody and half of that pair is now dead, remembered largely by his specter and a hand-drawn star on the CIA wall. That tug of war between two damaged people is gone, no matter the presence of Quinn and Aayan. Season 4 has the potential to be a great, great season that matches the first in quality, but with a different focus and a different narrative. I don’t need to see another individual with whom Carrie has a tug and war relationship. That happened once and I don’t find the necessity of them to replicate that. We can no longer consistently expect dizzying tension between two broken, powerful forces but there is a vapidity in expecting that Season 4 can’t create genius tension as its own and that Carrie can’t have tense relationships with multiple individuals. The Carrie chapter of Brody is now closed and while he is certainly still relevant in many ways, it’s time for Homeland and its characters to move on. And by the looks of the first two episodes, they have.
The premiere goes back into the goldmine of espionage drama that stems from drone strikes. It was relevant in Season 1 and it certainly has become all the more so in Season 4. The plot that opens the season stems from a drone strike that is dropped to kill a Pakistani Taliban leader by the name of Hassan Haqqami. The Taliban leader is successfully killed – along with forty civilians who were attending a wedding. The entire sequence of the drone strike being commanded is chilling in how calm it seems, how detached Carrie seems from the screen itself. To Carrie’s credit, she doesn’t rush ahead to commit the strike itself. She’s concerned about the lack of time to independently verify the intel she got from Islamabad Station Chief Sandy Bachman. But his intel has been so remarkably good Carrie goes with it. “It’s playtime,” someone says, signaling the drone strike. It’s like playing a video game, how they just watch the target be blown up on a giant screen. Except in this case, there is no regeneration with a press of a button.
It is no surprise the episode is edited between Carrie plugging in all of her senses to stave away the reality of what had happened and a scrambling team of Pakistani civilians scrambling through the wreckage, hauling out the dead bodies. For the political establishment, it’s an absolute nightmare, although certainly not more so than the people living on the ground, looking at the cloudy skies and thankful for the drones only come when the skies are clear. The American ambassador to Pakistan, Martha Boyd, is absolutely furious at the drone strike, noting how the footage of the wedding blowing up is turning an already unstable relationship between Washington and Islamabad into something far more tenuous. “We used to have seven names on our kill list after 9/11,” she noted, her face contorted with introspection, “now we have more than two thousand.” I look forward to seeing much more of her.
There was a lone survivor from the drone attack. A young medical school student, Aayan, was filming the wedding festivities with an iPhone before the bombs hit. He’s gripped by grief and terror. He knows that he will become entangled in a political web if the video is released. He’s furious at America for what the bombs did to his family, but he has an understanding that becoming entangled in the byzantine politics of it all wasn’t going to help anyone. His roommate seals that bit of moral dilemma, helping release the video. The CIA’s bombing of a wedding has gone viral, quickly garnering more than half a million hits. He’s a celebrity now. Indeed, this episode of Homeland does a great job at humanizing the conflict, using Aayan as a character that represents the toll drone strikes takes on the people who live under their shadow.
Saul is back with his magnificent beard, is settling into his role in the private sector uncomfortably. It’s a superlative job, but he misses the CIA. Mira, naturally, does not. Saul actually has office hours now. His chastisement of the Afghanistan war policy is a startling one. He laments the complete lack of thoughtful planning that went into the war. “We never planned for a fourteen-year long war,” he notes as everyone around the table looks at him in shock, “we planned for a one-year war. Likewise, we haven’t been fighting a 14-year-war. We’ve been fighting a one-year war fourteen times.” Never change, Saul. Never change.
The mystery charge of the episode relates to Sandy. Despite him remaining somewhat calm and claiming that the whole wedding is a publicity stunt by the Pakistani government, Sandy is naturally worried. His asset that had been giving him such perfect information is now responsible for coordinates that killed forty civilians. As Carrie and Quinn reconnect at Benazir Bhutto International Airport, the news begins to flash Sandy’s photo as the man responsible for the drone’s misfire. Carrie and Quinn run from the airport, frantically calling Sandy. Corey Stoll is great, but none more so than during the moment when he realizes that his cover is blown. He runs out into the street, climbing quickly into Carrie and Quinn’s car. It’s a terrifically suspenseful sequence that had me at the absolute edge of my seat. Quinn fires multiple times into the crowd as they shatter through the windows. Sandy’s pulled from the car, beaten to death as Carrie and Quinn drive away, horrified.
Carrie and Quinn arrive outside the ambassador’s office, Homeland cleanly establishing the differences between the two going forward. Carrie’s cold and detached while Quinn’s reeling from the effects his mercenary existence is beginning to have on him. It’s clear that Carrie’s going on the path Quinn has gone down and he’s trying to stop her before she gets to where he is at that moment. Carrie storms into the building, giving Quinn five minutes in the car to calm down. As she thunders into the building, a woman points out that she had blood on her face. In the episode’s best scene, director Lesli Linka Glatter’s camera follows Carrie walking into the restroom. She scrubs the blood off of her face, her features sharpening as she did so. After she is sure that all of the blood has been wiped off of her face, she takes out a red lipstick, applying it upon her lips as if the blood had never existed. But we can still see it.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Carrie still downing pills with a white wine chaser. Certain traditions must be kept alive.
+The shots of the bodies of all the bombing victims
+“A wedding has turned into a funeral pyre.”
+Saul and Mira have a badass apartment. It’s full of class, grace, and all the material comfort I’m shallow enough to enjoy, I admit it.
+Private contractors getting more government contracts to spare oversight and expense
+Bradley James!!!! It was great to see him, even if his appearance in the episode ended with him calling Carrie a monster and she telling him to get the **** out of her face.
+A drone strike earlier
+Corey Stoll is becoming the new Sean Bean.
+I’m loving how much they’re emphasizing the role
+The mystery of Sandy’s contact is a great one to begin the season with.
Title: The Drone Queen
Written By: Alex Gansa
Directed By: Lesli Linka Glatter
Image Courtesy: Christian Post