A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“What the f***? What the f***ing f***?”
Yeah, that’s right. This phenomenal hour of Homeland was served with what might be the most obvious title in the history of espionage, but my goodness is that title forgiven considering the content of these fifty or so minutes. Easily one of the strongest indictments of American foreign policy ever put to television, There’s Something Else Going On practically bristles with tension in every frame. The centerpiece of the episode is the prisoner exchange, but the rest of the hour is so packed the actual exchange itself never feels like it’s taking up the entire episode. Nevertheless, everything else is basically related to that prisoner exchange, as it should be. So when we see Carrie crying and embracing Saul on that forlorn road, it truly means something. And perhaps more so than any other episode of Homeland this season or any other, the absolute futility of the War on Terror comes to light. It may be lost in conversation considering the final few minutes or so, but that sight of a ten-year-old child wearing a suicide vest was one of the most horrifying image this show has ever produced (and it’s produced a ton). What ultimately makes Homeland click and rise above so many of its peers is its ability to wallow in the quieter moments between characters and understand how f***ing complicated this world is. And a complicated world is a nightmare for a war that has dragged on for fourteen years, its current combatants being replaced with the next round and on and on and on.
Let’s get to Dennis, possibly the smiliest character on television right now – and that includes all animals who are actually slimy, by the way. The buildup to his final confession was absolutely brilliant, with the three most important figures in his life each trying to bamboozle the truth out of him in a distinct fashion. Redmond tried in a casual sort of way, just asking the questions as calmly one would ask about the weather. No luck. And then Carrie plays her card. In the most badass form we’ve seen her since Season 2, Carrie wastes no time in laying down the law before Dennis. Normally, this would be a lot more measured and evidence would be collected to press him, but with the timeline of Saul’s exchange ticking behind them, etiquette is the last thing in anyone’s mind. Within seconds, Carrie makes it clear that she has absolutely no problem in doing anything at all to get Dennis to talk. He remains remarkably stoic under the pressure of inevitable torture, his masculinity empowered by Tasneem’s fine tuning. Martha then storms in, telling Carrie she’s finished while carrying her husband out of the cell. For a second it seems like Martha is firmly on her husband’s side and then in a classic Homeland twist, it turns out that it’s basically the opposite. Just that alone got this episode an “A” grade and there’s more to come. It’s a great showpiece for Laila Robins, who finally gets to shine in all of badassery as Ambassador. She’s not going to be mowed over by a spineless ass of a husband. She tries to coax it out of him and when that doesn’t work, she has him bound and put into a cell.
As Homeland often manages to do well is to add a plethora of political commentary into its narrative. That intelligence is what often separates it from other shows. In no episode of this show are the writers afraid of openly questioning American foreign policy and Homeland is all the better for it and I’ll discuss just two of the commentaries that really struck me. The first instance is when Carrie is interrogating Dennis. Dennis is foolishly operating under the assumption that his status as the ambassador’s husband and an American citizen provides with him some sort of shield. Perhaps a time ago it did, but warfare has changed considerably in the twenty-first century, as noted by the plethora of drone strikes throughout the history of the series. If you are perceived as being a potential threat to national security, there is little that will protect you, even your American citizenship. Dennis finds another lifeline in the American repudiation of torture, which Carrie with a snarl declares to be a public declaration and not one of reality. If she truly wants to hurt and torture him until he spoke, there is absolutely nothing to stop her.
Haqqani and Co. film their propaganda video with a gagged Saul, promising more war against the infidel Americans. But in the midst of that terrible room lies a child, a child of ten years who has a suicide vest strapped onto his chest. And even Saul, the lovable man who has seemed so damn infallible, proves just to be as responsible in this geopolitical mess as anyone else. American foreign policy loves to operate within the confines of understanding only its own side and this seeming idea that it is, in fact, truly bonkers, that the world is split into good and evil. For this child, the gagged man in front of him is the image of the powerful state of American, whose grasp of power is slowly spilling about everywhere, a casualty of its utter recklessness. No one is safe from this power trip, not even Saul. During his tenure as the head of the CIA, which primarily lasted for the entirety of the third season, Saul was responsible for a drone strike that took out this child’s father and brother. The expression on Saul’s face is of realized horror and Mandy Patinkin plays it beautifully. The child has grown up with absolute hatred of America and an understanding that his greatest contribution in life would be to sacrifice his own life to take down the Western infidels. Later that evening the child is trying to go to bed, plagued by nightmares of what presumably the next morning will bring. But Saul, perhaps as atonement of some sort, calms the child down, telling him in Urdu that everything would be alright. The next morning, the child brings him tea. It’s a sweet scene, made horrifyingly chilling by the child being used as literal insurance on the road strip where the exchange takes place. Their connection is a somber one, aboutt to go to hell in a handbasket. And therein lies the ultimate problem for the War on Terror. The entire endeavor is ultimately pointless. Carrie has been knocking names off of a kill list so successfully that in many ways she’s become blind to the reality that when one generation of terrorists is blown up, another one simply takes its place. Drone strikes haven’t just wiped off jihadis off of the map. They’ve created new ones, rising amidst the rubble and piles of innocent civilians. Perhaps Carrie understands that when she stares in horror at the child about to blow himself and everyone else to bits, standing mere feet from her.
Before the exchange happens, Mira calls Carrie in understandable distraught. “I am begging you, don’t let him die,” she pleads quietly, distress permeating throughout every syllable. Carrie assures her that she was running the operation and not Lockhart. But it’s Carrie that Mira is worried about. “I’m talking about you,” she says quietly. “Carrie, you’ve become so good,” and in that moment Carrie breaks, somehow retaining her composure. Mira is perfectly aware of how expendable Saul is and if Carrie ultimately had to, she would kill him without a moment’s thought. And she’s right – Carrie almost bombed Saul a couple of episodes ago. And ultimately Mira has a point, expendability is a side note on the CIA contract, she’s certainly savvy enough to understand that. But with a final assurance to Mira, Carrie leaves, her heart heavy with guilt and determination. On a note about Carrie, this competent Carrie is easily my favorite aspect of the character, even though when she is manic she takes the plot into interesting directions. But she’s steely throughout the entire hour, having eyes out everywhere just in case because her guts (and basic logic) tell her that there’s something else going on. It’s brilliant espionage work and then the exchange sequence hits.
It’s a great set piece, full credit to the cast and crew for a bang up job. It begins with an unsettling scene of geographical positioning. Tasneem, brilliantly played by the amazing Nimrat Kaur, is one of the most brilliant people I have ever seen in espionage stories. She’s fanatically competent, and I have to acknowledge that (even if she is an antagonist). As a purely precautionary measure, she ensured that Khan was shut out of all the planning that went into the exchange. And the exchange confirmed that for her. With two simple glances from her eyes, she looked towards Khan and Carrie, arriving at presumably the conclusion that they’re working together. She shoots daggers at Carrie as subtly as possible, which Carrie deems nor worthy of response. At the airstrip, Saul refuses to get out of the van but he’s forced out anyway. But our beloved Saul isn’t done. He sits down on the tarmac stubbornly, refusing to move. A Taliban member brandishes the trigger to the child’s suicide vest. Carrie decides to move forward, crouching down next to Saul. And then Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin sign their names on Emmy nominations, if not the trophies themselves. Saul stubbornly refuses to move and Carrie tries to use the child bomber as a way for Saul to move. “He’s a child,” she whispered horrifyingly, glancing at his innocent face. “Do you know what you sound like?” she says in hushed terror. Saul still doesn’t relent and an angry Carrie, allowing tears to flow from her face, tries one more time to salvage the entire fucking operation. “Fourteen years and this is what’s it’s come to: asking a child to blow you up for f***ing what? This is not who you are. This is not who we are. No more dying. I want to go home.” Saul, hit hard by Carrie comparing him to the Taliban, turns numb as his protégé embraces him. Quietly she gets him to get up and they begin moving towards the Americans.
The convoys enter Islamabad after an operation that’s gone far too quietly for it to be Homeland. “It’s Mira,” Redmond says calmly, handing the cell phone to Saul. Saul breathes quietly, his face coming together as he puts the phone to his ear. “It’s me,” he says quietly and then the twist hits. Quite literally, in fact. The car in front of Carrie and Saul blows up right before they crash into it thunderously. As if that wasn’t enough, an RPG hits the convoy behind them. A thunderous plume of smoke rises in the beautiful Islamabad center. The CIA control room goes into full on panic mode as well as the embassy. Lockhart gets his titular dialogue with “What the f***? What the f***ing f***?” Yes, Lockhart, there you go. All the marines from the embassy are deployed, much to the ambassador’s confusion. “All of them?” she asks quizzically in a question that will soon enough haunt her. “Why not?” Lockhart bounces back as if a man on a mission. And Dennis, slimy Dennis, finally fesses up to his treason. His contact at the ISI was Tasneem and he told her about the tunnel underneath the embassy. She looks on him with an expression of disgust and horror before walking off with determination. At the closing moments of the episode, the camera pans over the wreckage before the embassy before going down into the tunnels, where Haqqani and his men are waiting in terrible repose.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Before the CIA, I’m asking you to remember normal life. I love him, Saul, my husband, and I believe you do, too.”
+“You are a traitor and I am the f***ing CIA.”
+“This is a matter of national security, you have no idea how much discretion that gives me. I’m authorized to kill U.S. citizens on the battle field, mother f—-r, don’t think I can’t do whatever is necessary.”
+“You poisoned me. I could have died out there. You think I’m gonna let you talk to a lawyer? SIT THE F*** DOWN.”
+The music was top notch this week
+Tasneem asking about Lockhart was a tantalizing clue
+Martha to Dennis: “How did we end up here?” Everyone’s asking that questions these days, aren’t they?
+The Prime Minister seems awfully resigned to let the prisoners go and with good reason. What else is going on there?
+I love how Carrie handles Saul’s glasses so carefully, like they’re a piece of him. And when Saul wears them, a resignation of determination envelopes his face.
Title: There’s Something Else Going On
Written By: Patrick Harbinson
Directed By: Seith Mann
Image Courtesy: IB Times