A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Homeland’s most unique asset outside of Claire Danes finally garnering that pivotal, career-defining role as Carrie Mathieson is its ability to age in ways one wouldn’t have expected. The first season remains one of the finest seasons in television history, the second bungled in the third act but was taut, and the third was a relative disaster that had folks writing off the series entirely as one that had risen quickly and faded even more slowly. The fourth and fifth seasons rocketed the series on the pathway to redemption but each one critically had a significantly different flavor. Season six so far has a decidedly different view of its own, including an opening credits sequence that once again has more spoilers in it than it is probably necessary. The first two episodes so far have been quite quiet, as if the show were sticking once more to the roots of John le Carré, but the second installment of the season has a decidedly stronger oomph to it. There isn’t any sort of literal explosion, although Homeland by this juncture has simply become quite adept at creating the tension that an explosion might literally happen at any juncture. It is episode two to note, but that hasn’t necessarily stopped the show in the past from careening ahead. While the espionage mechanics that are likely to reach a fever pitch at some point this season, for now the more subtle espionage mechanics and emotional arcs of the characters take precedence. That works quite excellently outside of one specific series of sequences, but even then the show’s heart is in the right place even though it ought to have listened to its head in that instance. Outside of that instance, however, there’s a sharpness to this season of Homeland that I find quite appealing, a sharpness that goes away from the occasional 24-style action sequences and towards the complex ramifications of fighting a war seeped in geopolitical machinations and ideological combativeness.
As Homeland ages, its reflections on the various segments of the War on Terror have been particularly interesting to see develop. Here, there is a prescient display of the distrust between the President-elect Keane and the intelligence community, although that distrust is for now based more on finding alternative geopolitical pathways than it is on, let’s say, “alternative facts.” That display of distrust cuts multiple ways, reveling in the episode’s greatest surprise. That Saul and Dar Adal are cutting different pathways in regards to how the CIA is going to function under a President Keane is hardly surprising, as Dar Adal has remained far more of a company man to his agency than anyone else. With Saul, the matter changes quite considerably. He appears in Carrie’s office and at first, the two seem to be relatively amicable, if painfully polite. Then Saul drops the jugular on Carrie, noting that he believes that she is secretly advising the President-elect because they have a mutual friend in Otto. Carrie is understandably incredulous and when Saul suggests a thinly-veiled threat to expose her supposed collaboration, Carrie’s righteous indignation is wonderful to behold. The twist that Carrie is indeed advising the President-elect is a fantastic one, working so well in part because Claire Danes made Carrie’s anger so believable. Dar Adal knows as much, but he keeps the evidence of Carrie’s collaboration a secret from Saul, no doubt waiting to use the information to gain some maximum impact from a man who continues to have a fairly terrible track record of reading people. Carrie’s advising is worthwhile, however, as the question of whether Iran is really cheating on its nuclear deal comes up. It is Israeli intelligence, she notes, so to buy their word on Iran would be foolish but to not follow up on the report at all wouldn’t be much better. She suggests that Saul ought to be the person charging up the investigation as the Iran deal was his personal brainchild. That naturally only breeds more suspicion in Dar Adal’s mind that the mentor and protégée are closer together than they appear. The organic nature of that breeding conflict adds a wonderfully complex layer to the whole affair.
Carrie Mathison has been a tough character in several ways, displaying almost single-handedly several meanings of what “tough” actually means. That toughness is almost exclusively reserved for white men, white men that have formed the age of antihero. Arguably the most famed was Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, but recent years have given the audience more white male antiheroes, the most famed of which are arguably Don Draper of Mad Men and Walter White of Breaking Bad. They are difficult but admirable. Carrie and other female protagonists are hardly ever afforded a similar luxury. It’s commendable that in spite of its flaws, Homeland is thoroughly committed to its “difficult” female protagonist, even going to the lengths of making her extremely unlikable as the Drone Queen of the fourth season. More so than Carrie’s antiheroine status, I appreciate the show’s commitment to Carrie’s bipolar disorder and knowing that that disorder simply doesn’t just go away. Often mental disorders are used as nothing more than a plot device, a punching bag for the narrative to move along. Here, although to be quite fair, the show has played up Carrie’s bipolar disorder for narrative effect, there is an understanding that is rarely displayed on screen. Carrie’s insistence at several junctures that it’s necessary for her to go off of her medication is an understandable thought because that relative calmness she may have at other times may seem to be an obstacle. Even when in this season Carrie looks to be at her most stable (this being Homeland, that won’t last long), she doesn’t turn into an individual who has lost all traces of her mental disorder. It’s there, it impacts her relationships and thusly her life; at times to a considerable extent. There’s an honesty there that is commendable. When Carrie confronts Sekou’s friend in spite of the advice she garners to do the opposite, she’s displaying a mixture of all of the aspects of Carrie that have arrived up until this juncture and there’s a truly impressive consistency of character there.
Quinn as a character ought to have died at the end of the last season, preferably with a better character arc attached. I realize that I may look upon these words with an understanding that I was perhaps being plain silly at this juncture, but Quinn’s journey is giving me far too many shades of the drug-addled Nicholas Brody in the Tower of David for my taste. Brody ought to have died at the end of season two preferably, with his redemption arc gone wrong, but the show held onto him for longer than it needed to and I would hate for the show to repeat that mistake, which may be fatal this time around. But his final scene with Carrie was so touching, that it gives me hope that the show runners have learned from their Brody mistakes and have given Quinn’s survival enough thought to perhaps where my reservations could be proven wrong. He’s sitting quietly in the dark, at first perhaps reminiscing on the seizure that he had suffered from in front of Max. As Carrie approaches him gingerly, reflecting on her relative clusterfuck of a day, he asks her a fairly loaded question: “Why?” Carrie blinks back the infamous tears in her eyes and repeats the question with an emotional incredulity attached. In a sharp move for the episode, she shows him the viral video of him being gassed by extremists to perhaps jog the memory in his mind of what actually happened to him. He processes that event quietly, his eyes taking in the images of his extreme convulsions in perhaps the most understated manner possible. Max notes to Carrie that Quinn has something for her and that creates an additional difficulty for him to overcome when the matter of her presence becomes involved (there’s undoubtedly some traditional male machismo at play here, which is obnoxious to say the least). Carrie feels something for him, too, something that she perhaps realizes more than he does would work out in a traditional couple setting for about four weeks or so. As that relationship makes these circumstances considerably difficult, it’s also the thing that can help create that sense of a genuine emotional connection that can perhaps help heal Quinn going forward. That final scene is beautifully acted, crackling with an emotional gamut of incredible depth. Carrie then quietly walks out into her darkening hallways, turning the last light off with a snip.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+I appreciate the complexity that Sekou’s case is receiving. I don’t know what direction that storyline will take, but it’s more complex than I thought it would be
+“She’s a novice.”
+“That’s a reliable source.”
Episode Title: The Man in the Basement
Written by: Chip Johannessen
Directed by: Keith Gordon
Image Courtesy: EW
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