"Homeland" recap: A surprise reunion takes the season to a new place

A big twist makes this week's episode better than last -- but does it make any sense?

Published October 21, 2013 12:30PM (EDT)


This week’s episode of "Homeland" closed with a twist ending that qualified as both intriguing and confusing, adjectives that also applied to a few other things that happened this week on "Homeland." And yes, those few other things that happened do include Dana Brody’s epic journey to Trader Joe’s.

“Game On” was clearly a vast improvement over last week’s installment, aka Brody Boredom Fest 2013, aka the worst episode of "Homeland" ever, aka la catástrofe en Caracas. Some of what happened in Sunday’s episode, particularly the reveal about the nature of the Saul-Carrie relationship, may have been challenging to process. But at least it wasn’t dull. And slightly illogical but not dull qualifies as a return to "Homeland" form as far as I am concerned.

So let’s get right to the Saul-Carrie business since it’s undoubtedly top of mind for most viewers. After nearly three episodes of watching Carrie Mathison trapped inside the mental ward at the behest of Saul and the CIA, then watching her agree to work with the shadowy law firm/lobbyist representing Iranian interests, we learned at episode’s conclusion that she and Saul have been working together all along. Or at least some of the time. This is the part where things get confusing.

“It worked, Saul,” Carrie said, describing how she was taken to see Bennett, the man who apparently represents Majid Javadi, alleged mastermind of the Langley bombings and massive soccer fan. She also told Saul that she arranged for a face-to-face meeting with Javadi: “I did it just like you said.”

Clearly Carrie’s status as an unstable, well-connected agent with a massive grudge against the CIA served to lure Bennett and his client to Carrie, who will in turn lure that client into an undercover operation designed to finally catch the terrorist behind the CIA bombing. All of this lays the foundation for one of those tense, “it all comes down to this” episodes, like the finale of Season 1 or “In Memoriam” from Season 2, the sort of nail-biters that "Homeland" does so well. But there’s an important, lingering question about the evidently well-executed plan that Carrie and Saul appear to have carried out solo: At what point were Carrie and Saul officially in cahoots? As soon as Carrie arrived at Saul’s house in this episode, trust had clearly been restored between them. So when, exactly, did that happen?

One possible, albeit incredible to the point of possibly rupturing the space-time continuum, explanation is that everything that occurred between Carrie and Saul so far this season -- right down to her upscale restaurant tantrum and the slurry “Fuck you” she directed at him during his visit to the hospital -- was pure show, and that both of them knew they were working together toward a common goal all along. That theory requires the viewer to suspend logic on so many fronts -- to accept that Carrie would go off her meds, be shocked and upset by Saul’s testimony before that Senate committee, make a scene in the newsroom of a major media outlet and set herself up to be hospitalized on purpose -- that it seems completely ludicrous. Another possibility is that Carrie and Saul made some sort of arrangement later in that “F you” conversation. But given how heavily medicated Carrie was at the time, that wouldn’t entirely make sense either. Even if she would agree to such a long con while drugged up and super-ticked at Saul, it’s hard to believe she’d remember all the details. I can barely remember all the details in "Homeland," and I watch it on no drugs, while taking copious notes.

My best guess is that another conversation took place between them, sometime after the events of Episode 2 and before the events of Episode 3, and that’s when the agreement was made. That would explain why Carrie was so eager to please her superiors in the psych ward during last week’s episode, and so fixated on the possibility that Saul was communicating with her.

The fact that so much analysis is required to figure this out proves that the Carrie-Saul twist would have been a much more satisfying moment if it didn’t immediately raise so many questions regarding both plot and character motivation. A really great “Aha!” moment should be just that: an immediate “Aha!” for the viewer in which all the pieces obviously fall into place, even if the dialogue doesn’t spell out every detail. Instead the ending of this episode was more of an “Ah -- wait a minute. What?” And that diffused some of its power as a truly well-developed turn of events.

Also, even though Carrie may have been a willing participant in this plan, she seems weaker right now than she’s ever seemed before, which is disheartening. She was just committed against her will by her own employer, yet she’s still helping the team, putting herself at extreme risk at a time when she’s recovering, vulnerable and, also, for the record, still not on the best of terms with the members of that Senate committee. This isn’t the first time she’s crawled back to the CIA to take more abuse, so she should be well beyond the “fool me once” stage at this point.

The fact that Saul is using her to get what he needs on Javadi doesn’t necessarily speak well of him either. Obviously he’s still playing Dar Adal so that his right-hand Machiavelli won’t realize that Saul and Carrie are working their own off-book operation. The only people who seem to know what Saul and Carrie are up to are Saul and Carrie.

But if Carrie’s work leads to Javadi’s capture -- if he utilizes her to “strip him down to the studs” -- I wonder if Saul will credit Carrie for her work or just bask in the glory himself and leave her under the proverbial bus he swore he would never use to run her over. I’d like to think he would do the former, but his behavior so far this season has made him really hard to pin down. Consider that nasty tirade toward Fara and her headscarf from a couple of episodes ago: Did Saul say all that to motivate Fara, or is there a blackness in his heart post-bombing that makes him less likely to do the right thing? Is Saul Berenson the Saul Berenson we all thought we knew in Seasons 1 and 2, or is he just smoke and mirrors that make him merely resemble a bearded teddy bear of a man who can fix everything with a nice cup of tea?

Speaking of tea, you know who sells a nice variety of teas? Trader Joe’s. Perhaps Dana could have purchased some -- their chamomile is quite nice -- if that’s where she actually had been going when she took her mother’s car. Instead, she picked up Leo, ran away, let Leo throw her cellphone out the window despite the fact that several compromising selfies are stored on it, traded in her mother’s car and apparently decided to live life romantically on the lam, like Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in "Natural Born Killers" or Romeo and Juliet if Romeo and Juliet had driven around in a Toyota.

I know that many people have found the Dana Brody subplot annoying. As I said in a previous recap, I haven’t been quite as irritated, only because I find the notion of exploring what happens to the family of an accused terrorist a worthwhile plot track to pursue. In this episode, for example, the accusatory tone Leo’s parents felt entitled to take with Jess was compelling. The meandering, supposedly meaningful conversations that took place between Dana and Leo, however, were not. And once Jess and Mike realized that Leo may have been responsible for his brother’s death, the whole thing turned absurd.

Let’s just summarize, for a second. Last season, Dana dated a guy who committed involuntary vehicular manslaughter. This season, she’s dating a possible murderer. In the interest of equal time, shouldn’t Chris Brody get to go to the movies with the daughter of a serial killer or something?

Naturally, we don’t know yet that Leo killed anyone. The fact that Mike and Jess are suspicious of him is a semi-subtle commentary on how easy it is for even those being unfairly judged to immediately pass judgment on others. But considering that Sam Underwood previously played a killer on "Dexter," there may be a little inside-Showtime suggestiveness at work that hints he’s more dangerous than previously assumed. (Although if his parents put him in rehab to avoid charges by the D.A., wouldn’t the cops investigating his disappearance have thought there was something more to his escape than just “hormones”?)

I don’t want Dana Brody to die, or engage in any kind of suicide pact, or be harmed in any way. But if she is, it seems fair to assume Brody will fight a little harder to get the heck out of Venezuela. And it also seems fair to assume that Saul won’t be the only key male figure with whom Carrie will reunite before season’s end.

By Jen Chaney

Jen Chaney is a pop culture writer whose work appears regularly in The Washington Post, New York Magazine’s Vulture and The Dissolve. She’s currently working on a book about the movie “Clueless,” to be published next year by Touchstone.

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