Last season, in a line we now hear weekly in "Homeland’s" opening credits, Saul Berenson declared Carrie Mathison “the smartest and the dumbest [bleep]ing person I’ve ever known.”
That same description also frequently applies to "Homeland" the series, and certainly seems an apt description of Sunday’s episode, “The Red Wheel Barrow,” which was very smart and also a little dumb. Sometimes, it was both things in the same scene.
On the smart side: This week’s installment did a fine job of adjusting the levels on several plot threads in a way that cranked the volume on the key question of Season 3: Can Brody (and, by extension, Carrie and Saul) be exonerated in connection with the Langley bombing? The way all roads eventually led back to Brody -- who finally returned to the screen, in even more mouth-agape, strung-out shape than we last saw him -- made me wish it was possible to immediately binge-watch the remainder of Season 3.
The “dumb” side of this story is impossible to discuss without raising rhetorical questions in an increasingly agitated tone. Like: Why did Mira suddenly, passionately reinvest in her marriage to Saul, aside from the fact that this scenario made it more narratively compelling for her to become a victim of the intel-gathering boyfriend who snuck into her home near the end of this episode? Also: Didn’t I say in last week’s recap that this was exactly what would happen? (That second question is not rhetorical: Yes. I did say that.) Do the "Homeland" writers actually know how Saul intends to place Javadi into a senior military position in Iran and effect regime change, or is the extent of the developed back story on that “keep reading”? Most important: Why did Carrie need to be present at the motel mission allegedly designed to finally ensnare the man responsible for building and planting the bomb that killed all those people at Langley?
Quinn and another sniper were perched on a nearby rooftop. A whole SWAT team was ready to run in and seize the guy. Dar and co. were set up in a nearby truck. With all that manpower in place, did someone say: You know what we really need? An often unstable CIA agent to sit in a van in plain sight of the unwitting entrapper who can identify her, so she can use binoculars, then jump out of her vehicle and completely mess up the entire operation. Yes, that will finally make our efforts complete. Come on, "Homeland"! Given Carrie’s relationship with Franklin, as well as Bennett and Javadi, the last place she should be when Franklin is leading central intelligence to its target is anywhere in the remote vicinity of Franklin and that target. It made no sense at all for her CIA superiors to put her there, especially given Carrie’s propensity to go rogue in situations like this.
Unless -- and this is the part where "Homeland" has Jedi mind-tricked us enough to make us think that even its sillier moments are strategic -- Saul and Dar positioned her there on purpose. Perhaps they wanted to keep her occupied while Saul lays the groundwork for Phase 2 of his master plan: bringing Brody back to the U.S., where he can implicate him for the bombing (thereby making Saul look like the great CIA hero), then secretly use Brody to further infiltrate terrorist networks while the rest of the world thinks he’s sitting in a prison cell, serving time for his murderous crime. Of course, that explanation doesn’t tell us why Carrie would think it was a good idea for her to be on the scene during that supposed takedown, which is one of my ongoing issues with this show.
During Season 1, Carrie came across as unquestionably good at her job even if she suffered from personal flaws and rampant paranoia. Increasingly, though, she has displayed flagrantly bad judgment based on selfish motives (usually Brody-related) instead of acting with the greater good of the agency’s mission in mind. We know that Carrie is intelligent and dedicated to her work but, consistently, the "Homeland" writers make her behave like a total idiot. This bothers me because I still believe Carrie Mathison is sharper than her puppet masters will let her be. I also believe that one way or another, the fact that she is pregnant -- I’m assuming the baby is still alive, despite that gunshot wound -- will become apparent to her colleagues, possibly during the chaotic attempt to seek medical attention for the bullet Quinn put in her arm.
But back to the Saul master plan: Dar Adal was not particularly concerned about capturing the alleged bomb maker alive because, as noted above, it would be better if he were dead and gone so that Brody can take all the blame for the bombing. The fact that Franklin shot and then dissolved the guy was exactly what Saul and Dar wanted, even if we all know from "Breaking Bad" that the last thing a person should ever do is use acid to break down a body in a bathtub that’s located on the second floor of a building. Dear whoever was staying directly below that room: Man, I hope you checked out before the hydrochloric hit the fiberglass.
So let’s recap here: Saul has just deceived Carrie, even though we just got over the fact that his previous deception was actually an elaborate ruse. (Ugh.) Because of Saul’s latest, for-real deception, Carrie is now heading to the hospital again, albeit for non-mental-health reasons this time. Saul has known where Brody was this entire time, and has located him in Venezuela without telling Carrie. And Mira’s lover -- well, now ex-lover -- is probably working for Javadi. That last item is a major assumption on my part, but hear me out. We know Mira’s former boyfriend is working for somebody who wants access to Saul’s communications. We know that Saul has given Mumbai lover man absolutely no thought. And we know that Javadi has agreed to serve as an asset for Saul without putting up too much of a fight. This makes me believe that Javadi must have an advantage over his adversary, something that will unexpectedly come back to bite Saul when he tries to use Javadi to the CIA’s benefit and provide the audience with yet another gasp-inducing reveal. That reveal could be that the spy who loved Mira is on Team Javadi.
I could be wrong. I’ve crocheted together some misguided "Homeland" theories before, most recently my suggestion last week that Quinn was somehow involved in the bombing. In light of recent events, that call definitely seems off-the-mark. I do wonder, though, how much he knows about what’s going on behind the scenes. For example, did Quinn know that Saul intended to seek out Brody in Venezuela? If he did, does that explain why he winced in last week’s episode when Carrie asked him to help her prove Brody’s innocence?
Clearly there are a lot of questions to address in the five episodes that remain. (I haven’t even talked about how Fara or good ‘ol Dana Brody -- remember her? -- will eventually factor into the overall narrative.) But the good news for this Showtime drama is that fans may now be actively craving the answers to those questions. "Homeland" was preposterous and often dull when this season began. Now it’s still a little preposterous, but it’s also genuinely intriguing, capable of forcing all synapses to fire in the attempt to deduce where this messy story is headed. Consequently, I’m still committed to the "Homeland" mission and have my fingers crossed that the "Homeland" writers won’t entirely compromise what remains of its integrity. Whatever happens, I know one thing for sure: At this point, there’s no way I’m jumping out of the van.