When we look back on the third season of “Homeland” and attempt to determine when it officially sunk to a level of absurdity from which it could no longer recover, some may identify the episode that aired this Sunday as the tipping point. It was called “Good Night,” a reference to the code phrase used by the special ops team to convey that they were in really deep caca. But that title also may describe what some viewers wanted to say to this entire series after sitting through the credibility-stretching plot developments and clunky lines of dialogue peppered throughout this latest hour … well, technically, 46 minutes.
"Good Night" succeeded admirably in terms of sustaining both focus and a freak-out level of intensity. Unfortunately, it did both of those things at the expense of insulting its audience’s intelligence.
Question: Was “Homeland” finally ruined for you when the writers almost killed Brody but then didn’t kill Brody, multiple times in the same episode?
Or did it hit rock bottom because Carrie was: a) present during the execution of Saul’s Brody/Javadi mission even though she completely botched a related operation a few weeks prior; b) allowed to remain in the room even after she cursed at the White House vhief of staff; and/or c) given permission to speak directly to Brody because the joint special operations commander in charge was just like, “Yeah, whatever”?
Or, or: did the ultimate nadir come down to a line that may be the least subtle one ever uttered on “Homeland,” that thing Carrie said when it appeared Brody and co. might need to pull out of Operation Saul-vadi: “In other words, we have to abort.” Abort: get it? That comment has dual meaning because Carrie is pregnant and brazenly harming the health of her and (presumably) Brody’s fetus on a daily basis. So when she referred to aborting the mission, those words were actually filled with really important subtext (italicized for emphasis). Claire Danes deserves another Emmy solely for being able to deliver that line in its entirety, without having to pause and say, “Come on, you guys: REALLY?”
Of course, as it turned out, there was no need to abort after all. Brody managed to go rogue and scurry into Iranian territory, after telling his beloved Carrie via sat phone call that he has “faith” that she will bring him back home. He made his connection with Javadi, who immediately shot the American accompanying Brody and pretending to be a member of al Qaeda, proving that, predictably, Javadi is not going to play by Saul’s or the CIA’s rules. And Saul and Carrie got to feel super-proud of themselves for hitting the execute button on part one of phase two of the plan. All was right with the “Homeland” world.
Except no, it wasn’t right at all. Nicholas Brody -- the self-proclaimed “new man” who recovered from a nearly fatal heroin addiction in less time than it takes to watch “Trainspotting” in its entirety -- once again went through major transformations that made it impossible to get a firm grip on his character. One minute he was a confident soldier again, capable of calmly explaining the elaborate cover story that would allow him to assassinate the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The next, after those Kurdish cops got iced and blood spattered across his lightly freckled face, he was a shaking, whimpering child, too weak to carry out the task at hand. Then, minutes later and under even more duress, he somehow grew strong and determined enough to run straight into Iranian custody, with no support or clear plan as to how he would ever get back home.
And then there’s Carrie, who is just impossible to like or even halfheartedly advocate for this season. It’s been hard for me to admit this is the case because I still like Claire Danes and respect what she does, week after week, as an actress. There’s a sturdiness in Danes’ performance that is simply not backed up by what the words on the page are forcing her character to do. That’s a huge problem for “Homeland.” As Matt Zoller Seitz recently noted in Vulture, Brody’s actions have always been the axis around which this show’s pivots. But Carrie, in my view, has always provided the emotional center; at least initially, we desperately wanted Carrie to succeed at her job, to figure out a way to do what she does (or did) so well as a CIA agent while managing her mental health. Now, I just want to call CIA’s HR department and file a grievance about her.
Seriously, what did Carrie do in this episode? She mostly stood around, attempted unsuccessfully to mask her conflict-of-interest emotions about Brody and shouted curse words at people working at high levels in the Oval Office. As has been the case for much of this season, she existed as a largely passive figure. The most active thing she did, aside from trying to talk sense into Brody over the sound of gunfire, was asking Fara to convince her uncle to help get Brody out of Iran. Which was presumptuous at best, and downright horrible at worst. Carrie knows that Fara did not approve of the turn things took with the Javadi plan, yet she’s asking this woman to sacrifice the safety of a member of her own family, and doing it even though she barely knows Fara. You know how annoying it is when you have to contribute $20 toward a baby shower gift for a co-worker who has never said hi to you? Well, imagine having to donate your uncle’s life to help some wanted terrorist you’ve never met, and not even getting to halfheartedly eat one of those pull-apart cupcakes from Whole Foods later as quasi-compensation. Fara should say hell no. But this is “Homeland.” So she’ll say yes.
There are only two episodes left in this season. After this week’s, I certainly want to know what happens, but I can’t say I’m rooting for something in particular to happen. I don’t care deeply if Brody and Carrie reunite, whether Brody lives or dies, if Carrie loses her baby. All right, all right: I don’t want her to lose the baby. I’m not a monster. I also still care about what happens to Saul, if only because if things don’t work out for him, he’s going to chew enough gum to grind his molars into oblivion.
Despite my frustrations, I remain invested and curious enough to see how this messy, bonkers third season resolves itself. But then, once it’s over? I don’t know. I might have to abort.