Tweetable Takeaway: Is Homeland on the verge of making the same mistake again?
Airtime: Sunday at 9 PM on Showtime
By: Gregório Back, Contributor
One step forward, two steps backwards. I don’t know how HOMELAND manages to do it, but somehow, they always seem to find a way. For a show that was so vilified for the way it chose to force its main characters into an undeserved and unrealistic romantic storyline, it is absolutely mind boggling to me that they seem to be going down the same road once again. For many of us who had seen Brody’s death at the end of season three as a potential opportunity for the show to return to what had made it so good in its first season, episode three of season four, entitled “Shalwar Khameez,” feels like, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu all over again.
After blackmailing Lockhart into giving her the station chief job in Islamabad, Carrie arrives in Pakistan to find the entire embassy on lockdown. While on the surface she is trying to get her station back on its feet and working again, behind the scenes, Carrie has already set up her own parallel operation, with Fara and Max by her side. Her goal in getting the band back together is to lure Aayan in as a potential contact, hoping that he can help feed them some information in the aftermath of the failed drone strike that killed his entire family. While Fara is initially chosen as the one to talk to him, when she fails, Carrie takes matters into her own hands, and with her unique blend of charm and fear, seems to get through to the young Pakistani med student. Meanwhile, back in the states, Quinn continues his habit of drinking himself to sleep every night, with his PTSD leading him to want out of the CIA. Not quite willing to let him go yet, Dar Adal manipulates Quinn into believing that his feelings for Carrie are the reason that he was unable to save Bachman. While Quinn repeatedly, and rightfully, protests this notion, the more this idea gets hammered into him, the more he starts to believe it. When he eventually uncovers that the attack on Bachman was actually an orchestrated operation, he immediately tells Carrie, and when she pleads with him to join her in Islamabad, the mentally fragile Quinn agrees, without too much protestation.
Starting off with the good, this episode managed to effectively unravel some further plot details, while, at the same time, bringing up some new questions going forward. Despite the considerably slower burn of this fourth season for far, there are still plenty of intriguing spy games going on here, whether it be Carrie managing to both flirt and scare Aayan into working with her, or Dar Adal getting himself choked out by Quinn as a way to get him to recognize his “true” feelings. These various manipulative schemes are one of the inherent things that can make Homeland great when it’s working; no matter how much people like Carrie and Saul are willing to lie, cheat, and steal from their enemies, it seems like they are even better at, and even get more enjoyment out of, doing so with their own allies. This constant push and pull is not only fun to watch, it also adds an element of mystery and doubt to every conversation. You never quite know who is playing whom, keeping both the characters, and the audience, on their toes.
But despite this air of manipulation that surrounds most interactions on the show, the one relationship that seems to have a genuine core is the one between Carrie and Saul. Their meeting after the lockdown has been lifted highlights the strong, pseudo-father/daughter bond these two share; after all the work Carrie has done in her short time in Islamabad, at the end of the day, she still turns to Saul for approval. It’s in these moments that we most see Carrie let her guard down, and it’s in these moments that her humanity is most accessible. For the first time in what feels like forever, we were able to see that side of Carrie again.
Even though Homeland did plenty of good in “Shalwar Khameez,” I did start out this review by mentioning that the show took two steps backwards, and all the bad here boils down to three, simple words: Carrie, Quinn, romance. After three seasons of having the Carrie/Brody relationship crammed down our throats, this season felt like a respite from all that; there was no way the writers could go down that road again, Brody is dead after all. But much to my surprise (fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you), it seems like the writers have found the next best thing. Granted, so far, my negative views on the Carrie and Quinn romance are pure conjecture; nothing concrete has happened so far, but for a show still suffering from the stench of a sappy romance, there is no way they should even consider another story line like this, especially one involving Carrie. But despite all these different “stay out” signs, the writers just seem incapable of controlling themselves. When Carrie says the line “I fucking love you, Quinn. You know that don’t you?” I’m fairly confident in saying that pretty much everybody who has followed this show from the beginning let out a loud, guttural groan. It’s a cringe-worthy moment that can only be topped by Carrie nearly drowning her own baby, and one that leaves me completely baffled by the writers’ total lack of self-awareness. How can you be making this mistake again? Brody’s death was a godsend (sounds a little cold, but for story purposes, it absolutely was) that allowed you to start completely fresh, and yet you’re doing the exact same thing that turned so many people off from your show in the last two seasons. I don’t get it, I really really don’t.
Going forward, if this whole Carrie/Quinn romance does materialize into something concrete, I truly don’t know how much longer Homeland will last. The critical backlash over the last two seasons was huge, and if they make the same mistakes again this season, I just don’t see how they can recover from it. The sad part about this is that season four has had plenty of interesting moments so far, with a lot of potential intrigue and excitement, but all that will be overshadowed (up to this point, it has been overshadowed) by the writers’ insistence on a romantic subplot.
Gregório is a writer, director currently living in Los Angeles. He has written and directed four short films, and is currently working on his first feature film.