Thursday, 15 November 2012

HOMELAND, 2.6 & 2.7 – 'A Gettysburg Address' & 'The Clearing'

Thursday, 15 November 2012

written by Chip Johannessen / directed by Meredith Stiehm

It's funny: when you watch a lot of television you start to notice underlying structures more and more. The first half of Homeland was focused on Brody's (Damien Lewis) treachery and how it relates to the mentally unstable Carrie (Claire Danes), but now the second half it ready to take over following the excellent "Q&Q"—which re-purposed the show to an extent we'll have a better perspective on in a few weeks time. However, it's noticeable how Homeland's started to feel more like 24 just recently—which is no doubt because so many of the writers-producers worked on that Fox drama. It's still a more intelligent and plausible version of 24, but "A Gettysburg Address" certainly had more than its fair share of similarities.

The sequence with the CIA tailing Brody's handler Roya (Zuleikha Robinson), and then the man (Mido Hamada) she met with near a public fountain, was pure 24 in its execution. The storyline with Dana (Morgan Saylor) getting embroiled in a hit-and-run with a boyfriend, who'd rather forget it ever happened than confront their mistake, also feels like something 24 may have thrown at Jack Bauer's daughter Kim it’s the show's earlier seasons. The only difference being that the boyfriend would probably turn out to be related to the villains when the show needed an easy twist. Homeland's less structured around hourly shocks and surprises, whatever the cost to believability, which we should be grateful for.

To be honest, for the majority of this episode I wasn't very engrossed in everything that was going on. The fun of Brody being a mole for the CIA wasn't as fun as I'd hoped for (yet), and a lot of time was spent on less interesting characters and storylines: the aforementioned situation with remorseful Dana, and the freelance investigation into Tom Walker's murder by Marine Corp veterans Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) and Lauder (Marc Menchaca). However, I was glad the latter grew into something more substantial—which now gives Mike more of a purpose on the show, for arguably the first time ever, and hints that Brody's undoing may come from closer to home. Mike's already pretty certain that Brody killed Walker, based on missing bullets in his stash of ammo that matches the rounds found at the scene, but at the moment Brody's wife Jess (Morenca Baccarin) is happy to dismiss the theory because the truth her husband's working for the CIA covers a multitude of strange events. It'll be interesting to see how long she can clutch to that, before the evidence stacks up and she has to face facts that her husband's a killer. And if that happens, surely the CIA won't be able to go through with the deal to give Brody amnesty in exchange for enemy intelligence... if he's outright killed an American comrade.

While I wasn’t very gripped most of the time, things took a very unexpected turn the CIA were attacked while snooping around the Gettysburg tailor's shop for incriminating evidence. Again, it was a scene that felt very much like something 24 would pull (the week's writer, Chip Johannessen, worked on later seasons of the show), but I can't argue it wasn't entertaining and a more visceral shock than Homeland tends to go for. And as a fan of 24, sometimes seeing a bunch of armoured men with assault rifles gun down several CIA agents who were moments away from discovering the tailor's secret trunk from behind a false wall. I'm also glad Quinn (Rupert Friend) appears to have survived the firefight... but what was in the chest that someone as relatively low-level as the tailor would be entrusted with? A bomb of some description? If it's a suitcase nuke, the 24 parallels will be incontestable.

Overall, "The Gettysburg Address" was in many ways the weakest episode of Homeland this season, but a necessary one because the show's in a mid-year transition. I'm hopeful that some of the less appealing storylines will quickly get better (as Mike's appears to be doing already), although I have some doubts about Dana's—which still seems to only exist because the writers quite rightly want to give Morgan Saylor something to do. Maybe the drama will nicely escalate when Finn (Timothée Chalamet) is potentially going to destroy his family's name—and his father's chances of becoming the next President—when Congressman Brody's daughter can't keep her mouth shut.

written by Guy Ferland / directed by John Dahl

"The Clearing" had some great character moments—such as the long-awaited smooch between Carrie and Brody in the titular woodland clearing, and the moment when Brody was suspended underwater without anyone around to gawp at his torture scars or pick his brains—but in general I found this a pretty underwhelming hour. The biggest problem was how it appeared to stall Mike's investigation into Brody by having Carrie convince him it would be against the interests of national security, but also because it focused heavily on the Dana/Finn hit-and-run problem. Is there anyone who didn't predict Finn's political parents would want to deal with the situation without dragging their family's name through the mud? Or that the CIA wouldn't let Brody risk similar issues by taking Dana to confess to the cops? It all felt rather underwhelming to me.

Added to that, while I enjoyed the storyline of Saul (Mandy Patinkin) trying to elicit information from Aileen (Marin Ireland), the terrorist he captured during season 1's "The Weekend", I have to confess that I struggled to remember the details of their relationship from last year. It even took me awhile to remember who Aileen was, which made the earlier scenes rather difficult to care about. Maybe I'm alone in that and everyone else yelped with joy when Aileen made a surprise comeback on the show, but I somehow doubt it. Like I said though, her story was entertaining if slightly clichéd (villains always want a view, just ask Hannibal Lecter), and the twist that she's fed Saul a pack of lies in order to get access to reading glasses to slit her wrists with was... well, memorable but a little predictable.

Coming hot on the heels of "A Gettysburg Address", which was similarly flaccid, the wind appears to have been taken out of Homeland's sails mid-season. The show has definitely lost something now that Brody's cover is blown, and the writers haven't yet found a way to make his new situation as exciting to watch. Maybe it would help if we had more of an idea what Abu Nazir's plan is this season? I don't know, but something certainly needs to happen to make Homeland feel like essential viewing again. I dearly hope the compelling pace of this season's first half won't be seen as a major mistake in retrospect, and the current issues I have will be cleared up quickly.

Still, I like how more characters on Homeland are trapped inside systems of ideology, religion or politics. Finn is someone who's grown up knowing there are no consequences to his actions because "the system" takes care of his mistakes because his family are so important, and now Dana's realising her dad's new career mean the Brody's are headed down the same path: losing your basic humanity and personal responsibility out of a desire to obtain power. Brody's also trapped in various nets (the terrorist's, the CIA's, but also the government's) and starting to sense he's lost complete control of his life. He's a puppet to whomever has the tightest grip of his strings.

Overall, both episodes have things to recommend about them, but both were also noticeably less absorbing than I found episodes 1-5. I'm hoping more clarity about Abu Nazir's masterplan (involving the mysterious trunk?) will help matters, and hopeful that the Carrie/Brody chemistry is used in an interesting way. As always, it's hard to see exactly where Homeland is going, which is a good thing in general, but I think I'd like a feeling of direction now the show's dispensed with the is-Brody-a-brainwashed-terrorist? card.

4 & 11 November 2012 / Showtime