Tuesday, 7 October 2014

HOMELAND, 4.1 & 4.2 - 'The Drone Queen' & 'Trylon and Perisphere'

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


I haven't been as negative about HOMELAND as many have been post-season 1, but agree it stopped hitting the highs of that inaugural year, to become a more levelheaded 24 (which many of the writer-producers worked on previously). The fact of the matter is that Damian Lewis' character was allowed to exist beyond his usefulness, purely because the writers were delighted by his on-screen chemistry with Claire Danes, and viewed it as integral to Homeland's longterm future. Consequently, many of second and third season storylines became too soapy or ridiculous. Season 4 (which opens with a drone strike and a besieged Embassy, drawing comparisons to 24: Live Another Day's opening) intends to hit a reset button, of sorts, with Brody six feet under and Carrie Mathison (Danes) now protecting her homeland from overseas...

These back-to-back episodes were good, although they suffered from a feeling of 'seen it all before'. A lot of that's down to the sheer number of post-9/11 movies we've seen that give similar insights into the war on terror fought on foreign soil. Carrie is now the CIA's station chief in Afghanistan, who unwittingly triggers a crisis when she bombs a farmhouse supposedly containing terrorist Haissam Haqqani—acting on the intelligence provided by her Pakistan station counterpart, Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll), whose inside source has never been wrong before...

There's a first time for everything, of course, as Carrie's drone drops a bomb on a wedding Haqqani was attending. Forty innocent Afghans are killed along with the intended target, and surviving medical student Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma) becomes the face of the tragedy after his college roommate uploads a video of the wedding festivities onto to internet.

What I've always liked about Homeland is the insight it gives you into modern-day intelligence ops, although naturally things are exaggerated for dramatic effect. But it's a show I enjoy watching when the characters are being smart and professional, with the narrative touching on various moral dilemmas and political grey areas.
CARRIE: Well, I will, because I'm the one dropping fire on all of these people.
QUINN: Yeah, well I know what that's like.
QUINN: Ticking names off a kill list for a living.
This duo of episodes consider the real-world impact and outrage of Pakistani citizens when they're bombed and killed by an outside force, literally hovering overhead in secret, and the detached mentality required by the U.S agencies in control of the drone strikes. The controversial technique isn't as callous as "reality" becoming little more than a bird's-eye-view of a video-screen, but there's certainly a difference between this kind of remote-piloted warfare and traditional 'boots on the ground' operations. I'm not sure this issue's enough to sustain a whole season (it didn't on 24:LAD), but the fuse has been lit and we'll see what explodes further down the line...

It already seems that young Aayan is going to be pulled into a sinister underworld (recruited and turned into an extremist?), and that's a bizarro echo of what happened to Brody. Is this evidence Homeland doesn't have many original ideas, so it having to tweak its old ones? Maybe, but I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Elsewhere, it was fun catching up with other characters—although only Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is someone I actively care about. He's now working in the private sector and having a crises of conscience about selling wares to the U.S military, so it seems he'll be staging a comeback now the drone mistake's made CIA Director Lockhart (Tracy Letts) position more vulnerable. And, oh boy, I'm so glad Lockhart's back this year, because he was a highlight of season 3. Letts has a rare talent for playing insufferable pricks. You cheer whenever something happens to wipe that smirk off his face. Great actor.
CARRIE: I tried to hold onto that and feel it, happy that you're here, but with his being gone, I can't remember why I had you. I loved him so much. When I close my eyes, I still see him there.
The writers still think people care deeply about Quinn (Rupert Friend), which I'm not sure they do. He was a Brody stand-in for most of last year, and now it feels like he's being prepared as the official 'new man' in Carrie's life. Quinn spends these episodes suffering from a trauma (having let Sandy Bachman get stomped to death by an angry street mob), and takes his anger out on two idiots giggling over the fact his "girlfriend" is a plus-sized lady. It just felt a little strange that Quinn's suddenly so fazed by Sandy's death, as we've been led to believes he's seen and done much worse as a black-ops agent. I suppose it's an attempt to humanise him more.

The matter of Carrie becoming pregnant with Brody's love-child hasn't been forgotten, of course. To its credit, the show is dealing with Carrie's newfound motherhood in an interesting way that fits her character: extreme avoidance. Her baby daughter's being brought up by her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), with Carrie seeking dangerous overseas postings to ensure she doesn't have to play mommy at home. In the second episode, Carrie was forced to spend a day with baby Frannie and almost let her own child slip underwater and drown while bathing her. It was a bold move to show just how bad a mother Carrie is, or how much she views her baby as a huge problem. The bathroom sequence was the most disturbing part of both episodes.

Overall, it's far too early to say if the changes Homeland's made will rescue it from a creative downturn, but I was pleased with this opening salvo. Setting the season (mostly) overseas gives it a more dangerous, uncertain feel—although I understand complaints the show's title suggests it should always be about threats in or around the nation, not thousands of miles away. But the writers needed to do something big to shake things up, and this is a good idea. Some of the best episodes from season 3 were also set in the Middle East, so it's clear the show can work in a foreign environment.


  • Yes, that was former Merlin star Bradley James doing an American accent as bitter soldier J.G Edgars.
  • It never fails to amuse me how often TV characters sing "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" when birthday cakes present themselves, because the rights to sing "Happy Birthday" are just too expensive.
  • Did you know Tracy Letts is married to the amazing Carrie Coon from The Leftovers?
  • I've been watching The Strain so much that seeing Corey Stoll naturally bald again was suddenly weird.
  • Carrie's father was mentioned at one point, but knowing actor James Rebhorn sadly died recently, one assumes he'll be written out at some point now.
  • Whoever cast Frannie deserves a medal, because I could accept that's Damien Lewis as a baby.
  • The second episode's title "Trylon and Perisphere" were structures from the 1939 New York World's Trade Fair, depicting a utopian future city.
written by Alex Gansa (4.1) & Chip Johannesen (4.2) • directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (4.1) & Keith Gordon (4.2) • 5 October 2014 • Showtime