A show like Homeland is always at its finest when it takes the fantastical dramatization of a world closely resembling our own and threads it, ever so intricately, through the “realness” of America’s most prescient moral and geopolitical dilemmas. Whether we’re watching a terrorist raid on an American embassy in Islamabad or the thwarting of a bombing at a Berlin train station, seeing how the show navigates the balancing act of maintaining its fun spy-thriller reputation with the specific, sensitive layers of its subject matter is fascinating to me. When it succeeds on this front (which I would say more often than not, in this post-Brody era, it does) it’s among the very best drama series on TV; when it misses the mark, it reverts to self-parody.
With the death of Sekou Bah and all that encompasses it, we’ve now arrived at the “phase two” turning point of a season of Homeland. And for the first half of this episode, it was genuinely interesting to watch the world of the show devolve into crisis as a result of the first attack of this kind on New York City since 9/11. The guilt-stricken President-Elect’s been carted away to some remote tech-deprived safe house, and she really wants her staff, dammit! The FBI is even more blood-thirsty after allowing Sekou to slip through their firm extralegal grasp, and his survived mother and sister are paying the price. And Carrie – oh Carrie – has again implicated herself and the people for whom she works in the center of a national crisis, thanks to a healthy mix of compassion, insubordination, and general incompetence.
But that quickly becomes the least of her worries in the episode’s back half, as her severely disturbed and addled housemate (again as a result of something she did), Peter Quinn, loses his mind over the sight of reporters swarming Carrie’s house, and takes “hostage” of both her daughter and daughter’s nanny at “gunpoint”. This plot very literally hijacks the remaining half of the episode and I’m honestly a little baffled at the creative team’s decision to take us here. Was there a greater point to this beyond the shock value? Would the episode have better served had it maintained the focus and urgency of its first-half by continuing to deal with the aftermath of the bombing?
While the answer to the latter question would be a resounding “yes”, I would answer the former question the same, albeit far more tepidly. While I would consider the execution of this story coupled with the amount of time devoted to it a huge misstep in a season that’s more or less worked so far, it did do its job in furthering along the main arc of the season, while also shedding even more light on the extent to which Quinn is deeply damaged. Homeland really straddled that line between important and parody this week, to the detriment of the renewed goodwill it established in this now post-Brody era. The time spent dealing with the hostage situation relative to the genuinely interesting and engaging main arc of the season was disappointing, and I hope we return to that place going forward. While my final impression of this episode may have been mixed, I’m at least relieved that Carrie finally maybe sort of knows someone’s been spying on her from across the street. Progress is good.