Up until the end of last week’s episode, we were getting really nervous for Carrie. She was alone in a mental institute, imprisoned (probably rightly) by the agency she vowed to protect, and getting wooed by Iranian mercenaries to spill state secrets.
Carrie, baby, you losing your way? By the end of S3E4 “Game On,” it seemed like Carrie was just digging herself into a hole without medications and morals. I think we were all collectively smacking our palms against our foreheads as she nostril-flared her way into an agreement to provide classified infoz to an Iranian Person of Interest.
Then, Carrie shows up at Saul’s house, and reveals: IT HAS ALL BEEN AN ELABORATE PLOT! Carrie’s erratic behavior, Saul’s abandonment, Carrie’s institutionalization and the CIA’s use of DOJ influence to keep her there were all part of a scheme to draw out the Iranians – and the hook-nosed man responsible for the Langley bombing.
Ok guys, maybe I was being naive throughout this whole season, but I was genuinely shocked. Until this big reveal, Homeland S3 had been devoted to exploring whether Carrie’s perception of the CIA forces-that-be was paranoid or justified. The show was also taking a coldhardlook at Saul, blurring the lines between good guy and bad boy bureaucrat. The Saul-Carrie relationship was strained and I think actually doing interesting things with the idea of “truth” and “reality” and “character development.”
I was really glad, obviously, to see Carrie and Saul on the same side again. But what this did was take the camera away from the gray area between good guy, bad guy, persecution, and paranoia, and re-focus it onto SPY GAMES! Saul was denied the post of Head of the CIA at the same time that he was revealed to be staunchly on Carrie’s side the whole time. The previous direction of the season was difficult to watch but I think, ultimately, more interesting, and certainly more realistic.
This move was a Homeland Hail Mary. The gray area was losing us – there was no character on the show we actually liked anymore, except for Sexy Quinn, and man he had just killed a CHILD! This move was engineered to pick up some dramatic momentum and get the audience back on the side of the protagonists, in an effort to avoid us abandoning Carrie in the mental institute as the CIA had. And so, the only thing interesting for the viewer in this recent (and less than believable/well thought out) revelation is to wonder how much of the Institutionalization game was real, and how much was manufactured. We probably will never know – Carrie herself probably doesn’t – and the best moment by far of S3E4 was when Carrie told Saul that “you shouldn’t have left me in there, Saul.” She really was trapped and felt all that pain, even if it was all a ruse.
The next episode, “The Yoga Play,” in which Carrie AGAIN goes off her meds and maybe jeopardizes the whole mission and is captured by the Iranian terrorists… was pretty underwhelming. Now that we know where every character stands, the stakes just aren’t as high. I mean, Carrie gets captured by these Iranians who strip-search her, but we KNOW that this double agent direction is going to end up ok, no matter how many polygraph tests the Scenes from Next Week show us. And more importantly, we KNOW that Carrie is gonna be back to her old ways, and Saul is going to keep enabling her as he remains ultimately powerless in a bureaucratic agency.
These last two episodes got us back on the sides of the characters we love, but at the cost of the characters they could have become. This move maintained a status quo and showed the audience the answer to the Homeland question: going forward, the show will bank on plot-driven, rather than character-driven, drama. Kind of sad news for the show, but hey, we’ll keep coming back for more, so … We guess it worked.