Sunday, December 8, 2013

REVIEW: 'Homeland' Questions Brody's Loyalty but Ends Up Exactly Where It Planned on Being in 'Big Man in Tehran'

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 3.11 Big Man in Tehran

Brody's loyalty to the mission wavers when he meets a ghost from his past; Lockhart's confirmation looms; and Saul stares into the precipice between success and failure.

"Big Man in Tehran" effectively plays as two halves. The first leading up to Brody's first meeting with Akbari acts as a 24-style thriller. The show precisely lays out its plan of action and then goes about instigating it. The second half occurs after Brody has met with Abu Nazir's wife and some time has past and he is now a big figure in Tehran. The latter part of the episode plays similarly to what Homeland used to do with its mysteries.

In season one, whether or not Brody was a double agent was a taut mystery that the show effectively derived a lot of episodes of tension from. "Big Man in Tehran" evokes that some aspirational tone. It wants us to be unsure of whether or not Brody has turned yet again. That he is now in Tehran to stay and could possibly out Javadi as a CIA asset. Or maybe he's slowly playing a long game on his new "friends" and he's simply exacting the same plan he was always sent there to do.

But being the penultimate episode of season, the effectiveness of such a mystery didn't really hit the mark. At this point in the year, the show basically had to end the way it did in this episode. I enjoyed the scene where Lockhart tells Saul how they need to take out Brody because of the liability to keeping Javadi as an asset. That was the first moment I rationally understood the purpose of that character. But having Brody turn against the United States and work and be public in Iran feels like a creative direction that could fuel multiple episodes. This season hasn't really been building up to that. It tries to trick us into thinking it has by adding Nazir's wife to the equation as well as the scene where she and Brody discuss whether or not they've found peace. Instead, it's been building up to the moment Brody finds redemption in killing Akbari - as the show very much makes more obvious with the whole "It started here and now will end here" addition. Thusly, that's the only conclusion I foresaw here. But one that also lessens the effectiveness of what "Big Man in Tehran" tried to do.

It sets up the finale where Carrie has to get Brody out of Akbari's compound alive. And that feels exciting as I've always enjoyed Homeland's take on 24-style action pieces. I'm intrigued to see how that will go since by design this mission has been a suicide plan. But right now, I'm just feeling empty going into the finale. That's from a clear lack of any character I actually care about what happens to them.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Big Man in Tehran" was written by Chip Johannessen & Patrick Harbinson and directed by Daniel Minahan.
  • The most fascinating thing about Carrie in this episode was the changing of her hair color. She started with a new dark look as she entered the country but as time passed the blonde roots started coming out more. That was a nice touch.
  • Saul mostly just wallowed around or yelled at Carrie or was being told by Lockhart how much a longshot this mission was. That wasn't a good use of Saul especially since it didn't give Mandy Patinkin anything to do. 
  • Did you ever question Brody's loyalty? Or did you too feel he would always go through with the mission?