Sunday, October 5, 2014

REVIEW: 'Homeland' - Carrie Struggles as Station Chief and a Mother in 'The Drone Queen' & 'Trylon and Perisphere'

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 4.01 "The Drone Queen" & Episode 4.02 "Trylon and Perisphere"

Carrie makes a critical decision when her counterpart in Islamabad delivers urgent intelligence on a high value target. Saul struggles to adjust to the private sector. An official inquiry brings Carrie back to the States. Quinn spirals out of control. A disgraced former case officer reveals disturbing new information.

It's the general critical consensus that Homeland flew off the rails last season. All of the characters were shells of their former complex selves. Moreover, it was more apparent than ever before that Brody's vest should have detonated at the very end of the first season. But now, Homeland finally has the opportunity to dig itself out of the Brody mess it increasingly dig itself into. With him now dead, the show had to find a new direction. Against all odds, Carrie is a station chief - first in Kabul and later in Islamabad - and there's a new ongoing story involving a drone strike in the war-torn area that goes wrong.

It is really odd that Showtime decided to open up the new season airing two episodes back-to-back. I think part of it is because new drama The Affair - Showtime's new relationship drama airing at 10/9c. starting next week - hit a bump in production and needed another week to make up for it. More importantly though, the two hours are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of quality. "The Drone Queen" pulls you back into this world. It keeps the plot simple. Carrie and company get reasonable intel of the whereabouts of a known terrorist. They launch a drone strike and it's no big deal. That is until they get news that a wedding was going on in the building they hit which causes unrest in the community. I appreciate the show's ability to show the effects of drone strikes on both sides of the equation. They are everyday occurrences. And yet, it's impersonal and justified for the people who order them and life-altering for the people on the ground. That is effective. As is the final act twist of Islamabad station chief Sandy Bachman (played by the great Corey Stoll) being killed after his picture is released to the public. The casting of Stoll and the prominence of the character in the premiere would suggest him being of major importance for the season. But nope, he's here solely to add stakes to the volatility to the situation.

The twist of the premiere works because it makes you want to see a second episode. Fortunately, a second episode starts up shortly after. However, the show quickly gets bogged down by the things it did in the previous season. It works to make this plot more complicated - but not more complex, that's an important distinction. Carrie returns to the United States and is forced to unravel a part of the conspiracy in order to get another promotion - this time as Sandy's replacement in Islamabad. But she also gets enough time to wallow in how she's feeling about her daughter and the feelings of Brody she gets whenever she sees her. The show should be forging ahead. And yet, it wants Carrie to stop and get emotional thinking about Brody's death all over again - this time when sitting in front of his old house. I half expected Dana to pop out so we all could let out a collective groan together. That does not occur. But later, Carrie almost drowns her daughter in order to put the past behind her. I understand why the character would want to do that. But understanding why and seeing her do it are incredibly different. She almost killed a baby! Who in the world could understand and justify that action? I could easily see many people turning the show off following that. It's just a horrible thing to depict as part of the lead character's identity.

And then, there's the stuff going on with everyone else. Quinn is increasingly struggling with the fact that he kills people. The event that leads to Sandy's death is very hard on him. I perfectly understand why he wants to stay in the states and not go back with Carrie. That doesn't mean I want to see him beat up two guys at a diner because they are making fun of the larger girl with whom he had sex the night before. It's a story about PTSD that is just awkward in context of the rest of the show. Also I like Carrie and Quinn as friends. I'm worried that won't be the case for much longer. Meanwhile, Saul isn't really doing anything. He's not as passionate in the private sector as he was in the CIA. But now, there's the possibility that he could return to being CIA director because - shockingly - Lockhart isn't doing that great of a job. Lockhart remains a one-note antagonist to the leads. That was a problem all throughout the third season and continues this year as well.

Lastly, there's the stuff going on back in Islamabad - specifically the journey of Aayan Ibrahim, one of the few survivors of the drone strike. Suraj Sharma is a great actor but the character is much better in the first episode because we can easily sympathize with him. He has just underwent a great tragedy - with his mother and sister dying at the wedding. The spotlight is then shined on him and he doesn't want the focus. He just wants to mourn his loss and not discuss the politics of what happened. And then, in the second episode, it's revealed he may be up to shady stuff too because he can't be a character on this show if he doesn't have some great connection to terrorism. Throughout the two episodes, it's noted that his uncle is the terrorist Carrie and her team were taking out. But now, shifty things are happening with Aayan - he's moving his stash of viles to his girlfriend's house and unknown men come to his house to tell him to be quiet. I just wanna know why I'm suppose to care? Is it suppose to be another story of is he a good man or a bad man? If it is, I just don't want to sit through that kind of thing again.

"The Drone Queen" - B+
"Trylon and Perisphere" - C

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Drone Queen" was written by Alex Gansa and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter.
  • "Trylon and Perisphere" was written by Keith Gordon and directed by Chip Johannessen.
  • Laila Robins also joins the show as Martha Boyd, the US Ambassador to Pakistan but she barely appears at all. So I have no read on either her or the character.
  • Amy Hargreaves had a great episode as she got to call out Carrie for all her irresponsibility when it came to her daughter. All of which is very much true but are issues Carrie just doesn't want to deal with. She just wants to stay she's fine. Almost killing your child is certainly not fine!
  • Despite James Rebhorn's passing earlier this year, his character, Frank Mathison, is still alive and referred to as "not being able to help with Carrie's daughter as much as he said he would." That could be potentially disastrous in the future.
  • Howard Gordon must have a thing for drones right now.