Sunday, October 18, 2015

REVIEW: 'Homeland' - Carrie Goes Off Her Meds (Again) to Solve a New Conspiracy in 'Super Powers'

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 5.03 "Super Powers"

Jonas and Carrie revisit her past. Quinn stalks his prey.

Over the years, Homeland has struggled to keep Carrie's bipolar disease dramatically interesting. It's a hard characteristic to continually keep compelling while not making it feel redundant. "Super Powers" feels like a quintessential episode of Homeland. And yet, it's very aggravating because it's the latest iteration of Carrie crazily going off her meds in order to solve the big story of the season. It's something that basically happens every season now. This episode does handle it better than the previous attempts. But that doesn't make it play as dramatically engaging and compelling. It is literally the same story the show has done so many times. It continues to be a fantastic showcase of Claire Danes. It wouldn't be surprising in the slightest if this is her Emmy submission episode next year. However, the familiarity of the concept works against the show at the moment. For the past two seasons, the show has been able to reinvent itself wonderfully. Why then does it keep feeling the need to bring this story point up again?

Carrie believes she needs to get back into her CIA mindset in order to figure out who wants her dead. That's where she created all these enemies in the first place. She has tried to leave the past behind. She was successful at that for two years. And now, she feels she needs to embrace that part of herself again. She is able to approach the thought process differently than she did before. Atonement is a big part of her character study this season. She is able to see her actions much clearer now than when she was a part of the agency. She sees the acts of death as the truly horrifying things they actually were. She is committed to figuring out who has placed this target on her back. But that forces her to come face-to-face with her violent past. That's an inherently interesting place for the character. She looks back with remorse. She believed she was justified with all of these actions because it was for the greater good. But now, she sees that her life has been filled with death. This new threat to her could come from anywhere. That's the scary realization for her. Anyone could be the perpetrator and they could be right to take such actions.

However, all the compelling drama of that character study is undercut by the fact that Carrie has gone off her meds and become a crazy conspiracy theorist. It's something that she understands and recognizes that could happen. She outlines to Jonas everything that could go wrong with this venture for answers. She goes crazy and incoherent. She eventually becomes so mean to Jonas that he has to force her to take her pills again. But how much of that is the real Carrie? It's a character struggle that has been in place since the very beginning of the series. Is Carrie on meds her true authentic sense? Or is Carrie under no substance who she really is? It's a complex question that this show can't adequately cover. Her call for atonement doesn't feel like a big character revelation of herself because it's chaotic and incoherent. That is the big crazy moment of the episode that she was alluding to before. It's hard to take anything in that moment seriously because she's unhinged. That may be how she feels. But it doesn't add weight to her character arc of the season. It's just a big and over-the-top moment used to blatantly point out what the show is trying to do with her character this season. Claire Danes sells the hell out of it. But the solemn approach to the same story could have been just as interesting. That's the version of the show I would have preferred in this instance. But the show itself just loves crazy, off her meds Carrie too much to say goodbye to her for very long.

The Carrie story is the big focal point for the episode. Even when she's not onscreen, most of the characters are wondering where she is in order to better understand this attack that happened to take her out. Saul and Allison are trying to locate her in order to help prevent a terrorist attack from happening in Berlin. Otto and his organization help Carrie get her daughter back to the United States. Plus, Quinn is expertly finding a way to actually get to Carrie. All of this is largely just background noise. The event of the hour is Carrie. That should mean this is an engaging episode for Jonas. An hour where he truly comes together as a character. It just doesn't though. Quinn is able to find where Carrie is because of her connection to Jonas. He apparently has an ex-wife and family. That's a connection to the outside world that Quinn is able to exploit for his own personal gain. That would have been good information to have before this episode though. This hour just gives the audience information about the character. He also is just the fundamental person who reacts in horror to everything that Carrie did in her past. That doesn't establish who he is. His character arc in this episode is very formulaic and never really surprises.

The show does try to get away with one big surprise near the end of the episode though. Saul and Allison are sleeping together. And yet, that plays solely as a twist that happens because a twist needed to happen with those characters. The hardened version of Saul this year is a compelling place to find the character - especially after the events of last season. But establishing some kind of personal connection between Saul and Allison doesn't make them a more interesting pairing. In fact, their dynamic worked perfectly fine as colleagues with some animosity but a passion to achieve the same goals. Now, Allison is simply the woman that Saul is having an affair with. That takes a lot of originality and personality out of that character. Here, she is just a supporting character to whatever is going on with Saul. That can work to help better define her as a character this season. But it also attaches her to Saul in a way that will only describe just how self-destructive he is becoming.

The show also plays into the Carrie-Quinn connection a little bit in the ending as well. The first time that they meet this season is very violent. Again, it's puzzling why Quinn is targeting her in the first place. The CIA knows that she has communicated with terrorist organizations on Otto's behalf. But is that really enough for them to want her dead all of a sudden? It's very weak rationalization. Quinn isn't questioning his orders while Carrie is certain that the person coming for her is from the organization that wants her dead. It should create an interesting dilemma for the characters in next week's episode. Carrie shoots at Quinn but he's the one who captures her. Their character dynamic is more meaningful than Carrie and Jonas'. And yet, that doesn't inherently make the situation tense for the future. It just feels like a colliding of the plots in a way that needed to happen.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Super Powers" was written by Alex Gansa & Meredith Stiehm and directed by Keith Gordon.
  • Newman is able to pass along the rest of the stolen files to Laura by creating a crowd that the CIA agents could easily lose her in. It's still not abundantly clear how this story will connect to the rest of the show this season. But it is getting more tense because Newman's partner is going rogue and trying to make a little money with this information.
  • So after Carrie tells Jonas the broad strokes of her past, they just decided to have sex? That felt very out of character and unnecessary. How did that conversation get them in the mood?
  • Saul and Dar Adal are also covertly planing on some other operation that just got a green light. That's largely just a vague tease for the future.
  • Carrie sitting in the room quietly with all the pictures surrounding her in a circle was a very powerful image.
  • How easily did Carrie get out of Lebanon? That was never explained at all given how precarious her situation was at the end of the last episode.