Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'Homeland' - A New Crisis Interrupts the CIA Dealing with Allison as Quinn's Life Hangs in the Balance in 'New Normal'

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 5.10 "New Normal"

A new threat emerges.

It's weird going from last week's great episode exposing Allison as the Russian mole who has been messing with all the main characters this season to "New Normal" which brings the Quinn story to the forefront. It's not all that engaging because Quinn is basically taken out of the picture completely. He was the only thing about that story that made it interesting. With him no longer being an active character, it's largely just a threat to distract the team from all the hard and meaningful work they did last week. It's largely just a contrivance to get Allison out of her confinement so that she can make things even worse for Carrie, Saul and Dar Adal in the future. The trade off isn't that great because "New Normal" really doesn't have a whole lot of engaging and meaningful build to it.

So much about this episode is speculative about Quinn's fate. The show made sure there was an out in place that would help explain Quinn surviving this horrifying experience. And yet, why draw out that reveal? It's excruciating waiting for a reveal that the audience already knows is going to happen. It makes it seem as if this is just a place holder episode. The season's narrative arc only had 10 episodes in it and it's being stretched to 12. Nothing really happens in this episode except planning that really isn't necessary. Carrie all of a sudden cares about Quinn again because the target is off of her back. But that doesn't create a whole lot of substance for her. She's become a crucial part of German intelligence over the past two weeks. But it's largely being defined by her personal emotions instead of her need to protect national security.

So, Quinn is alive. The hour just takes its time getting to that reveal. The terrorists who did this to him post a video of it claiming an attack on a European city is imminent unless the U.N. recognizes their organization. But so much of this story is centered around the drama of the guy who gave Quinn the life-saving medicine. He's not an interesting character. He's a one-note construct who could understandably keep Quinn alive during this bleak situation. Quinn had to place doubt in his mind so all of this could occur. And yet, there is absolutely no mystery to it. None of these terrorists act like characters. They all just do whatever the plot requires of them. So that means Quinn can't die even though he's in this precarious and lethal situation. It also means they need to announce their upcoming attack and then not follow through with it until next week because the leader has to teach his cousin a lesson. The leader's handling of the Quinn issue really doesn't seem smart at all. Why in the world would he kill one of his loyal followers just to exert his control over his cousin? Killing the person actually responsible for Quinn still being alive makes so much more sense. But the show still needs a tense scene in the middle of the episode. So, it creates one where the terrorist leader is searching through the bags of all of his followers to see who is missing their fallback medicine. It just isn't engaging in the slightest and takes away time from characters who actually have purpose this season.

It's all just one big excuse to get Allison out and working for the CIA again. It's a move that infuriates Carrie and Saul. And yet, they have no other choice because both Allison and her Russian handler are being cooperative. But that never becomes much of a story in this episode. It's a big deal that she is claiming this story that Dar has to at least consider as a possibility. That seed of doubt is what gets her released when Carrie and Saul are certain that she is guilty. But they aren't able to think about that because this new crisis erupts. They don't have any time to process this information or verify her story. Allison is simply released with a person following her at all times. However, she is still able to make some sort of distress signal during her smoke break. But that is nothing more than a tease for the future. Letting her out was a big mistake that will cost the agency greatly in the future. That's about all she does in this hour though. It's never really understood why she should be let free due to the severity of the situation. She does nothing to help the CIA and German intelligence understand this threat. She is only released for plot purposes and future developments. But that hardly tracks well in a episode that has nothing for her to do.

This episode also tries to suggest that Otto, Jonas and Laura are capable of sustaining their own plot. They are not. They are characters who only really work when they are interacting with Carrie. They exist to offer moral arguments and nothing more. They are so detached from the action and espionage parts of the show. It's hard for them to fit in as naturally as the things Homeland does so well. So, it's hard to care about any of them considering none of them have had a consistent story line this season. Now, they have a new client who may know details about the terrorist attack in Berlin simply because he was wrongfully imprisoned with one of the perpetrators. That's largely just a new plot thread being introduced simply to give those characters something to do. Otto and Saul have a nice chat where they agree to a meeting that is beneficial to both while upholding each other's personal views. And yet, that goes nowhere because their client is quickly snatched up by German intelligence. It's a story this hour tries to make work so that these characters can feel important through a connection to the main story. But it's literally nothing.

So much of this episode feels like set up for future episodes or just stalling tactics. It's hard to take that seriously when it's happening in the tenth episode of a 12-episode season. The hour ends on the fantastic image of Carrie and Saul sitting at Quinn's bedside after Carrie and Astrid rescue him. It's nice to see all of them united again. But it's not enough to overcome all the misgivings of this hour as a whole.

Some more thoughts:
  • "New Normal" was written by Meredith Stiehm & Charlotte Stoudt and directed by Dan Attias.
  • Quinn succumbing to the effects of the sarin gas was a cool special effect at the end of the previous episode. And yet here, it is just far too pronounced. The show goes to it one too many times. Thus, it loses its value and appeal. That's a consequence of dragging the Quinn mystery out to a full hour.
  • Saul attacking Allison in her cell because he's frustrated that she has spun this well crafted lie was a bit unexpected and surprising. He has changed a lot this season. And yet, it also makes sense with just how angry he has been as of late and how personal Allison was to him.
  • Carrie and Astrid do make a solid team but that partnership needs to be more than one of them telling something important to the other.
  • This attack that is going to happen in Berlin by these terrorists can't be the big action sequence for the final stretch of the season, right? It is in no way satisfying to the overall narrative of the season. It can continue to distract next week. But the finale needs to bring the rest of the stories into play and focus as well.