Homeland Review: 3.01 - 'Tin Man Is Down'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 09.29.2013
Homeland makes its return as the C.I.A. is under fire following the explosive events of the season two finale and Carrie finds herself under the crosshairs! But how does the season premiere stack up? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
In the continuing rise of cable's dominance of dramatic television, Showtime is a network at a crossroads. The premium cable network at one point had asserted its position as one of the top places for drama with Dexter, Weeds, The L Word, Dead Like Me and more pushing the channel ahead of primary premium rival HBO during that network's slight lull following The Sopranos. Each of those shows have now gone off into the sunset however and HBO has re-established its frontrunner position in the pay channel market thanks to high-rated shows like True Blood, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire that built ground on the backs of great but lesser-watched shows like Deadwood, The Wire and Rome. However, Showtime is far from empty-handed; they've been establishing series like Ray Donovan and Shameless while Californication and Nurse Jackie hold down the fort on the comedic side.
Without a doubt however, the network's biggest success has come with Homeland. Showtime's spy thriller about a CIA agent and her hunt to prove that a rescued soldier has been turned terrorist captivated the attention of audiences and critics alike, earning high ratings marks and a host of awards for its first season. Its second season was, while still quite good, viewed as a bit of a disappointment and while Claire Danes and the writing time still picked up Emmys, there was perhaps the perception of a little bit of a lull. With a season finale that had the potential to be a game-changer, the show goes into its third season looking to raise the bar for itself and reach ever-new heights as a dramatic thriller. How does it hold up? Let's see in...
Previously on Homeland: Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) is revealed to CIA Division Chief Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) as a terrorist who nearly killed the Vice President with a suicide bomb, proving brilliant-but-unstable agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) as right. Counterterrorism Director David Estes approves a secret op to use Brody to get to Abu Nazi and brings his own guy into help: analyst Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). Carrie's sexual relationship with Brody gets in the way but they arrest him and bring him in, offering him immunity in exchange for getting Nazir. Saul's wife Mira (Sarita Choudhury) puts them on a break for a position in India. Abu Nazir is found and killed, and Brody's daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) asks him about Carrie's claims in season one that he was a terrorist. He admits it but says he didn't and wouldn't do it now. At a funeral of Vice President Walden, Brody and Carrie go off to have sex in another part of the CIA building and escape a car bomb that decimates the CIA. Brody is blamed goes on the run as his ties to Nazir and early suicide bomb video become public knowledge, and Carrie stays behind.
Episode 3.01: Tin Man is Down
Season three kicks off with our good "analyst" friend Quinn sitting in what looks like a garage carefully assembling some kind of explosive device, which we immediately know can't be for a good thing. I mean, come on. Even if we didn't know Quinn was really a black ops man who had been brought in by Estes in order to kill Brody at the end of the operation (which, of course, didn't happen) and even if we didn't knew that the homemade thing with the switch that turns a red light on is a bomb, the seedy-looking domicile he's doing it in and the discordant score would give us a pretty good hint. It's not like he's going to suddenly use it as a remote control for that model bi-wing that has happens to be his favorite hobby.
But before we can spend too much time thinking about that though, it's time to get back to the meat of this show: making Carrie look crazy. I'm kidding about that (mostly). In a very solid point of reality, Congress is pretty pissed about the attack on Langley, in which we learn over 200 people were killed, and they want to basically hang the CIA out to dry. This is a nice touch that plays into current paranoia and rhetoric about the US intelligence community, which has been on the outs with a series of scandals lately no matter which way you look at it. It also makes a lot of sense; this was a huge terrorist attack and honestly a lot of things went wrong in order to allow it to happen. Senator Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts), who is leading the Congressional hearing, makes it very clear that he wants to deliver a harsh verdict and Carrie, who is currently testifying with a legal advisor at her side, is grilled and asked rhetorical questions like "How can the CIA protect America when it can't even protect itself?" She holds up fairly admirably despite some very pointed questions that are aimed specifically at tearing apart her credibility, at least until one of her answers is blown out of the water by a leaked CIA document to the Congressional council showing that Brody had immunity for his testimony. Eventually she breaks in the interrogation (which is what it is) and expresses the extremely unpopular belief that Brody wasn't involved, which even makes her own counsel say it's a "minority opinion," which appears to be shorthand for "this chick is crazy."
And let's not confuse the issue; Carrie is crazy. As we know she's bipolar and we later learn from a conversation her father that she's off her lithium, but that it's fine because she's taking alternative methods like jogging and exercise and meditation. Listen, I'm all about the new age stuff but we're talking chemical imbalances here and if national security rests in your hands, can't you be just a little bit on the safe side? In Carrie's case the answer is no because, like she inexplicably blames herself for 9/11 (a fact that we learned during season one), she also blames herself for being not on her game due to her medication and thus missing the bombing. Because certainly it can't have anything to do with the fact that she was looking forward to skipping out on a Vice President's memorial to get down with his killer in someone's office. That's a reason to stay on the lithium, Ms. Mathison. Danes is great here and she manages to make this non-stop assault on Carrie's credibility as a character compelling, as much as the writing tries for the opposite.
Meanwhile, Saul and his partner in crime at the CIA, black ops specialist Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), are working on a plan to eliminate six of the key men who were involved on the CIA bombing. After a little bit where they argue over Carrie's testimony--Adal thinks that Carrie should be left blowing in the wind while Saul refuses to do that--they attend a briefing with the president's counsel and other officials. It's revealed that Brody (who doesn't appear in the episode, worth mentioning) knows they're looking for him and the man who ordered the hit, Iranian Majid Javadi, can't be found. The operation will be tricky--it is six targets on three continents with a time window of just twenty minutes--and Saul isn't convinced. The writers are trying to make Saul look like he doesn't believe he's ready to be making these kinds of calls, and Patinkin is better than the material he gets. Another actor may have been swamped by Saul's indecision and made the character look weak-willed and clearly not fit, but in the veteran actor's hands Saul comes off as astute but self-doubting, which works. Abraham is an interesting mix in this; he's the devil on Saul's right shoulder, spurring him to action and giving good reasons why. But Saul, despite his misgivings, is resolute that it has to be done right if the CIA is to survive.
Of course, the op goes down but Quinn isn't able to take out his target by tossing that homemade explosive in a car window like he planned because he sees a kid in the car. So he follows them to their house, which makes for more 24 goodness as he uses it to blow up the house's generator, goes in and kills everyone just in time and the rest of their teams take their targets out. I have previously said that I don't like how the show tries to cop the FOX series' "action is better than suspense" attitude, but in this case it makes complete sense because if you're going to spend the whole hour ripping on the agency the show is set around than you need to come back strong and show that yes indeed they are competent and can get the job done, even in tricky operations like this. I have no problem with them staging this kind of thing when it's germane to the plot and it absolutely was in this instance. Of course it doesn't all go off without a hitch because that kid ends up poking up at the wrong time and Quinn, not knowing it's the kid, shoots him dead. Certainly that's going to bite him in the ass down the road but for now, it's a success. Collateral damage happens, especially when there's dramatic tension to be wrung out of it down the road.
In the other subplot from the episode, Dana is released from a psychiatric facility where, we learn, she was sent after she slit her wrists over the media hoopla over her father's terrorist ties being broadcast on the national news. She gets a new love interest in one of the kids from the facility (because that will certainly be healthy for her) and she and Jessica (Morena Baccarin) are besieged by reporters. They come home and Jessica's mother is there to say clichéd things like "You're so skinny, didn't they feed you in there?" and to trash Brody over dinner, much to Jessica's discomfort. Oh, and Dana sexts a topless picture of herself to her new boyfriend. Lovely.
And just to make sure the episode doesn't end on a happy note with the operation a success, we finish up with another bombshell for Carrie. After she picks up enough booze to send an entire frat's worth of jocks into alcohol poisoning, Carrie takes some random guy home for one of her one-night stands, which I suppose is at least better than sleeping with a terrorist. She wakes up to find out from her father that someone has leaked her relationship with Brody (although not with her name) to the media, which she blows a gasket over in public at Saul. Saul suspects Adar, who denies it but says it's what they need. And at Saul's Congressional testimony--which is highly publicized, unlike Carrie's--he reveals that "the agent in question" (namely Carrie) had hid her bipolar disorder and her relationship with Brody from the CIA, which helps get the CIA off the hook put puts Carrie squarely on it. Her look of betrayal as she watches on TV is not unprovoked.
So let's get down to brass tacks here. As I pointed out in my 8 Ball column this past week, Homeland is a show that fell from "fantastic" to merely "great" in season two and there were some things I felt the writers needed to do in order to right the ship. Are there any steps being made toward any of them? Well, yes to be honest. I'm glad that they left Brody out of this episode because it would have been too many storyline threads for them to follow. This is an hour long episode and four separate narratives is too much; we've seen this in countless other shows but particularly in one that needs to refocus itself, we should keep an economy of storylines. (Don't worry, Brody will reportedly be back soon.) I really like that they have Congress going after the CIA here; while I don't think anyone reasonably would think that the organization's charter would be revoked, it makes sense that they're feeling the threat of it considering all the royal mess ups they made on the show. And the complicated op goes off with only the hitch of the dead boy and even that isn't shown as incompetence, but as a tragic mistake. So there are a lot of steps being made to move toward another creative high note.
On the other hand, the show's continual need to make Carrie look as messed-up as possible drives me absolutely bonkers. We already know that she has some issues, and they come up or are pointedly discussed in every episode. Is bipolar disorder not enough for them that they need to have her reputation assaulted in every way possible and show her making repeatedly poor decisions such as not taking her lithium or the one-night stand? I realize that premium cable shows feel the need to show at least some sex every episode but this really wasn't necessary and it simply undercuts the credibility of one of their primary characters in order to make everyone else look competent. It got tiring in season two and it's not a lot better here in the opener of season three, though I do applaud her for holding up as long as she did in her part of the hearing.
The other complaint I have is the Dana storyline. Did Morgan Saylor lose a bet with someone to get the most tedious storyline in cable television today? I think the suicide attempt makes sense all things considered and I realize that they want to show Dana suffering under the mental trauma of everything her family's undergoing. But I couldn't have been the only person who thought it was in tacky and a bit passé to through topless sexting on top of the suicide attempt. I enjoy Saylor and Baccarin's acting but I honestly couldn't care less about the family that Brody left behind; it's a time filler for me and that time could be better spent.
The 411: There was a lot of good in the season three premiere of Homeland, enough that it largely counteracted the things that made me want to pull my hair out. The Congressional investigation of the C.I.A. makes sense and adds a new level of urgency to things and it gave some added suspense to the operation to take out their targets. Saul and Adar's slightly-combative dynamic is an interesting mix as the two top guys at the agency now and Quinn is legitimately a bad-ass. On the other hand they still have a ways to go with Carrie, as they seem dead set on undermining her credibility as a character and the Jessica/Dana stuff just seems like wasted time. Right now Homeland is about even with how it ended season two with, but some promising momentum and improved pacing and focus have me hopeful for the season.