Homeland S4E5: “It’s A Strange Game They’re Playing”

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By Josh Logue 

It’s not easy to sit down and complain about the same TV show every week. Or very fun. It stops being fun pretty quickly in fact. “Homeland” and a lot of TV shows out there are often disappointing, but fellow “Newsroom” fans know there’s more to this medium than what is strictly speaking good or bad. And that almost nothing is 100 percent terrible, and even when it is, it’s probably still a lot of fun to watch. “Homeland” has a lot of problems, yes, but it’s definitely not all bad, so I want to start by highlighting something I really love about “Homeland” right now.

And that’s Michael O’Keefe. I’d say I’m unfamiliar with roughly 80 percent of his IMDB credits, which stretch all the way back to 1976, but he’s one of those actors I recognize vaguely whenever they pop up. “Homeland,” it turns out, is a perfect fit for him. He plays John Redmond, a spy who was set to inherit the station chief position before Carrie swooped in and stole it. That rankled him obviously, and it showed in his initial interactions with Carrie, but he hasn’t let that get in the way of their work.

He’s serious but calm and disaffected in a way only an experienced professional can get away with being. O’Keefe gives him a relaxed and compassionate edge that feels completely believable and makes him one of the more complex and enjoyable characters on the show right now. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it. With Saul’s weird and uncertain role in the show and Carrie’s improbable (unhinged) decision making, Redmond is my favorite character on the show right now. I love every moment he’s on the screen and wish that happened more often.

Luckily, we may see a lot more of him now that the plot has begun to envelop him a little. This week, Redmond helped calm down the ambassador’s drunk husband, who came very close to admitting the Pakistani secret service was blackmailing him for more intelligence. Instead, he overhears Redmond and the ambassador talking about him, and he goes through with breaking into Carrie’s apartment anyway.

In the mean time, Carrie’s (extremely) flawed decision making is at least triggering some consequences. While she’s holed up and unreachable in the safe house with Aayan, a cleric they saw in the last episode escapes with Saul tied up in his trunk. That’s a big screw-up.

Photo courtesy of Indie Wire

And Saul’s in it now, too. ISI kidnapped him, so no more offices and restaurants and back room wheel and dealing with the Pakistani government. Torture, rescue and/or escape attempts are in his future. Physical action rather than intense stares and shouting matches (though we’ll probably get some of that too). This is one of those moves that could work out OK, but considering “Homeland’s” track record, feels more like a cheap way to raise the stakes and give this floundering character a purpose.

Saul’s abduction, of course, was preceded by an extended tailing sequence. I’ve said before this show knows how to handle that kind of tense, dialogue-less action, but I’m beginning to worry they’re falling into a one-per-episode formula. The moment Saul spotted the ISI agent, it was obvious what we were in for, and it was obvious that those scenes would fill the episode’s tension quota. Those scenes were still skillfully depicted, surprising and enjoyable, but they’re starting to feel a little inevitable.

Photo courtesy of the Huffington Post

Wait! That’s too much complaining. Let’s wrap up with something else I really liked about this episode. It’s just one scene about 10 minutes into the episode, and it’s just spy show bread and butter – two agents trying to work out what the other guys are doing. But it’s not the CIA this time, it’s the other guys. ISI. We get to watch them mull over Saul’s sudden schedule change and Carrie’s schemes. We get a window into the lives and work-a-day maneuvers of our protagonist’s counterparts, and that is new and different and interesting, and we can only hope Homeland doubles down. Maybe with half or even entire episodes devoted to the ISI’s point of view. That may sound a little too radical for Homeland, but remember that this show once felt truly unique, and this is the first glimmer of that feeling I’ve seen in years. Let’s hope it works out.

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