By Josh Logue
“Homeland” wrapped up its fourth season with an episode that easily outstripped the quality of its disappointing first half or so. But by bringing Carrie back home this week for a quiet, character-focused finale, the show couldn’t quiet reach the tense, knife-edge highs it set this season.
All the narrative seeds are planted early. Carrie’s mom shows up out of the blue, which Carrie isn’t as happy about as her sister is, to understate the situation slightly. Dar Adal (Remember? He was in the back of Haqqani’s car last episode) visits Carrie looking for Quinn.
Things rumble along from there, and Quinn’s absence plus Adal’s presence bring some needed mystery to the episode’s first half or so, but the one of the show’s foremost flaws becomes evident almost from the get go and sticks around the rest of the episode.
Specifically, I’m talking about “Homeland’s” inability to transplant the subtlety and nuance it can do so well in the work-a-day spycraft parts of the show over to the all-important emotional, interpersonal part of the show.
Instead, big moments between characters are bluntly depicted and quickly or suddenly reversed. Early on, for example, Carrie alienates and shouts at her mom, who’s just appeared, and her sister, who wants to give mom a chance. Carrie won’t hear of it, which is understandable, especially under the tragic circumstances (remember, their dad died in the last episode), but in Carrie’s very next scene, she and her sister are calmly discussing the issue. If Carrie saying “She walked out on us. What kind of mother does that?” doesn’t feel a little blunt to you, her sister responding, “you did” sure should.
Anyway, dad’s funeral – where Quinn finally shows up, by the way — leads to a nice, relaxed scene with Carrie, Saul, Quinn and Lockhart all commiserating with one another over whiskey in paper cups. That’s the moment this week, brief as it was, that felt earned and satisfying, the way you want a finale to feel.
But this isn’t just any old finale. This is “Homeland”! We’re not even halfway through the episode. After the funeral, Carrie kisses Quinn! And then she goes off to find her mom, which she does, and it turns out she didn’t leave because of dad’s health issues (that’s what Carrie had been told), and she’s got a son, Carrie’s half-brother Tim. The mom narrative, though, is kind of disappointing because, again, this show just isn’t emotionally nuanced or adept.
And the whole Carrie/Quinn imbroglio is disappointing on its face (not another imprudent relationship), but, thankfully, it doesn’t last very long. At the first sign of reluctance on Carrie’s part, Quinn zips off onto an over-seas assassination mission in another instance of narrative whiplash (first he’s out and still reluctant after Carrie pulls him back in, then he’s Revenge Guy, then he’s out again, then he’s right back in).
In the meantime, Adal confirms to Saul and eventually to Carrie that he’s working with Haqqani and offers a flimsy, grey area justification that Saul appears, at first, to easily dismiss. But when Carrie rejects the same line later in the episode, it turns out Saul is right there, in Adal’s house, apparently still working with the guy. It’s difficult to say what that’s about because the episode ends there, with Carrie distraught that Saul would ever step so far over the line. It feels like a set-up for some bigger scheme on their part, but who knows. We’ll have to wait a while to see.
On the whole, this was not the season’s strongest episode. It leaned too heavily on things the show just doesn’t do very well. But the show’s really rather startling and steep improvement at the season’s half-way mark puts “Homeland” in a weird and unique situation that’s unlike just about any other TV show on the air.
It could be anything next season. Good or bad, sure, but it could be about anything too. Structurally and spiritually speaking, “Homeland” is the least entrenched show on TV right now. Even other shows that maintain an anything-can-happen atmosphere (like “The Walking Dead,” say, or, more recently, “The Leftovers”) all carefully preserve a precisely calibrated tone that guarantees, to a certain extent, that you know what you’re getting into each week. Not so with “Homeland”! Who knows what we’re in for next season!
Sure, it’s easy to see how that could be problematic, and it may indeed be tied to the show’s (very) unstable quality, but it also makes “Homeland” totally different from any other show out there. And that’s not nothing.