Why ‘Homeland’s Latest Twist Saved the Season… Even If It Was Pretty Silly

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Kent Smith/Showtime
Kent Smith/Showtime

On last week’s AFT Podcast, Jason and I discussed the very Brody-centric third episode of Homeland‘s third season with no small amount of disgust. Why was the show fumbling away all the goodwill it earned just a year ago, after everyone had given the show praise and armfuls of awards for its taut and thrilling first season?

Are we really going to spend the season watching Brody (Damian Lewis) escape the prison-esque tower in Caracas while Carrie (Claire Danes) tries to assert her sanity while Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and the CIA shit all over her life? It felt like the most interesting storyline of the season was going to be about Dana Brody’s (Morgan Saylor) teenage romance with a sociopath, and that wasn’t promising.

It got to the point where, while I wasn’t ready to walk away from the show, Jason was. But then we saw Carrie at the end of last week’s episode, “Game On,” visit Saul at his house and tell him “it worked!”, and everything changed. The long con that they’ve played in order to get closer to the Iranian who financed the Langley car bomb at the end of season 2 is about to pay off, as Carrie is about to become a triple-agent.

Now, I can’t speak for Jason, but that twist saved me from going down the road that led to deleting the show’s season pass off my DVR. Now, with Carrie working for the CIA — at least on the DL — the world of Homeland makes sense again. There’s a promise of intrigue and action, and there was even a hook into bringing Brody back in the fold, given the fact that this Iranian “conveniently” owns a piece of a football team that’s based in — you guessed it — Caracas.

I write these things, however, knowing that the twist, at least as it stands now, was one of the silliest in the show’s brief history. It basically asks us to believe that everything that came before it this season, or at least a good portion of it, was one big ruse, and that Saul and Carrie were so good at pulling it off that they not only fooled the entire CIA and a Congressional committee, but the viewers as well.

This isn’t exactly the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense, where if you go back and look at the movie again you’ll see all the clues.  No, there wasn’t any indication in the first three episodes that this was a set-up. Carrie was off her meds; Saul leaked the story about her and Brody to the press then chucked her under the bus in front of Congress; Carrie tried to go to the press; Saul and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) had her committed.  We saw Carrie get angry at Saul, both by herself as she watched his testimony and again when he visited her in the institution — that heavily-medicated “Fuck you, Saul” she gave him sure seemed genuine.

So when did this ruse get hatched? It’s hard to believe, as many critics have speculated, that it was going on when we picked up on everyone’s lives at the beginning of the third season. There were just too many variables there for that to make sense. Is it possible that Carrie could still be surprised and angry at Saul for outing her in front of that committee, even though she was in on the plan? Is it plausible that, despite knowing that Saul and Dar Adal would have her committed, that she would still be angry that Saul has contributed to keeping her there, despite the plan? Absolutely, but other than Carrie saying that Saul should have gotten her out of the hospital sooner, so far there’s no evidence to show that the con was that long.

If the intention that the first third of the season was all a sham, then it would lead me to the same conclusion that Time‘s James Poniewozik made, that the show is addicted to twists, and “in order to top the thrills and shocks that the first season delivered, it resorted, over and over, to increasingly far-fetched big reveals and ‘game changers,’ swooping in at the end of episode after episode like so many helicopters landing in the dark.”

My thought is that the plan was born at some point later on, after Carrie was sent to the hospital. Either there was more conversation after Carrie’s “Fuck you, Saul,” or she somehow got in touch with him after the lawyer for the Iranian’s envoy paid her a visit. If that’s the case, then the show can only be accused of doing a poor job of explaining things to its audience, perhaps relying on them to keep tuning in, figuring they’ll show everything becoming clearer as the season goes along. I certainly hope that’s the case;  I can tolerate some poor storytelling if things are explained at some point, especially if making that jump rights the ship, like it seems to be doing here.

If that’s not the case, though, then the audience was played for suckers for four episodes. And while that may be a good way to get in good with a terrorist, that’s no way to keep an audience. We’ll find out in the coming weeks, won’t we?

Joel Keller is one of the co-founders of Antenna Free TV and co-hosts the weekly AFT Podcast. A long time ago, he left a career rebooting servers to write about TV and other fun stuff (though his ulterior motive was to write off his cable on his income taxes). At the time, he was writing for the late, great site TV Squad, where he eventually became editor-in-chief. Since those heady days, he's written about TV and other topics for The New York Times, The A.V. Club, TheAtlantic.com, Fast Company's Co.Create, Vulture, Zap2It and elsewhere.


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