[This is a review of Homeland season 4, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Well, we must bid farewell to Aayan, who, when it came right down to it, placed his trust in the two least trustworthy people he could ever have come across.
The young, somewhat naïve and overly obliging former medical student was not long for this world the second Homeland had him step foot into Carrie’s not-so-safe house. A fly trapped in a spider’s web should feel more at ease than someone caught in the mesh of Carrie’s emotionally tangled subterfuge. At least the fly gets to face its demise straight on; those entangled in the many threads of Ms. Mathison’s increasingly questionable choices are often not so lucky.
Has there ever been a character on Homeland who has drawn the short straw as consistently as Aayan? Brody certainly comes close, but even he caught a lucky break (or made those breaks himself) now and again. The misadventures of young Aayan in the first six episodes were little more than a steady stream of unlucky occurrences and doomed encounters. From his survival of the initial bombing strike meant to wipe out Hassaim Haqqani to his roommate making him a YouTube sensation to his girlfriend’s father getting him kicked out of medical school, Aayan couldn’t catch a break if someone walked up and dropped it in his hands.
Still, when your uncle is on the CIA kill list, and your first intimate encounter is with a woman whose only concern is scratching that name off the list, perhaps the only luck you’re destined to have is the bad kind.
The thing about Aayan is: He existed solely to better establish the morally ambiguous parameters in which Carrie continues to operate, and in the regard she’s willing (or unwilling) to show others in her pursuit of achieving a particular goal. In some sense, Carrie’s the perfect agent: her detached coldness allows her to make decisions where the idea of weighing human life against a job well done might cause others to hesitate.
And although there’s an incredible amount of information – both plot-related and otherwise – to process in the final five minutes of ‘From A to B and Back Again,’ it’s the sort of material that has been lacking from the last few episodes of Homeland. Not since the unfairly derided ‘Trylon and Perisphere‘ has season 4 really delved into Carrie Mathison’s psyche and pulled up something as black as pitch.
Both here and in episode 2, Carrie’s concerns are limited to the task at hand. This means Carrie getting what she wants supersedes the needs of those around her – or, more to the point, those whose lives she (sometimes literally) holds in her hands. And although Aayan isn’t a baby in the bath, his ability to shield himself from Carrie’s influence is essentially the same.
After the stunts she pulled in season 3, it would have seemed like the natural thing for the series to do would be to offer Carrie a chance at redemption – or at the very least to justify her promotion within the U.S. Intelligence community when she should have arguably been put on trial for treason. But Homeland is doing something more interesting than placing its protagonist on a conventional upswing; it’s keeping her trajectory basically the same, apparently in an effort to see just how low she will go.
It’s a risky proposition, constantly testing the unlikability of your hero. But, even in its unlikeliness, it’s a definitive to take. Perhaps Homeland should be commended for its efforts to explore Carrie Mathison in a way that digs deeper into the complexity of her mental illness and makes the audience question where Carrie ends and the affliction begins.
Asking whether or not the choices Carrie has made are the result of her condition, or are they generated from the sense of stability she is seemingly granted by the cocktail of drugs Dennis Boyd discovered in her embassy apartment has, more than anything else this season, shown the possibility of bearing fruit. Sure, these questions could be applied to any situation involving Carrie throughout the series’ run, but here, without the direct influence of Brody (and to a lesser extent, Saul), they seem to resonate more – especially since they very nearly have a direct impact on whether or not Saul gets to continue breathing.
‘From A to B and Back Again’ may be the most satisfying episode since the season 3 premiere. To the writers’ credit, that has less to do with Aayan’s shocking death at the hands of his uncle, and even the much-needed tension raised from Saul’s predicament as Haqqani’s uniquely powerful bargaining chip, and more to do with Carrie’s willingness to order a drone strike even when she’s literally looking into the face of the collateral damage. Quinn has to remind her who the man is on the screen in front of her before she storms out in a fit of rage.
But where does the anger truly emanate? Can we give Carrie the benefit of the doubt and wonder whether she figured a quick death would be merciful, considering the torture he’s likely to endure at the hands of Haqqani?
That could be it, but as Redmond says to her before the mission goes awry, “I think you don’t care what anyone thinks.” Which could very well be far more apt an assessment of where Carrie’s mind is than even he knows.
Homeland continues next Sunday with ‘Redux’ @9pm on Showtime.
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