[This is a review of Homeland season 4, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
Aside from having what may be the worst single-episode title of a television program in 2014, ‘There’s Something Else Going On’ has the distinction of showing that, after a few weeks of fumbling around in the dark, Homeland has finally found and shifted into a higher gear. That gear helps push the stakes of the overall narrative as high as the (somewhat inconsistent) emotional stakes Carrie has been dealing with all season. It’s a shift that puts the characters more or less where they need to be as the season races toward the finish line – which means the whole bad title thing pretty much evens out.
Between Carrie’s ill-fated trip home in ‘Trylon and Perisphere,’ Quinn’s boozy poolside lounging and café fisticuffs, and Saul becoming little more than a plot device, failing to use a character to his or her full potential has been an issue Homeland has struggled with on a consistent basis. But the show has proven time and again that it has the tools to correct the issue, which it does here in terms of what Carrie is asked to do and how her determination to complete the task at hand winds up being portrayed. Sure, Quinn is put on watchdog duty and Saul’s character is still hamstrung by his captivity, but at least the show’s ostensible protagonist demonstrates some agency, and the episode as a whole excels because of it.
Now that she can attach a name and an incredibly smug face (Mark Moses is a great character actor; it just so happens he excels at playing smug dudes) to the person responsible for slipping her a dose of pharmaceutical grade LSD, Carrie’s on the warpath, and it is a welcome change. For a character who routinely goes through bouts of frighteningly misplaced assuredness, her angry, expletive-filled questioning of Dennis Boyd offers Carrie (and the audience) a rare moment where her focus and the circumstances of the situation are both crystal clear. It’s a chance for the series to bask once again in how well it handles tense one-on-one confrontations, and why it should focus on recreating those kinds of scenarios as often as possible.
Dennis’ brief interrogation doesn’t hold as much weight as, say, Brody’s from ‘Q&A,’ but it doesn’t have to; it only needs to demonstrate the direction things are headed. Now that Carrie’s been made aware who’s responsible for the mess the embassy is currently in (and it’s rapidly worsening state seen at the episode’s end), Dennis is basically doomed, and his importance is to string along the reveal for as long as possible, all while giving the audience someone to latch onto, while Haqqani’s plans unfold. All told, Danes and Moses do their little dance so well, it’s easy to forgive Homeland its continued reliance on the overused “gotcha!” moment, when it’s divulged that Dennis’ wife Martha is in on Carrie’s efforts to get a confession out of him before the titular “something else” comes to fruition.
For much of the episode, that question of what else is going on beyond the trade that Saul wants no part of, despite being one half of the equation, drives the tension of what would otherwise have been the routine story of a prisoner transfer. That lingering sense of doubt buzzing around the back of Carrie’s brain helps elevate what would normally have been a moment of closure – i.e., her successful and emotionally resonant plea with an obstinate Saul of “no more dying“ – and turn it into the fretful anticipation of the other shoe dropping.
The episode concludes with Carrie and Saul’s convoy under attack, and Lockhart playing right into Haqqani’s hands, by sending the Marines out in response and leaving the embassy ostensibly defenseless. And in that sense, the other shoe lands with as much concussive force as the RPGs that obliterated two SUVs in the CIA convoy. While thrilling, the end result is something of a double-edged sword that delivers several strong character moments and a stunning cliffhanger that might be the best one the season has delivered. But in light of the plot coming together and turning into a story where the risks are as high as they’re ever going to get, the negative impact comes as the superfluity of the C, D, and E plots become even more frustratingly obvious.
There’s been a lot of treading water to get to this point, and although it looks like Homeland is finally at a place to pay off its primary narrative, the stakes have been effectively raised as much for the series as they have for Carrie & Co. If season 4 is going to stand a chance of being as strong as the premiere suggested, it must knock the next four episodes out of the park. Thankfully, ‘There’s Something Else Going On’ has managed to put things in the best possible position to achieve just that.
Homeland continues next Sunday with ’13 Hours in Islamabad’ @9pm on Showtime.