[This is a review of Homeland season 4, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
Homeland took last week off, leaving viewers with plenty of extra time to ponder the fate of Carrie and Saul as their caravan was attacked by RPGs, while those inside the embassy would soon welcome an uninvited Haissam Haqqani into their midst.
The result of that rather effective cliffhanger, then, as scripted by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, was something a little closer to an episode of Gordon's recently resurrected 24: a fast-paced, action-packed hour built to dole out as much detail of a single event as possible. The episode even went so far as to emulate its elder sibling by telling the audience exactly how long said event would take place.
As such, '13 Hours in Islamabad' wasn't your average episode, but it wasn't something completely foreign either. Yes, there were some conspicuous Jack Bauer-y undertones. After all, Quinn and a single soldier stood their ground against a group of terrorists, while snipers kept Carrie and Saul pinned down, but neither action necessarily felt out of place. If anything, those bullet-filled beats demonstrated the ways in which Homeland is at home whether its narrative is somewhat outlandish and incredibly broad or whether it is somewhat outlandish and focused on the minutiae.
And while this particular hour was more of the latter, it managed to turn into the kind of sleek operation that occurs when the series is at its best. And that is remarkable, considering the episode missed so many big swings and still came out feeling like it hit one out of the park.
'13 Hours in Islamabad' – minus the four that went by after a wounded Haqqani escaped through yet another secret tunnel in the embassy – primarily worked because it was able to strike the right kind of balance between rising action and table setting that needs to happen with only two episodes left in what has been an uneven but interesting season. There were stakes to Haqqani's raid that were felt both in the short term and the long.
Of course, the short term was felt in the unexpected death of John (just as he was beginning to be a likable guy) and the not-entirely-unexpected death of Far, at the hands of the terrorist leader. For much of the season, Homeland has been trying to make a story for Fara, but never quite found exactly where she fit in this particular story.
And that's too bad, because when she was actually put to use, like she was confirming Haqqani's death had been faked, and again working with Quinn all day, learning to be a field agent, it felt like the show was investing in a character who might have a bright future in the dark and gloomy world of international intelligence. The progress that was made with Fara's character adds the extra sting to her death, rendering it as close to a tragedy as a semi-underdeveloped character is likely to get on this series.
It seems Fara's death hit Max hardest of all, resulting in another moment where a character tells Carrie she's not the best when in comes to interpersonal relationships, and a tearful Carrie gets to say something like: "Yeah, tell me something I don't know." The scene feels kind of odd and misshapen, but that irregularity is exactly what the episode needed to put the appropriate focus on Fara's death.
With all that was going on while Haqqani and his men stormed the embassy, and Lockhart's ill-fated decision to hand over Sandy's list of contacts and assets in exchange for Fara's life, it could have been easier for the episode to focus on how the survivors would pick up the pieces. In that sense, the brief but effective acknowledgement of Fara's untimely death lends some necessary gravitas to what would otherwise have been an episode that was all about setting up the endgame.
That pause is even more important considering what lies ahead isn't going to afford the two players left on the field much time to mourn, much less work their fallen colleague's name into whatever conversation they're going to have. Now that Quinn's ostensibly gone rogue – after several episodes of basically keeping Carrie in check – that means Carrie's tasked with being the responsible one…in a country where she's now operating without a safety net of any kind.
So, in a weird way, Carrie's right back in her comfort zone. The notion that this is where Carrie sometimes thrives certainly assuages some of the problems that stem from Lockhart's decision to let her (of all people) stay in Islamabad for five additional days, while everyone else books it to the airport.
But it doesn't quite assuage all of the problems.
In fact, for as engaging an hour as '13 Hours in Islamabad' was, the hour asked its characters to make way too many dumb decisions in order to make sure the plot went exactly where it needed to go. That's not really anything new for Homeland, but for an episode where Lockhart tosses Martha Boyd to the ground so he can risk the lives of countless assets and contacts, or when Martha literally signs off on Dennis' desire to hang himself (as a way to save her own career, no less), it's amazing the hour turned out as well as it did.
It's a shame Saul couldn't be more a part of the story – kudos to Mandy Patinkin for handling having literally nothing to do for an entire season so well – but if the next two episodes are going to boil down to Carrie and Quinn running around without supervision, then Homeland just might have what this season needs to end things just right.
Homeland continues next Sunday with 'Krieg Nicht Lieb' @9pm on Showtime.
Photos: David Bloomer/Showtime