[This is a review of Homeland season 4, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
So, Homeland has managed to bring Carrie's team together in Islamabad, ready to investigate the lead Quinn managed to uncover while watching YouTube (presumably drunk) that the CIA and millions of other people managed to miss entirely. It's the fourth episode of the season, and it already feels like so much has happened between Sandy's death, Carrie's brief excursion home (and all that entailed), and The Adventures of Quittin' Quinn that you wind up hoping this event will provide some stability and consistency in terms of what this season is supposed to be about.
That's essentially the task of 'Iron in the Fire': Give the story a sense of purpose. Pull as many threads together as possible so they at least run parallel to one another. Have Carrie do something ethically questionable.
The questionable action Carrie finds herself undertaking, her swift seduction of Aayan (Suraj Sharma), ends up being the real talking point for an episode that manages to deliver some intrigue into the reasons behind Sandy's death, while also revealing that the target in the season premiere, Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar), is still very much alive.
After discovering Haqqani was still alive, and that Aayan was delivering him medical supplies, it's certainly understandable that Carrie would consider Aayan such a high priority asset that she would do absolutely anything in order to keep him close at hand.
Having him delivered to the safe house for the sole purpose of seducing him – presumably to distract him from the promises she was likely never going to deliver in the first place – reads as such deliberate shock (or schlock) that any potential drama in the moment is undone by the overwhelming sense of familiarity. It makes you wonder if the writers feel like they need to top what was done in previous seasons, to continually make it seem as though they – and by extension, Carrie – are willing to cross whatever line might exist at the moment, in order to get the job done.
Obviously, Carrie using sex to keep Aayan around and in line, so she can use him to get to the bottom the Haqqani situation and, possibly, what the Pakistani intelligence has to do with it, immediately remind viewers of her and Brody.
So, perhaps that is what Homeland is going for, some kind of acknowledgment of the past repeating itself? If so, it worked, I guess. But to what end? Are we supposed to see Carrie as even more damaged than ever before? Is she simply being cunning and manipulative in a way that could prove to be frighteningly cold and calculating? Or are we to assume that Carrie is once again off her meds and this is the result?
On the plus side, Carrie's actions create a lot of questions and talking points, and it certainly makes next week's episode seem more intriguing, just to find out what the potential consequences might be. But right now, the concern is this play with Aayan will undermine Carrie's authority more than it already has been by her actions and reputation. What's worse is the concern that Quinn's crush will become the primary source of any dramatic fallout.
Which is troubling since Quinn and Carrie's conversation/argument about their job and the moral and ethical concerns that come along with it was delivered well, and provided a philosophical schism between the two that feels like something the show needs to explore more.
It also makes the possibility of Quinn's affections becoming a major part of the narrative even more frustrating. It feels like the waste of an interesting, conflicted character that could provide a much-needed contrast to Carrie's cold detachment.
But that is what Homeland has delivered so far: characters who haven't quite lived up to their potential. We have yet to see the members of the CIA do much in order to affect the course of the plot. They're just responding to the actions of others. This is okay as the conspiracy continues to unfold, but sooner or later, we want these characters to dictate where the story is going.
Right now, it feels as though certain characters, like Aayan and especially Saul, aren't being given a chance to exhibit any real dimensionality, they only exist as plot devices or key masters to get Carrie and her team onto the next task.
The same can be said of the recent addition of Mark Moses (a.k.a. Herman 'Duck' Philips) as Dennis Boyd, the plagiarist husband of U.S. Ambassador Martha Boyd. Introducing him as a traitor and the leak in his wife's office not only undermines her character, it adds another wrinkle to the story that walks the line between complication and complexity. With any luck it will prove to be the latter.
Right now, season 4 is feeling messy. But it's still early, and Homeland has pulled out of such skids before. The question is: Will this storyline pull up, like season 2, or will it plummet like last season?
Homeland will continue next Sunday with 'About a Boy' @9pm on Showtime.