[This is a review of Homeland season 4, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
Every so often, Homeland reminds viewers (and possibly its own writers) how well it handles the interplay between two people in an isolated environment. That was certainly the case with 'The Weekend,' when Carrie and Brody ran off to a cabin in the woods for a few days, ostensibly sparking the "love affair" that has haunted the show ever since. Season 2 twisted the tranquil notion of seclusion into a tense confrontation, when 'The Weekend,' shifted the setting to a CIA interrogation room in 'Q&A.' The dynamic was still the same, but the stakes for the individuals involved had been altered dramatically by the circumstances of what brought them together.
After last week's 'Iron in the Fire' ended with Carrie seducing her new asset, there was a sense that her time with Aayan afterward would balance the quiet, trust-building seclusion of a weekend getaway with the high-stakes tension of an interrogation. For the most part, the sequences detailing Carrie and Aayan's now intimate interaction with one another did just that. The results, however, are rather mixed.
For starters, Aayan's character doesn’t inherently build much in the way of tension. There are no real stakes with regard to his presence; he's a facilitator to the much larger issue of uncovering why his uncle Haissam Haqqani is still alive and why the CIA was duped into believing he wasn't. The stakes, then, as far as 'About a Boy' is concerned, belong to Carrie on a much more personal level. When Quinn confronts her about the goings-on inside the safe house, and asks whether or not there is a line she won't cross, that much becomes clear. This is Carrie revisiting the choices she made with Brody, without the enormous burden of wondering whether or he is also sleeper agent.
The episode addresses the similarities between Carrie's actions with Aayan and Brody in a way that helps explain why she seduced the young man, and, to a certain extent, how she feels about it. Carrie's fuzzy description to Saul hints at the level of impropriety she'd engaged in, but her rationalizing it – especially to Quinn – as a justifiable means to an end is 100 percent classic Carrie. And the fact that Quinn knew exactly what she was up to is indicative of his understanding of her as well as how consistently her actions walk a very specific path. This is largely why Carrie's dealings with Aayan are so frustratingly similar, even when they manage to shine a light on where she is psychologically.
There's nothing to suggest that Carrie's been romantically linked with anyone since Brody's death or the birth of her daughter, so for her to cross that line with Aayan, potentially means something more than answering the question of what she's willing to do in order to track down a terrorist. The emotional wall that comes down when Aayan and Carrie are standing in the kitchen, discussing the father of her child, the way she blames herself for his demise, and her voicing a desire to have been married to him, feels more important for allowing Carrie a chance at some emotional honesty, even though it happens a moment when she's perpetuating a lie.
Everyone sees Brody for who he'd become, so it makes sense Carrie would have to open up to someone who didn't know him (or her, for that matter). In a way, the physical connection between the two wound up being a two-way street, as Carrie gets Aayan to admit his uncle is still alive (simultaneously proving how naïve he is, thinking a journalist is going to sit on a story a big as that just because he made her "promise"), while also granting Carrie a rare moment to unburden herself without the risk of being judged by someone who knows more than what she's telling.
The problem is, none of what goes on in the safe house is nearly as engaging as watching Quinn and Fara on a stakeout. It's the same dynamic of (almost) two people in an isolated environment, getting to know one another. But because Fara's so new to field work and Quinn's clearly on the way out, their interplay reads as intimate in a different and more compelling way. Fara's uncertainty is as revealing as Quinn's offer of support, telling her she's better at a job she didn't want than she's giving herself credit for. It's quick and it's simple, but most importantly, if feels fresh. If Homeland is intent on exploring relationships between characters, this is one deserving of more screen time.
The same can be said for Saul, whose arc this season has been to make the leap from being one convenient plot device to another. Since he repaired Carrie's relationship with Ambassador Boyd (just in time for her husband to become the primary thorn in her side), Saul is relegated to being taken by surprise in an airport bathroom by the ISI operative who had a part in Sandy's death.
All of this seems to be building to a big reveal, but like Aayan, there's not enough evidence of what's at stake for any of it to be rousing or engaging, beyond the obligatory curiosity of what will happen next.
Homeland will continue next Sunday with 'From A to B and Back again' @9pm on Showtime.