[This is a review of Homeland season 3, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
It's hard not to look at 'Big Man in Tehran' and think that Homeland has managed to produce the best episode of an uneven season. The episode finds a way of reminding the audience what the series is normally so good at, and that is creating some sense of energy between its two leads, regardless if they're sitting across the table from one another, or if Brody's in packed square in Tehran listening to Carrie's voice over a cell phone.
That sort of dynamic has been the basis of the entire series, and when it works like it does here, it's easy to see why Brody is still on the show: the allure of seeing him and Carrie react to one another on a level that exists well outside the boundaries of the mission at hand is potentially far more attractive than anything else on the Homeland. It's certainly more appealing than consistently putting Carrie's mental status under the microscope, or listening while Saul reprimands her for whatever recent on-the-fly decision was made that could undermine the entire mission – only to later sign off on sending her into Tehran as point on what will likely be his most important (and probably last as acting director of the CIA) operation in over three decades.
Unlike the inconsistent gains the season has seen from playing various versions of the aforementioned scenarios over and over again, 'Big Man in Tehran' reaps considerable rewards from putting another familiar situation at the forefront of the story. The episode primarily benefits from being able to remind the audience of Homeland's greatest hits without necessarily devolving into a clip show. All the elements are here: Brody's unpredictability/resourcefulness (or, if you'd rather, his malleability when it comes to suggestion and command); Carrie's dogged belief in how right she is; and the sense that there's actually something at stake between the two of them that's larger than whether or not they will ever see one another again – filling their desire to do so in the midst of such chaotic circumstances with the kind of pathos that show ran on for two full seasons.
In the end, though, despite the welcome familiarity and superb execution of some of the episode's circumstances, it's also hard not to weigh the plusses of 'Big Man in Tehran' against the minuses of season 3, and think it would be detrimental to the series if Nicholas Brody were to continue to exist past next week's season finale. This is the second time Homeland has left him hovering over the dead body of a high-ranking political official; only this time the death of General Akbari isn't going to be explained away with some pre-existing condition and faulty pacemaker (unless Akbari's head was prone to spontaneously caving in).
Like all the things the episode did well, this too is very familiar. While the episode may have felt like a return to form, it also points to just how exhausted Brody's storyline has become. His unpredictably in the episode may have ignited a desire to recall the highs of Homeland's past, but at the same time, it demonstrated just how few options this particular narrative has left.
Still, no matter how it ends, at least the episode found a way to connect its protagonists in an emotionally satisfying way before taking its fateful plunge into the season finale. That's a great way to invite interest in any ending that awaits the audience.
Homeland will conclude season 3 next Sunday with 'The Star' @9pm on Showtime. Check out a preview below: