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“The agency is weak, Saul. It could die of a common cold. And she’s a full-blown contagion.”
That’s Dar Adal (F. Murray Mozart-killer Abrahams) chatting to Saul (Mandy Patinkin) about Carrie at the start of Episode 4 of Season 4 of Homeland. He could easily be talking about the show. After three episodes, the series has veered wildly between Dana’s Creek, City of Brod(y) and One Flew Over the Carrie’s Nest. It’s so confused about what it wants to be that you feel like you really could blow it all over with a sneeze. But this week sees the thriller get back to what it does best: national security.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s still loads of time for all the other stuff first.
After Brody’s unexpectedly dull return last week, it’s actually a relief to have Damian Lewis absent once more so we can focus on Dana and Carrie. For all of Dana’s annoying traits, her “He makes me want to live!” speech two weeks ago was a stab at sincere teen emotions – the prospect of seeing her and her boyfriend, then, had the potential to be either very interesting or extremely irritating. Sadly, we end up with the latter. What do these passionate, outcast lovers do once reunited? Drive around smoking weed. That’s it. The frustration isn’t with Morgan Saylor’s performance or Dana’s constant pouting, but the fact that they’re wasting one of Homeland’s most complex characters.
Carrie is treated much better by writers James Yoshimura and Alex Gansa. Proving to doctors that she’s not crazy – goodness knows how she pulls off that one – she finds her release overruled by the CIA, who are worried she’ll blab state secrets. Mandy Patinkin gives good beard-scratching at the whole dilemma, acting out of character to carefully control the situation. It’s that balance of Carrie’s clearly unhealthy obsession and government conspiracy that brings Homeland’s spark back; a sinister edge summed up by the arrival of the mysterious Leland Bennett (Martin Donovan), a man who represents a Venezuelan Mr. Big of sorts, Javadi. (And we all know who’s currently in Venezuela).
Offering to spring her from the padded cells in exchange for turning against the CIA, Leland’s a slippery sort who gives Carrie the chance to play detective once more.
“Thank you for everything,” she says calmly to the medical review board at the end of her assessment, before getting worked up over trying to find a hairbrush. Claire Danes has rarely been better in the series; a melting pot of resilient determination, barely-concealed deceit and huge bouts of uncertainty. Directed with pace by David Nutter (who helmed Game of Thrones’ The Rains of Castamere), Episode 4 takes Carrie’s qualities and uses them to forward the plot, building up to a surprising confrontation between her and Saul that manages to be ludicrous and fantastic in equal measure. Think the halfway point of Season 3 in 24 and you won’t be far wrong.
You may not buy every detail in the episode, but after three weeks of worrying, wafer-thin rubbishness, it’s a joy to see Homeland rediscover its identity. The show could’ve died of a common cold, but Episode 4 just gave Homeland a massive shot of Lemsip. For the first time this season, the prospect of another episode is exciting.
Homeland Season 3 is available watch on Netflix UK as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.
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