TV Recap: Homeland, “Game On” (3.4)


13/20/13, 9:00PM, SHO

So far, season three of Homeland has been cleaning up in the wake of the explosion it detonated at the center of itself last season. The force of the blast has left us as an audience watching what amounts to four different shows slowly stitching themselves back together. We have Carrie Mathison in a rousing rendition of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Dana Brody in ANGST!: A Story of Angst, Saul in The Paper Chase, and Brody off in what I can only hope is pretty much just Trainspotting next time we see him. All of these stories are slowly coalescing around a central narrative (except Dana, who is off doing her own thing mostly because Morgan Saylor is too good to waste and Morena Baccarin is still a cast member. Oh, and Mike. Mike is still there), but it is taking time for the bigger picture to become clear, and that is making it harder to care about a lot of things.

The best of these shows has been Carrie’s all along, and that continues to be true in “Game On,” which finally seems to be bringing her in from the cold through a plot twist that is vintage Homeland in that it is half balls to the wall insane and implausible, and half pretty clever and satisfying. That Carrie has been playing the Iranians all along and is in cahoots with Saul to get The Magician to reveal himself stretches credulity well past its breaking point, but much like the decision to throw Carrie back into the field last season, I am mostly willing to excuse it if it lets the show start moving forward again. As much as I’ve loved watching Claire Danes play the various notes of depression and desperation Carrie’s exile in the mental institution has provided, we all knew at some point she would have to take her crazy act out of the mad house and start using it to fight terrorists again, and while I don’t exactly buy the way it happened, I’ll take it for the way this narrative pirouette allows Carrie and Saul to go back to being best buds.

Before that reveal, which comes in the episode’s final moments, we are mostly just treated to a great espionage thriller, as Carrie knows she is being tracked, probably by several shady forces who have something other than her best interests at heart, and does her best to avoid being placed in an impossible situation. The way that black sedan pulling toward her as she leaves her one night stand stings with a mixture of paranoia and inevitability places us perfectly inside Carrie’s head. All along she’s been a great argument for the old conspiracy theorist’s aphorism “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” and tonight was a great example of how well this show plays with that line. Carrie is unstable, but she is also usually right, and while she sounds unhinged when she accuses Leland Bennett of working for the FBI, it also isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility in that moment, and in the world in which Carrie lives. If Abu Nazir can just appear on American soil at the drop of a hat, anything is possible, and as we all well know by this point, Carrie is the only one around who seems to remember how weird a world she lives in.homeland-s3-e4

Carrie’s world is shut down tonight, and it is terrifying how efficiently the people she trusts can dismantle her life. They can prevent her release from the hospital because she’s a security risk. They can impound her car. They can freeze her bank accounts. They can suspend her passport and put her on the no-fly list. Even when she escapes the prison of the mental hospital, she finds she’s just in a bigger cage. The CIA holds the key to her prison, and while she may have bought herself more room to breathe, the lesson she learns is that there’s always going to be a lock on her door that she’ll never be able to turn without help from Big Brother. What is so effective about the final scene (even as I am not sure the show intends it to play this way) is that what Bennett says to Carrie is entirely true. The CIA doesn’t care about her. They are going to use her up until there is nothing left, and then they’ll discard her without a second thought. Saul plays the parent in that moment, and honestly, he probably believes it, but what he has done is taken a mentally unstable woman with serious trust issues and paranoia and thrown her into a high-stakes game that will re-enforce all of her unhealthy outlooks on the world. Saul may not be using Carrie as a scapegoat as he appeared to be, but he is using her nevertheless, and the consequences of this course may be even direr.

Over in the CIA plotline, Saul and Fara make connections that tie The Magician to Venezuela, which might have played better if Mandy Patinkin had just broken the fourth wall and said, “Hey guys. I know Brody seems to be disconnected from the show at this point, like maybe he should’ve been written out several times by now but he’s just so damn compelling that neither the audience nor the writers wants to lose him. So hang tight, folks, because he’ll matter soon.” I understand The Magician was behind the attack on Langley, but that does very little to raise the stakes for me at this point. He’s an airless absence the show is trying to sell as a bad guy, but at this point, he’s more a set of quotation marks with nothing inside them than an actual antagonist I feel the need to care about. Similarly, Fara is there and making connections, but the show hasn’t done much to make her anything beyond the girl doing what Carrie would be doing if Carrie wasn’t involved in some complicated nonsensical long con involving her life being torn apart in hopes The Magician would notice. Finally, there’s Dana. I am actually a huge supporter of Morgan Saylor, and I applaud the show’s fitfully effective efforts to keep her involved, even though she is far more tangential than even her father at this point (and he should probably have been jettisoned, for plot purposes anyway, at the end of season one). Last season, she was involved in a hit and run, and it was the silliest plotline for a daughter in a thriller since Kim Bauer stared down a cougar on 24, but the show pulled out of the nose dive and turned the story into a meditation on the differences between Dana and her father, and an examination of the ways his choices effected those around him. I can’t see Dana’s romance with Leo, who is apparently a murderer now (unless the show is just mocking the “Mike’s a detective now!” stunt it tried to pull last year) becoming that effective, but then I would have said the same thing last season about the hit and run, and it ended up providing some good material. I enjoyed Dana’s scene at the airfield tonight, but that was a slight moment in a plotline full of choices that make emotional sense but zero plot sense. Dana and Leo are on the run to the point that they switch out her mother’s car so they can’t be found, and then spend the entire rest of the episode going to places the people looking for them would expect to find them. Leo visits the grave of the brother he maybe murdered and Dana the sight of her father’s departure (and return from captivity, maybe?), and this is lovely for the characters, but makes less sense than a convoluted long con involving an insane asylum and some shady lawyers.

Oh, Homeland, you play with my emotions so. For the first time so far this season, “Game On” has made clear that, for better or worse, this is still the same show it was last year. This is still a show that understands its character dynamics incredibly well and has a top-notch cast ready to explore them fully. It is also still a show that has a devil-may-care approach to plotting, throwing caution (and logic) to the wind whenever it wants to. Homeland is that deep, wistful girl who wants to stay up late into the night talking about her dreams, fears, and emotional baggage, only to turn around at 1:00 a.m. and yell “I just want to dance!” It’s a fun ride, full of compelling, nuanced characters dealing with the crises that make up life in the modern world. It is also a show with magical terrorist ninjas, heroin pushers whose business plan is “wait until a fugitive terrorist shows up and just, I don’t know, give him some drugs, I guess?” and love interests who probably just shot their brother but maybe feel kind of guilty now. Homeland is a glass of single malt scotch. Unfortunately, it is also a Jaeger chaser. Whether you’re willing to stomach one to enjoy the other is up to you. What’s clear at this point, though, is that this show is a wildly inconsistent encapsulation of the epic highs and ludicrous lows that can come from prestige television. As for me, I’m just hoping the taste of the scotch lingers long after the chaser has dissipated.

The Roundup

  • “We’re here because this is where it happened. The last true thing he ever said to me.” “Which was?” “Goodbye. Everything after that was a lie.”
  • “I’m not a traitor.” “No. What you are is a liability. To a lot of people who have a lot to lose.”
  • It isn’t clear tonight when exactly Saul and Carrie launched their scheme. The show sort of plays it like this was always the plan, and if so, that is remarkably stupid and completely impossible to believe (were they staging their fraught interactions in the mental institution?). Here’s hoping it has something to do with Carrie’s dad reaching out to Saul, although then his comments on her bravery seem slightly less earned. I don’t know. This is all teetering very close to the edge for me, but then, that’s where Homeland thrives.
64/100 ~ OKAY. Homeland is a glass of single malt scotch. Unfortunately, it is also a Jaeger chaser.

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Jordan Ferguson

Sr. Staff Film Critic
Jordan Ferguson is a lifelong pop culture fan, and would probably never leave his couch if he could get away with it. When he isn’t wasting time “studying the law” at the University of Michigan, he writes about film, television, and music. In addition to writing for Next Projection, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Review To Be Named, a homemade haven for pop-culture obsessives. Check out more of his work at , follow him on twitter @bobchanning, or just yell really loudly on the street. Don’t worry, he’ll hear.