Homeland: 13 Hours in Islamabad Review

Homeland returns after a two-week hiatus by following up on a cliffhanger with a horrifying episode...and its best in years.

Wow. That was a terrific episode of 24 on Homeland tonight.

Obvious kidding aside, and as someone typing this right after the hour ended, I am still in shock. Two weeks ago, we got a major cliffhanger with the Taliban inside the U.S. embassy in Pakistan, but with “13 Hours in Islamabad,” I am genuinely excited and reeling for the next episode. There’s no need for a qualifier here: “13 Hours in Islamabad” the most riveting Homeland episode since season two, and the first that is final confirmation for those who lost faith to now return to their Showtime congregation. If for no other reason than to see Peter Quinn lay down good, bloody (and likely futile) revenge on those that turned this fictional Islamabad into the new frontline for the War on Terror.

The hour begins right in the midst of the fray from last week where, to nobody’s surprise, Carrie and Saul are more or less fine, save for some cosmetic scrapes and bruises after being hit by an RPG. However, much more to my surprise, John Redmond did not survive the blast. Built up to be a potential workplace rival to Carrie Mathison, John ultimately didn’t do much this season beyond his job.

On the one hand, it feels like the character was underserved, on another this red herring tricked me into thinking Homeland would bathe in some more soap, but instead simply soothed itself in his red shirt blood. But he was only the first of many to not make it out of this hour.

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Carrie and Saul are forced to haphazardly defend alongside marines their position as they are continually made the distraction for U.S. embassy forces. This sequence is especially brutal as we see Aasar Khan continue in his shadowy Nicholas Brody parallel when he waffles in the face of criticism from Nasneem Qureshi. Despite being her superior, he lets her bait him into not sending Pakistani assistance to the bleeding and dying U.S. marines until the scheme orchestrated by Haissam Haqqani is finished…and it’s devastating.

Obviously taking its cues from Benghazi, the actual attack sequences reminded me of the aforementioned other espionage series that Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon participated in, with Peter Quinn and a spare marine riding to the rescue. But what makes this Homeland a cut above that other show and even much of seasons three and four is that it doesn’t only offer that pulpy thrill of an action hero in a terrorist situation; it also makes you feel the ramifications of the fiction like a serious terrorist attack.

Haqqani targets Fara Sherazi for entirely believable reasons. She’s a Muslim who he views as a traitor to his twisted version of their faith, and she’s a woman who dares to have a job and unobstructed breathing. While he slaughters three other CIA employees in a chillingly cruel execution for Lockhart and Martha Boyd, he threatens to behead Fara on camera personally to get the door open with its many CIA asset secrets.

Of course, Lockhart proves to be truly oblivious for the job he’s been assigned since he has no clue how to handle this hostage situation. If not for Peter Quinn’s intervention, Lockhart would have cemented his own death, as well as the deaths of every other American in that hallway…but his failings for once feel authentic, if still archly drawn. No caricature can take away from the weakness of giving away all those assets to death.

Also…Quinn is not allowed to save Fara.

I sensed that Fara or Max, who’s been on Homeland in varying capacities since the pilot, was going down. John Redmond was a red herring, and while a name, he wasn’t big enough to drive this horror home to television viewers. Max has been around longer, so he has sentimental value. But Fara Sherazi was the one character fully capable at doing her job all season. In short, she was the most likable character. Having her gutted in the back with the phallic-shaped knife of an all-too-real misogynistic monster strikes a cord for viewers and still haunts long after the hour ended.

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It even overshadows how cliché it is for Peter Quinn and his marine sidekick to kill six or so terrorists with perfect aim, but merely graze Haqqani when the shot mattered most. But this is mostly a quibble as the four hours later interlude does an excellent job of earning the broadness of its nightmare scope.

I often compare Homeland to 24 these days, but never do I recall watching Jack Bauer spend what seems like a psychological eternity wallowing in the death of an agent, brought home by the ever so reliable (and possibly Fara-smitten) Max. Nor, did Jack ever make that difficult call to the agent’s family the way that Carrie called Fara’s father, a man who never wanted her to be in the CIA.

This was a superb hour of Homeland and could have ended there. We especially might have been spared the Boyd nonsense, because suicide or no suicide, the State Department will not keep the wife of a known traitor (even if it’s “swept under the rug”) on as an active diplomat. Martha Boyd and Lockhart’s careers are over. And Dennis Boyd, if he could have done one nice thing, would have hanged himself and freed us all of his stupidity.

Still, I am shocked that Martha or anybody else in the episode remarked on Dennis’ admission last week: he was working for Nasneem Qureshi. ISI clearly declared open season on the CIA and all other Americans with tonight’s Homeland; there is no way that the CIA (Peter Quinn or otherwise) wouldn’t be paying her a visit off the books. Call it a professional courtesy.

Perhaps that will come up later, but the focus is currently on finding Haqqani, which is all the more remarkable since the U.S. is pulling out of Pakistan after this episode. In many ways, this season’s Homeland in fact feels like an indictment of the duplicitous and underhanded communications between the U.S. and Pakistan. The ISI (not to public knowledge) has ever been so brazenly in bed with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or other organizations in the tribal area when it comes to pulling off international incidents of terror on U.S. citizens. But the tone of the season seems to suggest that at least now all the cards are on the table. Finally, the show seems to say, Peter Quinn can treat ISI agents with the kind of TLC usually reserved for those poor bastards that disappear down CIA black sites never to be heard from again.

…And we’re rooting for it? I kind of am as I’m watching the episode. I also simultaneously realize that Peter Quinn’s “interviewing” tools are just as grisly as the aforementioned Mr. Bauer. Homeland is going to a dark (and potentially absurd) place, but I’m hooked to see where that rabbit hole takes us in this continually darkening shadow world. This includes whether Carrie will really become the voice of caution to Peter Quinn from this point forward, as she agreed with the political decision to abandon Islamabad. I never saw Carrie as one to make the careful or even rational decision when it comes to getting the job done, and revenge is a hell of a job.

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But given the rest of Homeland’s slightly more nuanced subtext, can bloody vengeance solve this problem? It will at least make sure Haqqani doesn’t attack any more embassies. That is something I am actively rooting to see next week or the week after. So Homeland, you finally have your hooks (and whatever else Quinn uses in that black site) back into me. Of course, how Carrie is going to still be working at the CIA when her career should be as in tatters as Lockhart’s after tonight’s FUBAR is anybody’s guess….

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4 out of 5