Homeland: Horse and Wagon Review

Carrie wants Brody to do a mission for her, but Brody wants to talk to Dana. Is Saul by default the main character on this spy show now?

Tonight’s Homeland is titled “Horse and Wagon,” because the CIA Scooby gang is trying to put the proverbial horse before the cart by getting Brody ready to assassinate the head of Iranian intelligence. What a quick turnaround that is from wasting away on heroin and all the subtle shades of smack found somewhere between Venezuela and Hell. Yet, despite the high-stakes Homeland poker faces finally clearing to show their hands, the idea that Saul would go all in on a Nicholas Brody is becoming as preposterous as Brody’s Balboa-styled comeback. It’s still entertaining, but is it Homeland? For starters, I would suggest that at this point, Saul Berenson is the protagonist of the series, not Carrie. Apparently, his quiet feud with Javadi, a man that he still recognizes as an equal during all this, precipitated the financing needed for the terrorist attack carried out in Season 2. Ergo, the last several seasons have resulted in a personal grudge Saul has had with a ghost from his past. That is an intriguing idea, however it becomes a bit worrisome if the only bit of spooking and spying—besides from the always reliably professional Peter Quinn—is a result from another bit of personal bloodsport. Because while Saul is at least worried about the big picture, we are back to the melodramatic romance that began sinking Season 2 when Carrie broke Brody, and then Abu Nazir broke Carrie’s heart. Except now, it is threatening to finally break the show. Yes, the main conceit of the evening is that to push Javadi up the Iranian ranks, Saul will have Brody assassinate a political figure in Iran, and Carrie will be the one to convince him this is a swell idea. The result is an episode focused on Carrie trying to appeal to Brody’s sense of honor as a U.S. marine, and then as his sense of a father. Eventually she guilts him into doing his job by letting him see that his actions have turned his daughter into a high school dropout who cleans motel rooms when she isn’t living in them. Experiencing the human costs of Brody’s decisions, especially after ridiculous Season 2 plot twists, should be refreshing, but it ultimately rings hollow, because we can see the wheels spinning in place. In its first season, Homeland was elegantly mad in its simple premise. “Is Brody a terrorist?” Until the tenth episode, there were fakeouts, twists, turns and enough shady actions perpetrated by Carrie Mathison in name of more than U.S. security to make him seem plausibly innocent. When the shoe dropped, it turned into a series about how he ruins Carrie’s life, and what she’ll do to come back for vengeance and justice as a woman spurned. Along the way, they were able to wax poetic about security vs. freedom, utilitarianism vs. deontology, what exactly a terrorist is in the 21st century, and all these other broader issues. Yet, at its core, it was an amazing thriller with even better characters in a plot that knew where it was going. As Season 3 is reaching its final lap of only three episodes left, it has become painfully clear that the series has not known where it’s been headed ever since Carrie snapped Brody in “Q&A.” The political feeding frenzy that started Season 3 was supplanted by the intriguing concept of the CIA placing its own Manchurian Candidate into the Iranian government. Although, the timing of that twist with this weekend’s potentially historic breakthrough at the European Union in regards to Iran’s nuclear program has given even the show’s political underpinnings a sense of sinking ground in lieu of a rising tide. Unlike even the weakest aspects of Season 2, it feels like this third season has been built on sand intended to keep all of the series’ players onboard. Instead that board feels like it is being swept out to sea.
 And I hate to say this, but the reason is Brody. Many of this season’s weakest aspects were been built around the idea that Brody should be relevant to the main narrative after his story reached a natural conclusion of sorts last year. We chronicle the descent of his daughter in self-pitying destruction on a near weekly basis since it will obviously be used to hurt Brody (which it was tonight). We then discover that Saul has been the one keeping Brody “alive” (for lack of a better word) in South America, because it allows an excuse for he and Carrie to come into contact again when Saul decides to turn the world’s most wanted fugitive into his Jack Bauer most privileged asset. Plus, every viewer just knows that the writers are waiting to cash-in the “Brody, I’m pregnant” moment to reel him back again during the finale. Kicking and screaming, no doubt. I like Damian Lewis quite a bit. Indeed, he deserved his Emmy for Season 1, and certainly offered stronger work in 2012 than the terrific Jeff Daniels has on the not-so-terrific Newsroom. But Brody’s arc is over. I also enjoyed his presence onscreen again this evening, which allotted one great scene when his withdrawal from the White Dragon caused him to hallucinate Tom Walker standing before him, singing the Marines’ Hymn. There is even an amusing bit of irony to the cyclical nature of him being captured, broken and used as a traitor by his latest keepers. He’s the Michael Corleone of rats: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Unfortunately, his arc as a man struggling with his duty as an American father and marine against his warped sense of justice, vengeance and brainwashed anger as an Abu Nazir disciple is over. Done. Finished. Wrapped. The cyclical nature eventually causes the viewer to realize that we’re just going in circles with Brody: 
  1. They torture him.
  2. They break him.
  3. They cause him to despair.
  4. They offer him false hope.
  5. They convince him to strap on another (sometimes) proverbial suicide vest.
 Even the writers are aware of the formulaic nature of this issue, as they skipped sixteen days of getting him ready in “Horse and Wagon.” There is no training montage to go with his climbing the Philadelphia stairs, just a quick cut. But in the end, it is not even about the mission for anyone but Saul. It is about Carrie getting her secret baby daddy cleared of any terrorist charges (which should in all honesty be impossible), and Brody trying to prove himself a good man to Dana. This isn’t about protecting the Homeland, it’s the star-crossed story of Carrie and her terrorist Romeo. The elements that do work, including Saul’s gambit with Javadi and the threat of drone-striking politicians dismantling the CIA, is merely a backdrop for a plot that’s turned the awesome CIA point woman from the previous two seasons, even at her lowest, into little more than Brody’s handler—not for an intelligence gathering mission, but as in his facilitator for the pretense of a motivation. It is still entertaining television, but the show is more than off-the-tracks now; they seemingly failed to put any down this year. Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars


2.5 out of 5