Homeland recap: 'Game On'
Carrie is released and meets with a mysterious client, while Dana runs away with Leo
Well, well, well… aren’t you just the cleverest show, Homeland? I’m slow-clapping for you in my mind.
Last week’s episode was certainly a doozy with the Brody-centric plot that prompted countless “How to fix Homeland“/”What’s wrong with Homeland“/”Why Homeland sucks” think-pieces on the Internet, but tonight’s hour did one better on the mind-bending front: It conned us, the viewers, with that last-minute plot twist. And I think “Game On” pulled it off — but only at first.
It turns out Saul and Carrie were working together all along, and I for one definitely didn’t see that coming. (I’ve been distracted by all the signs pointing to him as the mole. Anyone else?) He set the wheels in motion by exposing her at the hearing, which led to Carrie getting herself in trouble by going to the press, which landed her in psychiatric detention, which, finally, is exactly where Saul wanted her to be. No, he never says, “It’s all going according to plan,” but his smile in that final scene said it all.
That said, even though this twist comes exactly when the show needs it, with viewers clamoring for it to return to its season 1 highs, it’s not executed as carefully as I think it could be. After all, Claire Danes is a great actress, but Carrie? Is Carrie Mathison, bipolar CIA agent who struggles with compartmentalizing her emotions, really such an actress that she’ll weep even when she’s alone and watching Saul spill her secrets at the hearing from the premiere? Was she saying, “F–k… you… Saul” two episodes ago just for show? And more important, would she seriously just blindly follow Saul like this, subjecting herself to such scrutiny and nearly losing everything she has just because he has a plan? Yes, Carrie’s always trusted Saul, but it’s still a stretch for the character who’s always followed her own instincts first. That last scene makes it seem like he’s the one pulling her strings, instead of Carrie being in control, which doesn’t feel right to me after we’ve seen her work her independence the past two seasons.
And what about Saul? How does he know so much about Javadi, and how did he figure this plan would work? What is his connection to Leland Bennett? And why does he need Fara in on this game if he already knew Javadi’s the one behind everything and was targeting him anyway?
It’s not all making sense. The show’s clever, but it might be too clever for its own good.
Because to me, it’s careless to toss in this twist. Sure, it’s a fascinating, elaborate ruse, but for us, it’s frustrating to watch. And I think a major problem stems from how little we’ve seen Javadi, who the show is selling as the ultimate Big Bad, a villain worse than Abu Nazir. With only endless exposition about the target for this season, it’s hard to get behind Carrie and Saul’s excitement that their plan to bring down Javadi is working. It’s hard to care.
Even if we as an audience suspend all disbelief and not question how Saul and Carrie formed this plan or why they’re so confident it’s heading in the right direction, we’re just too much in the dark. It’s simply not enough for a show to just tell us to trust it — it needs to work for that trust.
But for now, I’ll play along.
Read EW’s interview with ‘Homeland’ showrunner Alex Gansa, who talks tonight’s big twist and defends season 3, over on Inside TV.
We open with Carrie waking up to some commotion down the hall, where a new patient is being restrained. Carrie runs back to her room when an orderly catches her watching from the doorway. Though she tells him that “everything’s okay,” she lies awake on her side, looking fearful. Still shaken the next morning, she tries to gather herself for her hearing, which her lawyer believes will finally grant her release from psychiatric detention.
It goes smoothly at first — her doctors and Abby provide positive sound bites (“She’s setting a good example for her fellow patients,” Abby attests) — and Carrie even manages to thank everyone in the boardroom, despite feeling anxious that her father and sister didn’t make it.
But the hearing falls apart, because this is Carrie Mathison we’re talking about. Miss Liability Number One. As she waits for the judge’s ruling, she glimpses Dar Adal exiting the facility and realizes the CIA’s involved with her release. She’s right: The judge tells her the Department of Justice has ordered her to stay, against the wishes of the doctors and the appeals from her lawyer, because, as he tells her, “You’ve been designated a security risk.” As a last resort, Carrie calls and asks her dad to talk to Saul and tell him that she is willing to do whatever is necessary to get out. She walks back to her room, sinks down on her bed, and waits.
NEXT: “We know who you are, Mrs. Brody.”
We then check back in with… the Brodys.
Sigh. I know, I’m annoyed, too. I’ve defended Dana in the past, but now, with so much happening elsewhere, it’s just too much of a drag to watch the Family Brody chug along with the rebellious teenager storyline again. It’d be a different case if this were somehow connected with the Brody in Venezuela, but with only Dana’s musings about him, we’re left with an uninspired plot, one that severely hurts this episode.
This week’s installment of the Family Brody centers on Dana and Leo’s Very Dumb Idea, which is for Dana to take Jess’s car, break Leo out, and then have their own version of Carrie and Brody’s “Weekend,” minus everything that made “The Weekend” amazing. By that I mean Dana and Leo’s Very Dumb Idea is missing essential elements like, I don’t know, gripping dialogue and forward-moving plot. Fine, that’s harsh, but when we’re subjected to scene after scene of the two young lovers professing their love for each other and hatred of everything else, it gets tiresome. At least the duo visits some key spots: For Leo, it’s his younger brother’s grave, while for Dana, it’s the hangar, where she, Jess and Chris saw Brody leave for combat years ago.
“We’re here because this is where it happened, the last true thing that he ever said to me,” she tells Leo. “Which was?” he asks. “Goodbye. Everything after that was a lie,” she replies, as he reaches over to hold her hand. It would be a poignant moment if it wasn’t sandwiched in the middle of Carrie’s thrilling plot, and if we actually cared about Leo’s background. Plus, talking about Brody in this peripheral manner seems exponentially more exhausting, now that we’ve caught up with him in Cararcas.
Back home, Jessica is understandably worried out of her mind, but thankfully, she has Mike (Welcome back, Diego Klattenhoff! Did James Spader give you the day off?). Sadly, Mike has little to do here other than be her shoulder to cry on. “Leave it to my daughter to fall in love with a guy in a psych ward,” Jess tells him. “I just can’t seem to do one thing right anymore.”
But even as Mike tries to reassure her by placing the blame on Brody, Jess knows she can’t escape the Brody name. Even Leo’s parents distrust her immediately, telling her that Leo’s “under a bad influence,” and twisting the knife by saying, “We know who you are, Mrs. Brody.” It’s rude and absurd, but it hits Jess hard. Later, she tells Mike she could kill Brody: “I swear to God I could,” she says, glaring at him.
Dana and Leo’s Very Dumb Idea saga doesn’t end there, but the episode leaves us hanging when Mike learns that Leo isn’t at the facility to be treated, but was put there to avoid being charged with homicide. (Or at least that’s what I gathered while trying to stay awake watching theses scenes.) So Dana’s traveling with a killer? And is in love with said killer? I wish I were more invested, but really, show, I’m yawning. We already knew Leo was bad news, and the lines are way too redundant at this point for me to care. “I just want to stay like this forever,” Dana says. Yawn. Morgan Saylor deserves better than this.
NEXT: Free Carrie
Carrie 2.0 Fara has been making strides in her investigation of the money trail since we last saw her at the CIA. And while that’s great for her, she’s also stuck with a staggering amount of exposition-heavy dialogue this episode, explaining to Saul where she believes the $45 million siphoned off in the last five years have gone: a soccer club, where a man who uses a legendary goalkeeper’s name as an alias oversees the transactions. And though she thinks that her newfound intel has led them “exactly nowhere,” Saul disagrees, theorizing that Javadi is the one who’s on the receiving end of the money. Fara, once again, saves the day by proving him right — she digs up photos of Javadi with one of the corrupt bankers. Still, instead of wanting Fara to release the information to the authorities, Saul wants Javadi brought in for interrogation.
“I need him in a room,” Saul says. “I want to rip him down to the studs.” Fara looks worried at the order, but wisely keeps quiet.
Meanwhile, Carrie receives an emergency order from Maryland that allows her to be out for 24 hours. And, unsurprisingly, the source of her freedom is Paul Franklin, the associate who visited her in the facility last week. He tells her that in exchange for permanent release from psychiatric detention (which he can arrange), Carrie has to meet with one of the partners of the firm. “My job is to get you to the meeting,” he tells Carrie, who, after a beat, accepts.
But as soon as Franklin leaves, Carrie begins to go on the run, grabbing her passport and meds, and leaving on foot. At the same time, Dar Adal confronts Saul about Carrie’s surprise release ordered by a Maryland court, of all places. “The agency’s still weak, Saul,” he explains, calling Carrie a “contagion.” “It could die of a common cold.” Saul orders him to find Carrie and to “get her off the street,” so the agency freezes Carrie’s accounts and cancels her credit cards. Carrie, cornered, turns to Virgil (Welcome back, David Marciano!), who refuses to help her. But don’t blame Virgil — the guy’s being watched by other agents listening in on the phone call. At the end, he manages to tell her, “Say hi to your mom for me,” which stumps Carrie, until she realizes it’s a coded warning to stay away.
So she does. And with nowhere to turn, Carrie finds her one night stand from earlier this season, the nameless man she met at the store who has no idea who she is, yet is charmed by her and generous enough to let her crash for a night. In the morning, she grabs some of his cash and tries to set off again, but Franklin catches up to her. At that point, Carrie knows that running won’t do her any good, so she climbs in and is taken to her meeting with Leland Bennett (Martin Donovan) at a private estate reserved for clients of her caliber.
There, Bennett offers her an escape route from the CIA, seemingly manipulating her by outlining what will happen as the agency “controversializes” her name. “That’s what they’re doing to you,” he explains. “They’re turning you into a story.” So, Bennett says, she can save herself by partnering with his client, a man who would like to “pick your brain from time to time,” especially because he recently lost six business associates. Six associates, as in the ones from the premiere? Could it be… Javadi?
Either way, Carrie definitely doesn’t want to turn against the CIA and willingly spill secrets to an enemy, so she starts to stride away from Bennett. But Bennett calls her back, telling her that his client wants to help her survive being targeted by the CIA. After all, as the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? And plus, they’ll make sure she’s kept out of the hospital and “compensated handsomely,” as long as she meets with the client. Carrie, thinking it over, negotiates a deal: She’ll meet with the client face to face and provide information on how targets are identified and handled, in exchange for the protection. Without any other options, she accepts the offer.
“Maybe you two can find common ground, put the world right, save us all,” Bennett says. “Yeah, f–k you,” she replies.
NEXT: “It worked, Saul.”
With that, she leaves Bennett and Franklin behind, and spends five hours shaking off anyone who may have been following her in order to get to… Saul.
Instead of pushing past Mira and forcibly searching for Saul like the last time she visited his home, she calmly walks toward Saul and tells him, “It worked, Saul. They picked me up this morning.”
Oh. Jaw, meet floor.
Saul begins questioning Carrie, asking about the meeting with Bennett until he’s satisfied that the interested client is Javadi. “It has to be,” Carrie emphasizes. Reassured, he gazes at Carrie, a warm smile spreading across his face, and then holds her face in his hands. “You’re an amazing person, Carrie Mathison. Amazing,” he tells her. “You’ve been very, very brave.”
And at this, Carrie starts to cry. “You shouldn’t have left me in there,” she whimpers. “It’s too hard. I can’t keep going.” But Saul tells her she can, then turns to go make her a cup of tea. She leans into him as he leads her inside, mentor and protege back together again. Game on, indeed.
So… what to make of all this? Three weeks ago, my jaw dropped when Saul threw Carrie under the bus. Two weeks ago, the same happened as I watched Carrie, struggling to form the words while on meds, say, “F–k… you… Saul” to his face. And now? My jaw hit the floor, but it returned just as quickly as I started to think about the implications of this twist. Frankly, I’m torn.
On the one hand, I like that the show’s putting the plot in this direction, because it’s forward-moving. I defended last week’s episode as a necessary interlude of sorts — a refresh button, a time out, a breather of an hour that allowed the show to refocus on their two main characters. In a way, “Game On” is doing what it should be doing — opening the next chapter for Carrie and moving beyond the stagnant feeling Homeland had before.
But on the other hand, I don’t like that the show pulled the rug out from under its audience. To me, that’s something a lesser show would do, because the overarching questions Homeland has asked in the past (i.e. Has Brody been turned? Can Carrie be trusted in her state?) kept the characters in the dark along with the audience. Here, we’re the ones left without knowledge of what’s going on, and sure, the rest of the CIA doesn’t know about Saul and Carrie, but we could care less about who’s not on screen. Keeping the audience in the dark makes it hard for us to connect to the story. This twist feels more like a trick — an alienating one.
And again, that also has to do with how little we know of Javadi. Yes, he’s the Big Bad, but the suspense isn’t kicking in — he just doesn’t seem threatening as a bevy of facts about his past. For a television show, we need faces, we need scenes, we need stories.
“I can’t keep going,” Carrie told Saul at the end of tonight’s episode, and those lines could act as commentary for Homeland viewers. How long can the show hold onto its audience, an audience that admittedly asks a lot?
So that’s where you come in, recap-readers. What did you make of “Game On”? Like the twist, or feel as skeptical as I am? Angry with the return of Dana, or pleased with the Leo development at the end? Glad to see Mike again? Wish we could have seen Quinn? (I know I did.)
And of course, most importantly, disappointed Chris Brody didn’t make an appearance? What if he’s behind everything?! You heard it here first. Whatever your thoughts, share them in the comments below.
Read EW’s interview with ‘Homeland’ showrunner Alex Gansa, who talks tonight’s big twist and defends season 3, over on Inside TV.