Six months after the events that concluded Season 3, Carrie Mathison is back in the business of sniffing out, and snuffing out, terrorists.

By Kat Rosenfield
Updated May 28, 2015 at 05:10 PM EDT
Joe Alblas/Showtime


S4 E1
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The last time we saw Carrie Mathison, she was using a Sharpie to write the last of her love story on a wall at CIA headquarters. A star in memory of the fallen soldier, and her child’s father, who in the end made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Six months later, that star seems less like an epitaph and more like an asterisk. Brody is dead and gone, but check the footnotes, and you’ll find that Carrie can never truly be free of him.

Though for the first half of this two-part premiere, it seems like she’s moved on perfectly well. Despite last season’s promise of a posting in Istanbul, “The Drone Queen” finds Carrie in Kabul, and she’s totally in her element. Our first glimpse of her comes through the window of a moving car, where she’s keeping a watchful eye on the city’s dark streets to a soundtrack of melancholy jazz music. And whatever may have changed, Carrie is still incautious as ever: She tells her bodyguards she’d like to walk the last few blocks home.

They guffaw in response, but she’s the boss—and because she’s the boss, her walk is interrupted by an urgent call summoning her back to work. As station chief in Kabul, she’s the head honcho in charge of drone strikes. She pulls the figurative trigger, while the station chief in Islamabad, Sandy Bachman (the ubiquitous, fabulous Corey Stoll) supplies the intel. Bachman, a lone wolf/loose cannon type who’s been getting his information from an unknown source, has a line on a super-high-value asset: Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani, who is reportedly holed up in a farmhouse deep in Pakistan’s tribal region. With no time to get a second, independent confirmation of Haqqani’s whereabouts, Carrie hesitates for only a moment before ordering the strike. Bachman’s information has always been good before, after all. There’s no way that failing to do the diligence could possibly come back to bite them this time! (They said, because they are fools.)

Carrie receives a birthday cake from her colleagues (inscribed with the episode’s title, “The Drone Queen”), goes home to a tense Skype convo with her sister, and downs a handful of pills with a white wine chaser, because some things never change. But far away, a group of stunned Pakistanis are frantically clawing their way through the rubble of the wedding that the CIA just blew to smithereens. And yes, even for the hard-nosed killmongers of the CIA, bombing a wedding is considered to be in very bad taste.

The strike took out Haqqani, but also dozens of innocent civilian guests, including the mother and sister of a Pakistani med student named Aayan (Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma, looking young and vulnerable as ever.) And it gets worse for Carrie and co: Aayan was taking video on his iPhone at the moment the bombs struck, which means that the CIA are just one YouTube upload away from having their guilty behinds roundly uncovered and waving naked in the breeze. Although Aayan refuses to exact vengeance by putting the video online, his meddling roommate steals and uploads it, and it promptly goes viral.

With protests spiking in Pakistan, Carrie flies to Islamabad to rendezvous with Quinn, who is now pulling double duty as both CIA fixer and speaker of uncomfortable truths about the nature of Carrie’s posting in Afghanistan. It’s worth noting that despite all the turmoil—and heads up, things are about to get even more out of control in the next five minutes or so—the only time Carrie ever looks truly unsettled is when someone brings up Frannie, the child she was pregnant with last season, now left behind with Carrie’s sister in the States.

NEXT: These Stoll-en moments are so fleeting…

Meanwhile, Sandy Bachman scoots out for a rendezvous with his mystery source, hoping to get some answers about what went wrong, the better to explain to the Pakistani ambassador why they blew up someone’s nuptials. But the source is nowhere to be found, which leaves Bachman alone and vulnerable in a dangerous part of town at the moment when his cover is blown. How? Why? Whodunit? We don’t know, but his face is plastered all over every TV in the city. Carrie and Quinn rush to rescue him, and even manage to get him into the car, but an angry mob surrounds them, breaking the windows and dragging Bachman into the street. Carrie tries to go after her colleague, but Quinn knows that it’s over. They flee.

And if you’re wondering how Carrie Mathison feels about being back in the thick of the spy game, the last shot of the first hour says it best: With Bachman dead in the street, Quinn freaking out in the car, and her family far, far away, Carrie Mathison steps into a ladies’ room at the embassy, cooly mops someone else’s blood from her face, and applies a fresh coat of lipstick without shedding a single tear.

Roll credits.

Deep breath.

Aaand, we’re back.

Instead of a two-hour “premiere event,” Homeland chose to give us two episodes back-to-back—and in “Trylon and Perisphere,” the opening shot of a flag-draped coffin catapults us at once from Kabul to DC. Carrie and Quinn have flown back home, along with Sandy Bachman’s body. (And if you’d wondered how the very busy and in-demand Corey Stoll could have added yet another high-profile show to his roster of projects, the answer is: easily, since he didn’t even last until the end of the first episode. Nice seeing you, Corey!)

The death of Bachman has unmistakable parallels to the Benghazi attack and subsequent blowback, and the CIA is scrambling to spin and bury the story. Most frantic is director Lockhart, who wants to make an example of Carrie, by permanently recalling her to the States. He calls it “accountability,” and it’s Carrie’s worst nightmare. Among other things, a post stateside means she’ll have no excuse not to take responsibility for her infant daughter—who, thanks to either A+ infant casting or illegal cloning, looks so much like a tiny baby Damian Lewis that it’s legitimately unsettling.

NEXT: Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

There’s a reason why Carrie would do anything to avoid playing the role of mother: She is, self-admittedly and undeniably, terrible at it. The first day she has to spend alone with the baby plays like an Unfit Parenting Montage. She looks at Frannie as if she’s an alien. She fumbles with the diaper she didn’t even realize she had to change. She straps the kid into a carrier, which she then props unsecured (!) in the front seat of the car (!!!). She drives to the house where Brody lived—now empty, presumably—and gathers her daughter into her arms.

Reminiscing about her brief relationship with Brody, Carrie tells the baby that her birth was the last thing he was ever happy about. Sweet, right? Actually, no, and it’s a good thing that the kid is still undeveloped enough not to speak English, because:

“I tried to hold onto that, and feel it too,” she says. “Happy that you’re here. But with his being gone, I can’t remember why I had you.”

Ouch. Her regret is so matter-of-fact that what comes next feels inevitable. In a quiet, harrowing scene, Carrie washes her daughter’s hair… and then nearly, really nearly, allows her to drown in the bathtub.

Meanwhile, Quinn is dealing with the trauma of Bachman’s death by shirking his meetings at CIA headquarters, having drunken sex with a beautiful but notably hefty motel manager, and then beating to a pulp two obnoxious guys who dared to fat-shame his new friend. And Saul—who we saw briefly in the first episode, clearly chafing at the expectations of both his life and his wife in New York—is in DC for Bachman’s funeral, where he has a typically deep-throaty rendezvous on a staircase with Dar Adal.

In a development that should surprise nobody, Dar Adal has heard whispers of discontent about Lockhart’s performance as CIA director. Maybe it’s not going so well. (Wink!) Maybe someone needs to step in. (Nudge!) Maaaaybe the secretary of state could be a useful ally to Saul. (Winknudge! Nudgewink!) If Adal insinuates a possible Saul Berenson comeback any harder, he’s going to herniate something.

But we won’t have to wait that long to see Berenson and Mathison playing spy games together again. When Carrie shows up at the funeral, she does it armed with some damning information gleaned from a disgraced former case officer. Namely: The late, great Bachman had been getting his intel by trading state secrets in return. That’s called “treason,” and Lockhart knew about it. Which is a fact Carrie uses to blackmail him into assigning her the job she wants: station chief in Islamabad. Pssst, Saul: She’ll be needing some help with security.

NEXT: Yesterday is history; tomorrow, a mystery

The title of this episode, “Trylon and Perisphere,” refers to a pair of iconic structures from the 1939 World’s Fair, at which the theme was “World of Tomorrow.” The trylon was a massive spire that held the world’s longest escalator; after descending it, visitors would cross a walkway to enter the spherical perisphere. Inside was a diorama, “Democracity,” which depicted a vision of a utopian future. It was the piece de resistance of the fair; it was, quite literally, built to hold the World of Tomorrow.

The tomorrow that Carrie and her cohorts look forward to at the close of this second hour stands in stark contrast to that vision, which was so safe and static inside its opaque globe, a world completely protected from the influence of… well, the world. It would stay the way it was created: in perfect balance.

Out here, balance is not so easily won. Not for Saul, who hasn’t stopped looking over his shoulder at the life he left behind. Not for Quinn, who made one mercenary choice too many and who now only wants to drink, to screw, to draw blood, to drink some more. Not for Aayan, poised in his grief to turn one of two ways: toward the U.S. as an asset, or against it as a terrorist adversary.

And, of course, not for Carrie, who impulsively tied herself forever to a relationship that was never meant to last.

Because there was no future for her and Brody—a fact the increasingly frustrated Homeland audience has been aware of since, oh, 2011, but one which Carrie is only just now coming to understand. And far from keeping alive the memory of their relationship, the baby she brought into the world is now the one reason why she’ll never be able to bury it the way she should have. The way she needs to.

Which makes Carrie’s scheming, self-serving, ethically dubious ploy to return to Pakistan and to probe the mystery surrounding Bachman’s death much more than just a welcome return to Homeland‘s roots as an edge-of-your-seat espionage thriller. Though it is that, too, of course. (That sound you hear is all the fans, who were one more Dana Brody emo tantrum away from abandoning the show entirely, breathing a collective sigh of relief.) But it also rings true, where having Carrie remain in Washington and become a full-time mom would not.

Because at its heart, Homeland has always centered on Carrie Mathison’s judgment. More particularly, it centers on the way she trusts her instincts, even when the people around her, in every sphere of her life, won’t do the same. They question. They undermine. They accuse her of selfishness, of self-delusion, of being an unreliable narrator in her own life. But what Carrie knows to be true is what drives her, and Carrie knows what nobody else does: that she cannot be trusted with her child. That she belongs in the field. And that the best thing—for her daughter, her country, and Carrie herself—is a one-way flight back to Islamabad, now.

It might be self-interested. It might be irresponsible. It might be awfully convenient for Carrie, not to mention for the viewers who’ve been aching to see the series stop pretending to be a family drama and get back to what it does best.

But as The Drone Queen would say, it also has the benefit of being the truth.

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