Shrill, sad cannonade

Homeland – “Still Positive”

At the mid-way point of Homeland‘s third season, it’s impossible to tell who’s winning and who’s losing. After a lot of middling around, in the last two episodes plots and schemes are unfolding and winding their serpentine paths toward presumed disaster. The show is shifting back to its original themes: the advantages of human espionage and the dangers of trust. Our characters, drawn in such close parallels at the beginning of the season, have begun taking divergent paths that cross and deviate at a moment’s notice. And somehow, in the middle of that, Homeland seems to be becoming a show about Saul Berenson, the man attempting to hold everything together.

Mothers, current, perspective, and all other variants, litter “Still Positive.” Hell, it’s what gives the episode its title: after her first meeting with Javadi, Carries takes an at-home pregnancy test, which gives a positive readout. She places it in a drawer, where we see rows and rows of other pregnancy tests, all with the same result. Jessica Brody feels more powerless than ever, and when Dana finally leaves at the episode’s end–but not before legally changing her last name–it’s less a shock than a devastating sense of failure that seems to was over her. And then there’s Javadi, who murders the mothers of his son and grandson in an act of retaliation against Saul.

Outside of Jessica Brody, motherhood has never been a major area of exploration for Homeland, but with Carrie’s impending pregnancy, it seems to exploding into the mix. Many Golden Age dramas have dealt with motherhood, usually by examining how terrible mothers are and how it effects their children. It’s too early to say, but I’m not convinced that’s what Homeland has in mind. Ideally, given that Dana’s departure and the reveal of Carrie’s pregnancy both happen here, the show will shift some focus onto Jessica Brody herself, as opposed to Jessica Brody in reaction to Dana. Morena Baccarin could work magic with the right scenes, and if motherhood is going to become a major theme, there’s no better place to start.

All of which is not to say that Carrie being pregnant is necessarily a good idea. It seems almost desperate by the writers, a card they get to play because they have a female protagonist. It’s a stale story to be sure, especially when there are so few “prestige” dramas with female protagonists, and it also might create some more big logical problems for the show. Mainly, how did no one ever realize she was pregnant? Carrie was committed to a mental institution just a few episodes ago, did no run any blood work on her? Is this part of her and Saul’s plan? Maybe they’ll attempt to explain away these questions later, but for now, they’ve been raised on a massive level.

In the CIA’s orbit, schemes on schemes on schemes are hurtling along, and just when the season didn’t have a single clearly-defined antagonist, we suddenly find ourselves with two. Having both a foreign and domestic threat is nothing new to the show (remember when Brody stopped the vice-president’s heart with hacking?), but neither of these threats are vying for our sympathy, which gives both Javadi and Senator Lockhart better definition, a saving grace consider they’re truly emerging halfway through the season. The Lockhart scenes weren’t as riveting as those in last week’s episode, but seeing Lockhart plant the seeds of a partnership with Adal was worthwhile. On the other hand, nearly all of the Javadi scenes were exciting and riveting, especially in the episode’s second half. Seeing Carrie on the other side of an interrogation has been a popular trick this season, but it’s never worked better than it did when she was hooked up to the polygraph being grilled by Javadi. I also didn’t realize how much I’d missed those scenes of Saul and his small team sitting in a CIA safehouse listening and worrying about Carrie. The team, which includes Carrie, Quinn, Virgil’s brother Max, and Fara, is great, even if we’re Virgil-less, and now that they’ve got Javadi, I’m hoping for a “Q & A” sequel next week.

There were still some bumps in the road, most of them occurring during the scenes between Javadi and Carrie. When Carrie revealed her plan immediately after Javadi’s men leave the room and he calls her on lying, I was suspicious, and the dread that accompanies every instance of Carrie playing her hand too soon appeared in my throat. But when it was revealed that it was all part of the plan, it was less unsettling and more just clunky plotting. I’m also still not 100% on the plausibility train for a lot of this deeply intricate plan Carrie and Saul are playing, and there were more than a few moments throughout the episode where I wasn’t quite sure what exactly was going on, especially with surveillance situations. I’m also still worried Leo is lurking in the shadows ready to leak Dana’s nude photos to the press, but I won’t stop worrying about that until the last cut to black of the season.

Earlier, I said the title “Still Positive” came from Carrie’s pregnancy tests, but it also ties into my thoughts about Homeland becoming the Saul Berenson show. From the time Carrie was captured last episode to the moment they realize where Javadi is going at the end of this one, Saul is inhumanly optimistic. The world he knows, already destroyed by a literal bomb, is being destroyed by plenty of metaphorical ones. All of these schemes lead back to him eventually, whether he’s the mastermind or they exist to take him down. Saul has a singular vision, but just like Carrie before him, that singular vision might leave him as a threat to homeland security, a broken person living a broken life with nothing left to fight for. Then again, as I said, we still don’t know who’s winning and who’s losing, and it’s truly anyone’s game.

Stray Observations:

  • Chris Brody Watch: Chris may think his sister’s new last name is cool, but she doesn’t even give him a hug goodbye when she leaves. Don’t worry Chris, you can always vent in karate.

  • I have to admit, I gasped in shock twice during this episode. One when we saw the drawer of pregnancy tests, and again when Javadi went on his little murder rampage.

  • Looking back on this episode, I can’t help but feel a good 20-30% was setting up future stories and mysteries, but it wasn’t immediately obvious while I was watching, which is a plus.

  • If Leo is gonna leak those nudes, I hope they take a few episodes before it happens. He’s such an awful character who dragged Dana’s story down considerably, and I’m excited about being free of him for at least a little while.

  • Let me be clear: I’m not 100% against the idea of Carrie being pregnant, it just seems like hoping a huge can of worms when they need it the least. I’m anxious to see how the writers navigate the story, and if they handle it poorly it could send the show flying off the rails again.

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