Homeland s8 ep 12

I’m sure I could poke holes in this episode if I tried, particularly the final scenes. (Which I’ll come back to.) Taken on its own terms, though, I thought this was just about as good a series finale as long-term viewers could have wished for, particularly in the way that a number of the show’s themes were brought full circle; starting with a flashback to Nicholas Brody explaining why he thought that an apparent betrayal of his country was necessary in the interests of that same country.

Which is where Carrie finds herself at the start of the episode: as far as she’s concerned, the only way of avoiding war with Pakistan is to disclose the identity of Saul’s asset to Moscow. And the only way of doing that, assuming Saul can’t be persuaded to give it up, is – as suggested last week by Yevgeny – to kill him. It’s always worth remembering that Carrie, since the very start of Homeland, has been driven by the belief that her personal failures led to 9/11, and her desire to prevent another event with multiple casualties is always going to override any thought of the wider picture. So she liaises with Yevgeny’s contact in America, obtains chemicals which, when applied to the skin, have a paralysing effect, and arranges for a GRU kill team to be outside Saul’s house.

Saul, meantime, is making a last and futile attempt to stand the USA down from its standoff with Pakistan. Jalal Haqqani wasn’t at the attack location given to him by Tasneem last week, and Pakistan is still refusing either to give him up or to disarm its battlefield nuclear weapons. Saul demands a face-to-face meeting – remember them? Seems like a long time ago – with POTUS, and gets Zabel instead, who is entirely unwilling to listen to Saul’s third-hand account of what’s on the flight recorder. Rebarbative as Zabel is, this isn’t an entirely unreasonable stance.

Carrie then turns up at Saul’s house, tells him of the deal she’s made with Yevgeny, and makes a final attempt to persuade Saul to surrender details of his asset. What she hadn’t anticipated is that Saul sees this as part of a much bigger picture: Pakistan, he explains, is a regional problem at most, whereas Russia must be resisted, and to betray his contact would mean the final destruction of his intelligence network in Moscow. But Carrie’s not having this, administers the paralysing agent to Saul, and brings the GRU heavies in. I didn’t think she’d go through with this, I must admit; although Saul, who knows that Carrie hasn’t seen Franny since her return to the US and is therefore expecting her to leave again, clearly anticipated something happening. As Carrie pleads with Saul to give her the information she’s looking for, the GRU thugs prepare to give Saul a lethal injection. Saul beckons Carrie closer: “Go fuck yourself”, he growls at her. But… she then calls the GRU off; at least to that extent, she was bluffing.

She then flies to the West Bank to meet Saul’s sister Dorit, tells her that Saul is dead, and collects from her an envelope containing a USB stick – this appears to be Saul’s legacy plan for his asset. It’s not clear whether Carrie knew that Dorit had this, and it’s something of a Hail Mary if she didn’t know. But the USB contains details of Anna’s identity, which Carrie immediately tells Yevgeny about. Saul, by now free, has warned Scott, who is in the UN building with Anna and tries to protect her, but is unable to: the Russians close in to take Anna into custody, and she kills herself rather than be captured and returned to Russia.

However, war is averted: the Russians live up to their part of the deal and hold a televised media conference to confirm that the flight recorder exonerates Jalal Haqqani, which does at least make the question of whether Carrie’s actions were justified all along a more nuanced one. Was Saul’s loyalty to one person disproportionate? Of course, in the wider analysis this might strengthen Russia’s position. It’s all the “cost of doing business”, Yevgeny tells Carrie, which is striking, because Saul said exactly the same thing to her earlier. The episode title is ‘Prisoners of War’, which is both a nice shoutout to the Israeli show which inspired Homeland, and a pert commentary on the protagonists: Saul, Carrie, Yevgeny, Tasneem, Haqqani, all of them. All of us, maybe. All prisoners of war, doomed to go round and round in the same circles for ever.

Which takes us to the coda, and it’s a cracker. Two years later Carrie is living with Yevgeny in a dazzling Moscow apartment – presumably he was well rewarded for his exertions – and, after we get a quick look at Carrie’s new Conspiracy Wall, they go out to see a concert by the great Kamasi Washington. (Jazz again, opening the very first episode and closing this final one.) During the concert Carrie excuses herself to go to the bathroom, where she exchanges handbags with another woman. And meantime in America, Saul gets a call for Professor Rabinow – the alias he used when Anna gave him information – and goes to a bookstore to pick up a package containing Carrie’s new book, ‘Tyranny of Secrets: Why I Had to Betray My Country’. He rummages around in the spine, and finds a message with information about a Russian defence system which has just been sold to Iran and Turkey, with a promise of more details to come.

Which means that Carrie has become Saul’s new asset in Russia. Questions: does Yevgeny know? Is he playing her? Is she playing Saul? Is her book and her Conspiracy Wall part of her cover? Won’t it become obvious at some point that Saul’s source is highly likely to be the former CIA agent who is Yevgeny’s partner? Honestly, I don’t really care: I thought this was a wonderful ending to what has been a properly great TV show. If we never see Homeland again it’s been left in a good place; and if Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu or some streaming operation we’ve never yet heard of wants to fling money at everyone in a few years and make more episodes, it’s a perfect jumping-off point.

It’s trite to say that, in the ideal world we don’t live in, Homeland would have ended after its first season. But it’s also true to say that the biggest critics of its later years don’t actually watch it; if they did, they would know that, all in all, Homeland gracefully managed its transition from a show primarily about Brody to a show about wider geopolitical issues. Not without faults, or occasional longueurs, but overall a triumph. Well done.

Miss Scarlet and the Duke s1 ep 3

In last week’s comments, we talked about how Miss Scarlet’s allies tend to be other marginalised people. This week’s episode gives that theme a bit of a twist, with Eliza absolutely delighted to take on a job for “Scotland Yard” (sort of), until she realises the job is to spy on a group of suffragettes. Her career or the cause, which is it to be?

Things become even more complicated and our heroine’s loyalties even more split when the firebrand leader of the group is suspected of murder and, for once, DI Wellington wants her help on the case. To paraphrase pop philosophers Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat, every time he takes two steps forward, she takes two steps back but, instead of coming together in a joyous 80s beat, they keep on knocking each other out of sync. And not in a way that feels particularly harmonious or pleasant to listen to, either.

I mean, we love a ship round here, but this show is not making it easy to wish these two together. I‘ve mentioned before that Wellington could stand to be significantly nicer to Eliza, and there are again some flashes of genuine respect and appreciation between them this week (as well as them both acknowledging how much they mean to each other – small SQUEE!) but, for every bit of progress made, there also seems to be a load of shouting and controlling behaviour going on as well, which may well be period-accurate and designed to make him seem multi-layered but is also deeply annoying, unattractive and makes what could have been a fun episode no more than passable. For this show to work as well as it could, I really shouldn’t be thinking “He’s definitely cute, girlfriend, but he’s also mean and he’s a drunk – you could do waaaaay better.”

Having said that, just when I was beginning to wonder “WTF is your problem, man?!”, the show more or less tells me the answer: like all the best romantic leads, the Duke has a Secret Pain. No sign of any Daddy Issues or dead wives (as yet), but our man seems to have vicarious trauma from his work, which is fair enough. I imagine a Detective Inspector investigating in Victorian London sees some nasty, nasty stuff.

Not an excuse then, but an explanation and, by the end of the episode, when Eliza has sorted the case, saved everyone’s lives and assuaged his ego a bit, there‘s that respect and appreciation again. Progress! Even if we’ll be two steps back yet again when she finds out what he did to Moses. Ouch. Still, in amongst it all Eliza learns something about lifting up (not blowing up, Margaret) other women, which is nice and a lot more coherent than I feared it might be. And Wellington learns something about meeting her halfway. Maybe. We’ll see.

Public Service Announcement 37 of 2019: Big Little Lies

“Big Little Lies”, based on Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel, produced by movie stars and starring a whole host of them was a big hit for HBO a couple of years ago, winning a whopping eight Emmys (in the limited series category), and deservedly so. I haven’t quite finished season 1 yet, but the cast, including Reese Witherspoon, and Emmy-winners Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgård are phenomenal, the story hugely compelling, the setting gorgeous and the whole thing a genuinely premium product. So, of course, we’re getting a second season. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, story-wise – as I’ve said about a trillion times recently, sometimes one and done is enough – but since Moriarty and showrunner David E Kelley have returned to make sure it’s done right, and most of the cast is back – this time with added Meryl Streep! MERYL STREEP! – the odds are pretty decent. Add in the fact that, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, this is a story about women working together, which came into being because women wanted it to, and I can get behind that. UK viewers can catch Ep 1 at 2AM on Monday (10th) morning on Sky Atlantic with the usual school night repeat at  9pm Monday night. If you missed season 1 and watch to see what all the fuss was about, it’s all available on Sky Go.

 

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2019: Designated Survivor

My problems with the second season of Designated Survivor were many and well-documented on these pages, so when Fox decided to cancel it, it felt like something of a mercy killing. Season one was great, silly fun but the show ran out of road when the original conspiracy ended, and season two turned out to be a season too many – the show didn’t seem to know what to do with the better characters and relationships it had, so it added a bunch of new, terrible ones and some incredibly annoying, stupid storylines, and, to put it politely, drove me nuts.

Because nothing is ever truly dead on TV these days though, Netflix  decided to resurrect the Bauer Administration and pad the cast out even more. So the show which probably shouldn’t have had a second season (much as I wanted one at the time) and already has too many characters, is now getting a third season and even more of them. Oh, God. On the plus side, though, the new season is only ten episodes – maybe a shorter, tighter season will work better? Maybe. We’ll see. I’ve criticised Designated Survivor a lot, but I really loved the first season and no one will be happier than me if the show gets its mojo back. (And if Emily and Aaron get together properly. PLEASE.) Anyway, since all ten episodes are going to drop at once tomorrow (7 June), I won’t be doing week by week reviews, but I’ll review the first one at least. Please let it be good.

Lethal Weapon s2 ep 7

Riggs isn’t sleeping. And when he finally manages to close his eyes, he’s haunted by gruesome nightmares about his father. He’s also convinced himself that he’s being followed around by a rather spooky raven. So he needs caffeine, and lots of it. (Or drugs, but Dr Cahill isn’t playing ball.) Fortunately, an early opportunity to raid – and destroy – an upmarket coffee machine presents itself when he and Murtaugh are investigating the death of Kyle Kennedy, a surfer, who seems to have fallen foul of the Shore Boys, a nasty beach gang who at first just looked like Mean Girls with surfboards.

And from here on, everything in this episode is an absolute delight. Whether it’s a caffeinated Riggs chasing a suspect on foot, to Murtaugh’s bewilderment (“Why are you running? We’ve got a car!”); Bowman being hailed by surfer dudes as “punched-out-a-shark-guy”; Murtaugh’s hijacking of a charity dinner for the wrongfully imprisoned with an unfortunate joke; or the very naughty visual gag which fuels Murtaugh’s suspicion that Trish is having an affair with guest star Scottie Pippen, the whole thing pops and crackles with humour and energy, balanced nicely by Riggs’s ongoing torment. (I’m also warming to Bowman, incidentally.)

The episode, incidentally, is written by Elizabeth Davis Beall, a Lethal Weapon exec producer and Castle alum. This seems to be her first credit as lead writer on this show. I hope she gets another soon.

Public Service Announcement 24 of 2017: Chance

It feels churlish to wonder if we really need a TV show in which Hugh Laurie plays a talented medic with a monosyllabic surname, but that’s what Hulu’s new drama Chance is giving us. Eldon Chance – do you see what they did there? – is a forensic neuropsychiatrist with a complicated private life and a Secret Pain or two, who gets entangled with a femme fatale patient (Gretchen Mol) and thus with her violent detective husband (Leo from Scandal). The first two episodes are directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room) which, together with The Handmaid’s Tale, suggests that Hulu want to be seen as serious premium TV players. Although the critical response in America was mixed I have a strong feeling that this is actually pretty good, but I just don’t know if I have the time to watch it (tonight, Universal, 9pm).

Blindspot s2 ep 17

Jane and Oliver Kind are basically stuck in a video game: locked in a single room, under video surveillance, in a remote cabin, till they work their way on to the next level (ie downstairs), get the word out to Team Tat, and try not to get some kidnapped kids killed, all while ideally not getting killed themselves.

Jane is pretty tremendous throughout, Oliver Kind not so much – any heroism on his part being more accidental than intended, although by the end he does seem to be picking up the hand-to-hand combat bug, if not necessarily the mad skillz. And I could have done without the words “Ponzi scheme” cropping up, but at least we don’t labour it.  Too much.

Kurt, meanwhile, divides his time between fretting over how to rescue Jane, being ridiculously nice to the unspeakable Roman – FFS what is it with the writers and this character? He is uninteresting, unlikeable, and unbloodybearable. ENOUGH -and being exceptionally kind to Reade who, never mind quitting, asshat, should be fired a thousand times over and take his terrible stoyline with him.

Roman and Reade notwithstanding, however, the episode was entertaining enough, thanks to Jane and the kidnap story, the departure (please) of Oliver Kind, and the promise of a Jeller resurgence – I see it, I SQUEE it. Hurrah!