Homeland s3 ep 10

Operation Brody is under way in ‘Good Night’, the sort of episode that cable budgets and audience expectations make possible – set largely in two locations, with Saul’s Mission Command only slightly better lit than Team Brody’s position, in darkness, on the Iran/Iraq border. Saul’s plan, it will be recalled, is to get Brody into Iran as a defector, there to kill the head of the Revolutionary Guard, before being extracted (except he won’t be, probably). But people just won’t leave Brody the hell alone, so there’s plenty of explosions and gunfire, even if because of the lighting it isn’t always clear who’s doing what. Eventually, though, the decision is made to pull the mission; Brody, though, goes rogue, assigns to Carrie the responsibility of exfil, and manages to make contact with Majid Javadi. He’s in.

Back in America, Quinn has found out that Carrie’s pregnant, and he manages to stop his heart from breaking for long enough to suggest that since she’s compromised she shouldn’t have anything more to do with the mission. This, of course, goes down very badly with Carrie, who claims that it isn’t Brody’s baby anyway. Does this mean a comeback for Young Josh Homme, I wonder? Quinn even manages to hide his disappointment – if barely – when Brody survives to the end of the episode.

The defining moment of the episode has already come, though, when an IED explodes under Brody’s vehicle, which is blown apart, thrown in the air, and flipped over. Carrie’s lip trembles; Mission Control is on pause, deciding whether to torch the remains of the vehicle via drone to make it look to Iraq as if America has dealt with an al-Qaeda incursion, rather than revealing the existence of the mission. Brody’s dead. Except, of course – of course – he’s still alive, because by now it’s clear that the writers are so in love with their superhero lead (rather like in Dexter, not-coincidentally another Showtime series) that he’s going to survive everything which can be flung at him, and if he’s ever killed off it’ll be because there’s nowhere else for the show to go.

So this was OK: better than the first half of the season, not as good as episodes 7 and 8, about as good as last week, with a similar feeling that the main plot points could have been done and dusted in about half the time.


Scandal s2 ep 22

Eff me. Eff. Me.

I referred to last week’s episode as a kind of Scandal’s Greatest Hits. This one, though, was better: turbo-charged and filler-free, in which every major storyline of the past two seasons was picked up, thrown into a blender, and fired out again.

To start with poor old Cyrus is running his shuttle diplomacy again: assuring Mellie that Fitz wants to come back to her, while at that precise moment Fitz is pleasuring Olivia in the White House basement (not a euphemism, although it might be); reminding VP Langston, preparing to run against Fitz, that her only two jobs are to not die and to stay loyal. Then, though, he suffers an inevitable-in-hindsight heart attack.

While that doesn’t entirely slow him down – his attempt to continue running the White House from the ambulance is Scandal all over – there’s too much important business to be dealt with this week for Cyrus’s illness to be allowed to get in the way. Thus Defiance is finally (?) laid to rest, as the once-idealistic Rosen decides that it’s time to play by everyone else’s rules; poor old Jake ends up in the Huck Pit; and Olivia and Fitz find out things about each other that they would, perhaps, rather not have known. You’d have to say that (the then technically single) Olivia humping Jake ranks as pretty small beer when set against Fitz’s murder of a Supreme Court Justice, but you just know they’ll find a way to forgive each other. In fact, just about the only time when the episode paused for breath is when Fitz made his intimate, oddly moving, yet disconcerting gesture of supplication to Mellie – and even that carried two seasons’ worth of backstory with it.

But as disconcerting shit goes, it had NOTHING on Quinn. Now, the writers had a potential problem this season with Quinn: crucial to season 1, but somewhat peripheral in this season, particularly in the absence of a regular Case of the Week. The solution – to make her an eager apprentice to Huck – was ingenious and amusing. So when a perturbed Huck observes that Quinn reminds him of himself, I thought: heigh-ho, we know what he means, and that looks like a season 3 marker. But then OH MY GOD THEY WENT THERE OH MY GOD. No wonder Huck looked so appalled at what he had wrought.

And there was still time for a further flourish or two: Olitz hits the media, and we found out who the head of B-613 is – well, we know who he is, but we found out who he is.

Gosh. I loved season 1 of Scandal, but it couldn’t even begin to prepare you for season 2 which, at times, felt as if it was rewriting the TV drama rulebook in front of you. There wasn’t a bad episode in the whole thing. Season 3 stat, please, More4.

Homeland s3 ep 5

305-carrie-quinnGiven where we left off last time, I was inclined at the start to give this episode the benefit of the doubt at the start: I remain highly dubious about the three-card trick the show pulled off last week, but what the hey, I thought, let’s just go along with it.

At the start Saul reads Quinn in and tells him that that Carrie was “dangled” in front of one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. “Dangled?” Quinn replies, and just for a second you think that someone’s going to call Saul on the morality of using a damaged young woman in this way while denouncing her to the world. But if he has any such thoughts, he keeps them to himself for now.

It’s an off-the-meds week for Carrie – I kind of feel as if we need something at the start of each episode like an old-fashioned “in/out” board like the ones you still see in offices, telling us if Carrie is on/off the meds. Just so we know what to expect. What I didn’t expect is Jessica showing up at her front door requesting her assistance in finding Dana, who’s still on her fuckfest – hee – with Leo. Bizarrely, perhaps because she feels as if she owes Jessica something, having gone on a fuckfest of her own with Jessica’s husband, Carrie risks the whole mission – all that time in the psych hospital, everything else – in order to help.

There’s a nice bit of spy business – the Yoga Play of the title – in which Carrie shakes the two hundred or so people who seem to be tailing her in order to make contact with the FBI. Who aren’t interested. And that’s it. Dana, meantime, overhears a news item about how Leo’s not just a nice boy in need of help, but a possible killer, and we’re pretty much done with Bipoleo and Juliet. It’s so abrupt, in fact, that despite most if not all of the season being in the can before transmission, it has the feel of the producers pulling the plug on an unpopular storyline.

Anyway, Carrie’s now free to concentrate on using herself as bait again, although there’s a strong possibility that the Yoga Play didn’t work: Saul, who is on a weekend away which looks like a cross between a duck shoot and the Bilderberg Group, tells Quinn to hang tough. (Saul, on finding out that Senator Lockhart is to be made the director of the CIA, will flounce off and return home unexpectedly, to find his wife having a “late dinner” with an “old friend from Mumbai”. It very much looked as if he got there just before “dessert”, “petit fours”, “coffee”, and “extra-marital sex”.)

But then, in the final five minutes, Carrie is home invaded by Javadi’s guys and dragged off to meet the man himself. Saul is, somewhat chillingly, delighted by this turn of events: he might be fond of Carrie, but he clearly regards her as dispensable. Or, at least, he’s willing to take enormous risks with her. Quinn looks troubled. I suspect that he’s going to start making a fuss, given that he’s the only person in the show at the moment who seems to care about her.

Apart from that final sequence, this was yet another episode in which the pieces were shuffled around to no great purpose. My view, which plainly isn’t shared by the Homeland writers and producers, is that you can have too many setup episodes in a season. We’re up to four so far, with last week’s being the only one with any sort of forward momentum; and that, of course, was achieved at the cost of some integrity. And the scene in which would-be double agent Carrie, who had been blindfolded and hustled into a vehicle, was hauled in front of Javadi unhelpfully reminded me of the episode in which would-be double agent Brody, who had been blindfolded and hustled into a helicopter, was hauled in front of Abu Nazir. Which in turn made me wonder just how much further forward this show has got in the past nine episodes.

Scandal s2 ep 17

822x-2The client behind the Case of the Week comes swaggering into Olivia’s office, demanding that Quinn fix him “a coffee black as Texas crude, with three sugars sweet as you”. Yes, it’s our old friend Hollis Doyle, and his daughter Maybelle (Andrea Bowen off of Desperate Housewives) has been kidnapped, with a $20m ransom on her head. Except Hollis doesn’t believe it: Maybelle is an addict, and as far as he is concerned this is nothing more than a crude attempt to get money out of him, a position he maintains even when an ear turns up at Pope and Associates. To start with, anyway.

Cyrus can’t hide his glee: “Karma! Just take a moment to feel the karma!” he whoops down the phone when Olivia tells him. And Rosen, crashing on the office sofa, is there to offer unsolicited advice as well. It’s the sort of thing we’ve seen in plenty of procedurals, though, and while it’s sold with the usual Scandal mix of high-stakes tension and snappy dialogue it doesn’t quite come up to the standard of last week’s remarkable episode.

The longer arcs are still on a rolling boil: Quinn is being tutored by Huck, in a storyline which, given its subject matter, is sweeter than it has any right to be. Osborne is unmasked as the mole, although it isn’t as simple as that. Fitz is hitting the bottle. Olivia submits to an oddly sinister kiss. And Ballard, unknown to us a few weeks ago, is at the centre of it all. ‘Snake in the Garden’ is great, of course, just not Scandal great.

Dexter s8 ep 10

Dexter and Hannah are, indeed, planning to go to Argentina. “You know how stupid that sounds?” Deb scoffs. Yes. Yes we do. It’s always problematic when a show tries to have its cake and eat it – sometimes it can be endearingly meta, but sometimes it just comes across as the writers hedging their bets: look, this is silly, but we know it’s silly, so we’re going to do it anyway. With only three episodes to go, though, in a show which was once thrilling, sexy, and bracingly amoral, I’m not buying it.

Anyway, Argentina. First, though, for reasons which are never really fleshed out, Dexter has to kill Vogel’s son Oliver. One assumes, then, that the need to kill still burns within him, and that his Dark Passenger will be accompanying him to South America. It’s not that easy, though, because Oliver knows that Dexter is after him, and Vogel is trying to protect her son. She is, after all, a psychopath expert. Meantime Hannah is lying low, but it all goes wrong when she has to look after Harrison for like five minutes, during which time he injures himself so badly that she has to take him to hospital, where she’s recognised.

Not for the first time, there’s a feeling that the writers have pretty much given up on most of the other people on the show. I’m now in a minority of one, I think, in believing that Quinn is potentially – potentially – an interesting character, but by the start of this episode he’s been reduced to mooching around listlessly after Deb, while passive-aggressively doing his best to get dumped by Jamie. She is, however, too dumb to take the gigantic hints, so he actually has to do something about it, or whatever. Look: was there not a point, a few seasons ago, when Quinn was getting suspicious of Dexter? Did I imagine it?

By the end of the episode, though, the stakes have been raised a little: I’ll concede that I wasn’t expecting the ending, even if I’m not sure where it leaves us. Presumably Dexter will now be even more determined to kill Oliver during an ever-decreasing window, as that bounty-hunter dude closes in on Hannah, giving them the final two episodes to TCB before leaving for Argentina, no matter how stupid it sounds.

Scandal s2 ep 5

So the Big Conspiracy is on, but we’ll come back to that.

First of all, in ‘All Roads Lead To Fitz’, Olivia and the team have to deal with the case of Sam Reston, Governor of Maryland, who arrives home to see his wife being raped by their builder, whom he shoots and kills. Despite Olivia wanting to keep the Governor’s position as bland as possible, his spokesperson wants to paint him as a gun-loving Democrat hero, defending his wife. We quickly find out that Reston was the Democratic candidate in the Presidential election won by President Fitz with Olivia as attack dog, so there’s more than a little lingering resentment; it turns out that Reston’s obsessed with the number of votes he lost Ohio by (4,359), which had they gone to him would have swung the election in his favour. Meantime Huck is being wooed by a woman at his Torturers Anonymous meeting, which presumably means that she’s in someone’s pay.

The rape story takes a couple of twists, both predictable, but sold with the usual high-wire Scandal panache. “You’d be surprised what powerful people get away with behind closed doors”, Olivia remarks at one point, which is essentially the Scandal mission statement. But precisely what Governor Reston has got away with she can’t say, because of attorney-client privilege. Still, she’s prepared to unburden herself to Cyrus, who is himself wrestling with the problem of having a husband who’s decided to come back to work as a White House journalist, having been denied the baby adoption he thought was in the bag. Cyrus has dropped in on Olivia in search of food, wine, and a place to go which isn’t the marital home, and he and Olivia reflect that, all things considered, they probably owe Reston one. It’s a good week for Jeff Perry as Cyrus; in case we’d forgotten the season 1 evidence of just how ruthless he’s prepared to be, he fires some pretty chilling threats at Mellie, then in pretty much the same tone of voice invites her round for dinner. There might be an argument for saying that he’s at least as central as Olivia to the plot in Scandal.

Which takes us back to the Big Conspiracy: David Rosen has been given his job back, on condition he takes down his Conspiracy Wall and gets his head in the game, which he reluctantly agrees to do. But it turns out that Cytron, the company which was bombed by someone who might not have been Quinn, has a nice sideline in voting machines, on which Quinn’s boyfriend was working when he was so sadly blown up. So: how did Fitz manage to get those 4,359 votes and win that election, then? Might Howell Doyle and the other co-conspirators know something about it? You know, I think they just might. But with Abby now on Team Rosen – or is she? Is Olivia playing a long game here? – it looks as if the Conspiracy Wall will be going back up quickly. God alone knows what’s going on; I don’t trust any of them, but I gobbled this episode down in a gleeful 45-minute sugar rush. Not exactly nourishing, but I enjoyed every second of it.

Homeland s2 ep 12

Carrie and Brody are back at the lakeside cabin – incidentally, she, like Jess, calls him “Brody”; perhaps he should look for a lover who calls him by his first name? They talk, and it’s noticeable that of the two of them Carrie, trained spy and CIA high-flyer, is apparently the most guileless and open, while Brody, soldier, is more guarded. What they don’t know is that they’ve been followed by Quinn, who waits until Brody’s alone, trains a gun on him… and then doesn’t shoot. The reason he gives to Estes is, in essence, that he, Quinn, shoots the bad guys, and Brody is no longer a bad guy; Estes, on the other hand, might well be. Presumably chilled by this, Estes releases Saul, who gets on with the business of assisting with Abu Nazir’s funeral at sea.

Brody makes his peace with Jess and Mike, basically telling them it’s OK to get together if they want, and Carrie has to choose between her career and Brody (episode title ‘The Choice’); Saul advises her not to be so stupid. “You’re the smartest and the dumbest fucking person I’ve ever known!” he bellows at her. How you view this advice depends on how you see Saul by the end, I suppose. The first half of this episode unfolds at a measured and well-judged pace, but there’s no mistaking the sustained, humming bass note of portent in the background; something’s about to happen.

And, just after Carrie’s made her choice – Brody receives this news with an odd expression on his face – something monumental happens, when a SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERTS at the SPOILER ALERT. By which I mean, of course, that a massive bomb in Brody’s car explodes at the CIA memorial service for VP Walden, killing 200 people ballpark, including Walden mère et fils, Estes, lots of others. In a sense, it’s what Homeland has been building to for two seasons, and it’s what Abu Nazir was about all along.

Carrie thinks Brody’s behind it, but he persuades him that he isn’t – she didn’t take too much persuading, as it happens – and the two of them go on the run, although after a while even Carrie realises how insane this is, and helps Brody to leave, promising that she’ll clear his name. She returns to a makeshift morgue and to Saul, who has returned from Abu Nazir’s burial at sea and who, one assumes, had given Carrie up for dead.

Which still leaves open the possibility that Brody might be behind the bombing – it was in his car, after all, and that strange look on his face when Carrie told him that she wanted to be with him was never adequately explained. On the other hand, why did he draw attention to his car being moved? More conclusively, the media getting hold of his “suicide tape” – which, of course, applied to another incident entirely – suggests that it was an inside job. And Dana, who has generally been close to the moral pulse of the show, still believes in her father.

How about Saul or Quinn, then? Saul, notably, was a long way away from the action, and reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for the victims, as he did at the end, wouldn’t necessarily exclude the possibility that, were he to be the baddie, he regards their death as regretful but necessary. From the writers’ point of view, they might feel as if they can get round any accusations of being anti-Islamic by having someone Jewish at the heart of the conspiracy. And, of course, he failed the polygraph in season 1. Anyway, it turns out that there’s more than one way to secure a promotion; as of now, Saul’s in charge.

Quinn, meantime, seems to have dropped off the radar after his confrontation with Estes. Let’s just say it was Quinn, and he needed a patsy. Presumably he might think twice about shooting the most obvious fall-guy outside a lakeside cabin? As for Estes, presumably he can be removed from the list of suspects, by virtue of being dead. Or can he?

Taken on its own, this was an excellent episode, and it rounded off a season which has had more plusses than minuses, even if the show we’ve got – an action drama with a Romeo and Juliet romance – isn’t the one we thought we were getting. By the end of this episode, in fact, I’d come to the rather startling realisation that I might well have enjoyed this season, all in all, a little more than the first one. I felt as if season 1 started and ended well, but had something of a dip in the middle. More fundamentally, I just didn’t buy Brody’s apparent motivation for his season 1 actions, which cast a bit of a shadow over the whole thing.

Season 2 has been up-and-down as well, for sure, but it burned through a lot of plot this year; perhaps I’m just more comfortable, on a personal level, with shows that I don’t need to find plausible. And this season has had more viewers than the first: while the received wisdom is that there’s no longer much point in taking Homeland too seriously, all you need to do is have a look at the social media of your choice to see just how much analysis and discussion is provoked by every episode. For better or worse Homeland exerts a grip on the imagination of its viewers like no other show out there just now, and I’m prepared to bet that we’ll all be back for season 3.