The Show Formerly Known As Homeland "Game On" Review: Haha, Joke's On Us
HAHAHAHA! HAHA! HA! Way to go, Homeland. We'll get to Dana Brody dating a murderer in a second, but how about that "FUCK YOU, AUDIENCE!" of an ending that "Game On" just whacked us over the head with? Just look at Saul in that picture above, laughing at you. The moon-sized balls on this show, I tell ya! My head is swimming in an ocean of emotions, and they run the gamut from homicidal rage to curious excitement because the reveal that Saul and Carrie secretly planned all the garbage of Season 3's first four episodes is both good and bad for the show. But let's be clear on this: It's mostly very bad. I'm pretty peeved right now, so writing in complete sentences will be difficult, and I apologize in advance for any blue language I might use. For now, I'm going stick with bullet points until I cool off.
WHY SAUL AND CARRIE'S PLAN OF INSANITY IS BAD:
– It's Homeland's way of validating the sloppy first few episodes of the season. "But it was all a trick, see? Totally worth it!"
– It makes a large portion of those first few episodes completely worthless and a waste of our time. It also killed the show's credibility. How many people have already stopped watching Homeland because of this little game? If response on the internet is any indication, lots of people hated the first three episodes of Season 3. And according to TV.com ratings at press time, "Uh.. Oh... Ah" (7.4) and "Tower of David" (6.8) are the lowest of the series by far.
– It went on wayyyyy too long. It shouldn't have taken four episodes to reach this point.
– It screamed "Gotcha!" and expected us all to appreciate the ruse, as though there's nothing wrong with purposefully airing nearly four hours of television specifically designed to deceive us. I don't know if I'd call it a true red herring, but it sure did stink.
– It was a reveal that served the writers and showrunners instead of the audience. Can't you just picture them twirling their 'staches and gleefully giggling about how badly we were going to be burned?
– Having Brody return in Episode 3 only delayed the fake-out, losing most of the show's audience earlier than it should have. Homeland could have prevented a lot of headaches if Brody had come back in Episode 4 and Saul and Carrie's secret had been pushed up to Episode 3. Since there was no Brody in "Game On," Episode 3 now seems even more pointless.
– We can't trust anything Homeland tells us now.
– The reveal wasn't anywhere near worth all the frustration of the beginning of the season.
WHY SAUL AND CARRIE'S PLAN OF INSANITY IS GOOD:
– Finally, we can get on with the fucking show.
And now I can get on with this review. All the time spent painting Saul in a bad light and strapping Carrie down to gurneys and witnessing Senate hearings and sitting through meetings about Carrie's release led up to this supposed supernova of a surprise. Saul purposefully had Carrie committed and discredited in order to set a trap for the bad guys to come knocking on her door in an attempt to get her to spill C.I.A. secrets. And Carrie, wacko Carrie, agreed to at least part of this somewhere off-screen, certainly at some point during the six months that passed between Season 2 and Season 3, which we didn't see. Fine. But the biggest problem with Saul's plan, from a story perspective, is that it was a total Hail Mary entirely dependent on the bad guys taking notice of Carrie being outed in the media and springing her from the psych ward to exploit her for their own evil plans. Javadi had to fall perfectly into Saul's trap, and dammit, Carrie was going to remain in captivity until he did. This entire plan was a stretch that even a Grandmaster Yoga Champion couldn't've made. But in the magic world of television, of course it happened.
And worst of all, it came at our expense. Now, when I say "our expense," I completely understand that watching television is optional, and that it's just television. "If you don't like it, don't watch it!" has been repeated in comments sections of TV reviews since the internet was invented. But for some people, time spent watching television is a serious investment, and in this case they have a right to be pissed. We spent three hours and fifty-something minutes watching the show go one way, and all along we were being duped by a secret cabal of tricksters. This kind of trickery works very well in one episode of television. It can work well enough in two. It can even help beef up a sagging side plot. But four hours of television just to set us up for one big PSYCH moment? That's just cruel and unnecessary. If the ride leading up to the reveal had been fun, we would be having a different conversation right now. But the first four hours of Homeland's third season were not fun. The reveal came too late. Homeland waited too long. That's why this didn't work.
ANYWAY. The good news is that even though getting here was terrible, Saul and Carrie's plan to infiltrate Javadi's organization from the inside puts Homeland in a much better place than before. For the first time this season, Homeland feels like it's about C.I.A. shenanigans and stopping terrorism rather than mental illness and grudges. I'm going to pretend that Season 3 of Homeland is starting now, with a shortened eight-episode run, because I definitely don't want to remember Episodes 1 through 4.
However, there was a hint at this covert pact between Saul and Carrie, back in Episode 2, when Saul told a pissed-off Peter Quinn—Quinn was upset about how Carrie was being treated—that "We're onto something, and if it leads to where I think, it will all have been worth it... just have a little faith." That was the line that made me doubt Saul's evil actions up to that point, and gave me reason to think he had something planned. But then Saul also uttered that dick line about Fara's headscarf, which seemed so out-of-character for him that it made me think Homeland wanted to take his character in a different direction. I still don't see the point of worldly Saul taking umbrage with Fara's headscarf. Has he gone anti-Muslim, or was it just another trick to get us to believe that he broke bad?
I'll admit that there's potential involving the story of how the C.I.A. treats its agents, and that's the only way I can see the first four episodes of the season having any merit. At the very end of "Game On," Carrie told Saul, "You should have gotten me out of the hospital, Saul. You shouldn't have left me in there." Carrie's frequent pleas to see Saul while she was in there carry a different meaning now that we know she'd been locked up partially of her own volition, but didn't want to be there any longer. Maybe she'd reached her limit, maybe she was hoping that Abby had seen Saul so she could end this daring undercover exercise because she couldn't take it anymore. Maybe Carrie's kicking and screaming wasn't an act, and she was in the psych ward for much longer than she thought she would be. Maybe she really was trying to get out. Maybe Saul did go too far, and maybe her experience will be a major part of Carrie's story going forward. Maybe when Carrie told Saul, "Uh... Ooh.. Aww..." (lithium speak for "Fuck you, Saul"), she really meant it, and maybe Saul was actually sorry. But she had to know this was part of the risk, right? Or maybe Carrie is just so all-in that she was willing to spend however long she spent in that care facility, getting forcefully shot up with drugs, just to have a slim chance at infiltrating the enemy when they came to pull her out. Maybe! But then why did she so intensely refuse to meet with Franklin's client Leland Bennett, if that was the big goal of her entire painful ordeal in the mental hospital? Playing hard to get at a bar is one thing, but in a high-stakes game of cloak-and-dagger espionage? Those kinds of chances don't come along all the time. And so again, it smacks of purposeful audience deception.
The rest of "Game On" wasn't much better than the three episodes that preceded it, but as I said before, at least Homeland has some direction now. Carrie is on the verge of double-crossing Javadi as a C.I.A. insider, and Homeland has a shot at making the rest of its third season more like what we're used to seeing from the show. She's getting close to Javadi, a man using the name of a national soccer hero as a pseudonym while making shady transactions with Venezuelan banks. You'd think that if you didn't want to draw attention to yourself, you wouldn't name yourself after a famous athlete. There's a reason Johnny Depp checks into hotels under the name of Mr. Donkey Penis and not Brett Favre. But thanks to Saul's extensive knowledge of Iranian Olympic soccer teams, Javadi is toast. Okay, sure. And how did Fara come up with the name of the goalie anyway? She just blurted it out as a suspect with no backing of how she came up with it.
And then there was Dana, who helped her crush Leo bust out of rehab. She stole her mom's Subaru Outback and smoked the dope while listening to awful music in the countryside and then traded the car for a Toyota Camry, and as a total car moron, even I know that's stupid. But Dana and Leo are so in love from their weeks of knowing each other in rehab that breaking a few laws and getting financially pillaged at an auto body shop is no biggie. Then Dana read Leo poetry while Leo drank champagne at his little brother's grave because that's what normal teenagers do. Then Dana drove Leo to the base where Brody deployed to Iraq, and told Leo that "goodbye" was the last honest thing Brody said to her. This was probably Dana's best scene in a while, except for the fact that two pot-smoking teens would never spend their time as fugitives visiting military bases.
Meanwhile, Jessica was taking grief from Leo's parents because they said Dana and her terrorist ways were a bad influence on Leo. While Jessica pouted, Mike came back like an angel and reminded us of why he'd make a much better father to Dana than Brody (sandwiches!), and later he dropped the soapy bombshell that Leo may have murdered his brother instead of his brother committing suicide like Leo told Dana. Was it a suicide pact gone wrong? Did Leo kill his brother? It's not clear, but it was kind of implied that Leo was a stone-cold killer, and in the next scene, Leo and Dana were off in the woods by themselves with no phones or anything. Homeland apparently learned nothing from its Dana storyline in Season 2, because even while the fate of the world hangs in the balance, it feels compelled to follow the adventures of a misguided teenage girl.
Homeland has dug a hole four episodes deep this season, but at least there's a light at the bottom of this downward tunnel now that Carrie is making an inroad with the bad guys. However, that doesn't excuse the waste of four episodes that we were put through. The show is still spending an inexplicable amount of time with Dana, and Brody's story may as well have not started at all. I'm sorry for being so upset, but I haven't felt this angry about an episode of television in a long, long time. The feelings are magnified because I used to love this show so much. Remember "The Weekend"? Remember "Q&A"? I don't know that I've ever seen a series go from such high-quality material to a such mockery in this short of a time period. At least the acting is still good.
WACKO SCRIBBLINGS FROM CARRIE'S "I HEART BRODY" DIARY
– I can see both sides of the argument regarding whether or not showrunners owe anything to the audience when it coms to their product. They're artists, and we're merely observing their work. But we're also the ones who keep them in business, and their success is often tied to our opinion and dedication to their work. Add to that the fact that Showtime is a pay-cable network, and looking at their lineup, most people are paying money for Homeland and not Polyamory: Married & Dating.
– Can I admit that I was excited by the idea of Carrie turning on her country and those who wronged her by working for Javadi? THAT would've been a wrinkle that could've been fun. Carrie following in the footsteps of Brody and working for the "bad" guys? Why not?
– The possibility that Javadi's dealings with Venezuelan banks will lead the C.I.A. to Caracas in order to intertwine Brody's story with the main story is a cosmic coincidence that will be harder to swallow than chalk.
– Great to see Virgil back, but he's under watch by the Feds. Of course, that doesn't really matter now that we know Carrie and Saul have their own little thing going on.
– As usual, more excellent work by Martin Donovan as Leland Bennett. Why this guy isn't a bigger star, I don't know.
– This must be what it's like to have been a fan of Dexter. Can we even trust Showtime at all anymore?
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