Homeland has been lobbing so many things at us this season that when an episode slows things down, as "The Clearing" the did, we tend to notice that certain components just aren't as gripping as others. Maybe it's because we just survived enough politics to last us for the next four years, but Brody's political posturing isn't too high on my list of can't-miss Homeland threads. And Dana and Finn's hit-and-run nightmare was trouble even before the body rolled up onto the hood and hit the ground. Yet these were the two centerpieces of "The Clearing," and if we must compare episodes to other episodes, this one wasn't even in the blast radius of the nuclear bombs that were "Beirut Is Back," "Q & A," or "New Car Smell."
The biggest difference between those and "The Clearing" came in the aftermath of each episode. I often spend the minutes immediately after Homeland's closing credits wiping tears and drool off my face and changing my undergarments. But tonight I was left remarkably unfazed by the previous hour, not only because there was no trademark punch in the face, but because there was little feeling of accomplishment. In short, "The Clearing" felt like regular old television, and not the neck-snapping, storytelling-redefining television we got in the back-to-back wallops that were "Q & A" and "New Car Smell" (though it was a continuation of the deceleration that began in last week's episode, just more pronounced).
Take, for example, Dana's hurried (and poorly timed) admission of manslaughter in the middle of a fundraiser for her daddy and her boyfriend's daddy. It was met by shock (well, not THAT much shock, when you consider she had a hand in murder) by the Brodys, which is the appropriate response. Yet the Waldens sighed as though Finn had gotten a B-minus on a geography pop quiz instead of cutting someone's life short by a few decades. Their desire to keep it buried like the corpse Finn created was expected, but surely the situation demanded more than just a "Tsk tsk, go to your room with only half your dessert!" response. Mama Walden seemed more upset by Finn finishing off Washington, D.C.'s white wine floaters than she did by his road rampage.
The shining light that is Dana wasn't having any of that, and Brody agreed. They ran off to inform the police but were intercepted by Carrie, who informed them—well, mostly Brody—that telling the cops would blow the super-secret CIA operation because Roya had ordered Brody to "make [Walden] happy" in order to keep him close. The problem is that we sat through the ordeal of Dana's confession and ended up with little to show for it; given how "not thrilled" with this storyline we were to begin with, it really felt laborious. Yes, the parents now know about the hit-and-run and that will steer things moving forward, but the consequences never showed up in this episode, leaving the whole thing feeling half-written. Homeland is a series that captured Brody in the same episode in which he saw Carrie for the first time and then turned him into a double agent just one episode later; the audience would have gladly allowed both of those stories to be dragged out over multiple episodes. In comparison, "The Clearing" felt unnecessarily stretched out and incomplete. Or maybe it's the fact that we just want Dana's wild ride to end so she can get back to being curious about Islam and smoking pot.
Brody's foray into politics is going about as well as expected, with a lot of people telling him what he's going to do and why he's perfect for the job while he sweats nervously and fields calls from terrorist sympathizers and one crazy CIA lady. Maybe my limited understanding of the government is incorrect, but Brody's meteoric ascent up the political food chain has been something we've just had to swallow and now the show is already talking about him becoming President of the United States in two Olympics from now. It took John McCain 35 years after six years of captivity in a Vietnamese hole to have a shot at the presidency, but Brody's looking good after just 365 days as a Congressman and he doesn't even want to be POTUS. Sure, okay! Homeland's greatest achievement this season has been to make us oblivious to some of its flimsier elements, but when it's right in our face, we tend to say, "Hey, wait a second..." (Note: A lot of these political shenanigans can also be applied to ABC's Nashville, which suffers anytime croonin' makes way for campaignin'.)
My favorite part of "The Clearing" was Saul's bummer of a day with our good old friend Aileen the Wayward Terrorist and her natural hair color (good lord she looked like a broken mess!). But even that fizzled out with little conclusion after building up to something more. Saul hoped Aileen would recognize the mystery man from the subway and Roya's meeting, and she promised to give up the goods as long as Saul got her transferred out of the basement and into a cell with a window. Saul tried to reason with a real asshole of a warden and ended up calling in a favor to the Attorney General, but Aileen duped everyone into crashing an innocent man's house and used the opportunity to off herself with a pair of Saul's reading glasses. Yikes! And after that sweet heart-to-heart over wine and cheese! If that doesn't make you not want to be a CIA agent, then I don't know what will. "Here, have a touching humanizing moment with someone only to see it completely crushed and your entire day wasted. Come for the sobering reality checks, stay for the psychological damage!"
And I suppose that's the real message of "The Clearing." Everyone in this series—from CIA agents to teenage daughters—is in a pretty bad space. Homeland probably didn't need to remind us of this fact, but it does set things up for more of the shocks we're used to. This was a solid hour of television, but only an okay episode of Homeland.
– Carrie is either putting a lot of miles on her car or she has a new personal teleporter. She's just zipping around everywhere and always showing up with plenty of time to spare. Can't we at least get one or two cuts of her bee-boppin' to some jazz on her car's tape deck? Bee-bop-a-doo-dap-bah-bahhhhhh!
– Quinn continues to be a totally lovable lunatic. He decides when he's getting out of the hospital, and he decides when he's getting naked. "Like you've never seen a dick before."
– How has Jess not exploded yet after finding out her husband works for the CIA and her daughter ran over someone? Just wait 'til Dana tells Jess she saw that crazy CIA lady talking to Brody.