Happy Homeland Sunday. For the third week in a row, you're stuck with me. We've got Tim locked in a tiny room to make him better in time for the big finale, but there's only so much we can do. Hopefully, after a few laps around the compound, we can grow to respect and trust one another. Maybe one day I'll tell you about my wife and newborn son while we play backgammon. Anyway, let's get to the episode.
Sometimes, shows go off the rails. It happens. Our choice as viewers is to either stick it out and hope things improve, or move on. But watching a show dig and claw out of the hole it fell into is a fascinating thing, and that's basically the last few weeks of Homeland in a nutshell. I said a few weeks ago that it's been a little challenging to determine what portion of this season's failures can be blamed on outside troubles the show faced (not being able to kill Brody, most notably), as opposed to self-inflicted, bad storytelling. Ultimately, it's probably a lot of both, and a big chunk of this season now reeks of one giant stall tactic. But after last week's entertaining effort and the head-down assuredness of "One Last Time," a number of the balls that've been thrown into the air are finally coming down in an interesting order.
When I watch a show like Homeland, I'm just waiting for it to give me a reason to not ask questions about logistics, or whether or not something is realistic. It's easy to criticize the show for stepping outside reality when it's not very good, and that's been most of this season. But it's also easy to forget those criticisms when Homeland is entertaining, like it was through much of the first two seasons (as a reminder, this is a show where a guy took a suicide bomb vest into a bunker with the vice president and decided not to blow it up because his phone somehow had service). I say this because "One Last Time" is full of stuff that falls on the ridiculous end of the reality spectrum, from Brody's expedited recovery process to the hail mary plan to use Brody to further entrench Javadi in the Iranian government. But for the most part, the show seems confident in telling these stories, and it's smartly moving through them quickly enough that there isn't enough time to worry about whether or not Brody could go from sniveling maniac addict to conditioned, ready soldier in a few weeks, or how wild the Tehran plan sounds when it's actually explained. The episode used the international symbol for progress to explain the first thing—TRAINING MONTAGE—and there are still three episodes left to explore any road bumps that arise with the Tehran op. The important thing is that the show is moving forward.
On that front, "One Last Time" sort of felt like the finale to what was ultimately a whole lot of setup for this operation. The seemingly never-ending battle between Saul and Lockhart came to a temporary truce when Virgil and Max helped to determine that Mira's sidepiece was an Israeli asset working for Lockhart to dig up information on Saul. Saul then used this information to bully Lockhart into pushing back his confirmation hearing, just long enough to get Brody into tip-top shape and set the Iran operation into motion. I'm sure Saul and Lockhart will face off at least one more time before the season's through, but it was probably time to put a button on their tension, if even temporarily. And this was probably the best way to do it. It wouldn't have worked as well had Mira's boytoy been involved in another side story, distracting Saul from the main mission. Of course, there are questions about when Lockhart started working with the guy to spy on Saul and Mira, but oh well.
In general, Saul's motives and plans became much clearer as well, as we finally learned exactly what he's been plotting this whole time. The plan to use Brody and Javadi to open up discussions between the United States and Iran is a bold one, and it will surely go south once Brody gets out in the field, but "One Last Time" did a fine job of paying off some of the season's earlier story beats. We now know that Javadi wasn't created by the writers just to put Carrie on Brody's tail, just as we now know that Saul's weird behavior at times has all been part of this bigger plan. I don't know if the full reveal totally makes up for all the stumbling moments we went through to get here, or if the show has done a sufficient job in making us care about this operation, but it's a nice gesture. Maybe this was the plan all along, or maybe Alex Gansa and company fell into it, though it doesn't really matter. Assuming there's not another big swerve coming, most of the characters know what's going on, and the big questions now are all about whether or not they'll trust each other enough to succeed. The show lost its handle on Saul and Carrie's relationship in setting up this longer story with Javadi and Iran, but Carrie made a great point near the end of this episode: Either they learn to trust one another again, or they figure out a way to pretend to do it, because things are only going to get worse if they don't.
I buried the lede a little bit because obviously the big thing here—at least as far as the show is concerned—is that Brody returned and he and Carrie had their (rocky) reunion. Your mileage probably varied on these scenes, but it's hard to deny the chemistry between the two actors/characters. Is it at least moderately ludicrous that Brody snapped out of his withdrawal because of a few heart-to-heart convos with Carrie? Of course. But that's how the show views their relationship, and at least the episode eventually moved away from that point by building Brody up through his camaraderie with the operatives and medics in place to take care of him.
However, I'm a little concerned about how the show approached Brody's desire to participate in this operation. Although I buy that he seeks redemption, particularly in a season where everybody has told him how awful he is, his decision to join up after Saul and Carrie told him that he should only further reminded me that Brody's always looking for someone to take orders from. It's no coincidence that the episode showed us Abu Nazir taking care of a previously nutty Brody just as Saul was doing the same. People have always built him up from various low points, and even if he makes the decision to do the "right" thing this time, he's still been persuaded into that choice yet again. His other reunion, after the LONG-ANTICIPATED return of Dana, didn't go so well and even if he thinks he can return from Iran and be with Carrie, I think we've already seen how that would play out. Technically, Brody has the chance to be a hero, but at what cost again? These aren't criticisms of the episode, just an observation of how the show might want us to view Brody going into the Iran operation.
For better or worse, "One Last Time" reminded me that Homeland works best when it's about three people—Saul, Carrie, and Brody (sorry, Quinn). More than that, it works best when these characters work together but don't really trust one another, leaving a number of different possible outcomes on the table. It's probably a bit lame that the show is still playing this same note in the third straight season, but I can't ignore that this episode felt like Homeland. And I think the show knows that this is probably the last time it can play said note; it's just going to hold onto it for as long as possible.
– Minimal Quinn this week
No Quinn at all this week. That's a big bummer, and a signal that Homeland doesn't totally know how to interject him into the primary trio. I'm guessing that will change in the coming episodes, but I hope Quinn doesn't get pushed to the sidelines from here on out. He's the show's best character.
– It's a little weird to watch this episode in the shadow of the real-life news regarding Iran's nuclear arms. You think Alex Gansa heard that announcement this weekend and just let out a loud "COME ON!"?
– I know that most people don't like Dana and I understand why, but that scene she had with Brody was very strong. This is a character who's been through A LOT, and she's self-aware enough to recognize what's good and what's bad for her health. Where's her friend, though? Did she just drive Dana to a dingy hotel and say "peace out?"
– Although the Iran operation is bound to take up much of the rest of the season (and I can't wait to see how the show makes some random location look like Iran), there's still the matter of Paul Franklin and Leland Bennett. Perhaps Saul handles the Iran op and Dar stays on the other investigation? Maybe that's where Quinn comes into play?
– Nobody worry, Carrie's baby is fine. She didn't tell Brody about it, though, so I can't wait until that news leaks when Brody's running through a firefight in Tehran.
What'd you guys think of this episode? Are you ready for the final three episodes?
AIRED ON 12/20/2015
Season 5 : Episode 12