‘Homeland’ Review: In “Game Over,” the Season’s Just Beginning

By  · Published on October 21st, 2013

Homeland Game Over

Carrie is Homeland’s cockroach.

We begin “Game Over” with her mired in a Kafkaesque nightmare, frustrated at every turn and more or less confined to her bed. By the end of the hour, though, she’s the survivor who, with Saul’s help, outwits and out-wiggles her way to the top of the heap. There’s no way to get rid of her – she’s just too good.

If Carrie and Brody’s affair is the adrenaline-pumping, feeling-your-blood-course-through-your-veins kind of drug, Carrie and Saul’s bond is the opposite – the calm that comes after, the sensation of landing back on Earth and feeling strong and clear-headed again. Though the idea of Saul and Carrie at war and butting horns was interesting in theory, it was less so on screen, largely because they plotted alone, then only met up so Claire Danes could yell obscenities at Mandy Patinkin. Thus, it was extremely satisfying to see the two characters reunite and celebrate the success of the first step in their plan. “You’ve been very, very brave,” Saul reassures Carrie, then offers, “Come on, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.” It feels so good to have Papa Bear back!

One of the foundations of Homeland is the singularity of Carrie – the words “You’re the smartest and the dumbest fucking person I’ve ever known!” are in the show’s opening credits, for Christ’s sake – so we had a nice build-up to the episode’s big reveal that not only had her stuck in an impossible situation, but revealed the commonness of her predicament and attributes. “Game Over” begins with a woman yelling “No!” over and over again – a thin, young, blond woman subdued and treated against her will, just like Carrie, but possessed by the mania our agent is forced to tamp down to appear an agreeable patient. After being caught staring at the tranquilizing of the other woman, Carries scurries back to bed to avoid a similar fate.

She has another double in Fara, the newbie CIA analyst Saul is mentoring – and whose presence on the show is currently wasted on exposition. Then there’s Dana, who certainly doesn’t suffer from a neurochemical mental illness, but shares with Carrie a familiarity with psychiatric facilities and a taste for dissembling, sociopathically prone men.

Carrie and Saul teaming up again to go after Majid Javadi is a great development because it feels like the season’s finally finding its focus, but it also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. One that should be answered by next week is whether Carrie’s mission is an official operation of the CIA or a top-secret sting known only to Saul. It certainly seems like the latter – Saul had to feign surprise to his right-hand man, the creepy-looking Dar Adal, that Carrie was sprung from the mental hospital by unknown persons. Also, I’m not sure that Carrie’s status as a CIA agent and her reputation being sacrificed – in a semi-public forum like a congressional hearing, no less – was worth the implementation of one mission.

But if the plausibility of this plot feels shaky (and honestly, when doesn’t it on this show?), it’s hard to begrudge Homeland’s courageous new direction this season in exposing the white-collar enablers of terrorism. This season’s second episode focused on the money-laundering activities of “HLBC Bank,” a not-at-all disguised stand-in for the financially nefarious HSBC. Now we have another sub-villain in lawyer Leland Bennett (the ubiquitous Martin Donovan), who flatly informs Carrie, “I’m paid to make an argument, not wave a flag.”

All in all, “Game Over” was a trying episode, easier to admire than enjoy – it was a slow, uneventful build-up to the final twist, which made up, though just barely, for the previous, slow-going 45 minutes. But it’s a great step in finally propelling the season forward and finding a new tone and Big Bad(s) for it, as well as in seeing Carrie in action again, now that she’s able to do her job again.

Long live the Cockroach.