Homeland’s “Two Hats” furthers a trend that the show has embarked upon in the past few episodes. Anticipation for an event fills out much of the running time before the dominoes come crashing down in a robust moment of action. The first season was an enormous vice being slowly squeezed until it inevitably exploded in a tension-filled finale (perhaps the best hour of recent contemporary television). Altering what made the duration of Season One so tightly wound, this season’s build-ups come with a sense of set up then spike. Quick plot adjustments hardly provide the viewer with a satisfying procedural lead-up and land with an underwhelming “poof.”
“Two Hats” begins with Brody still missing from the CIA before Abu Nazir gives him one final stroke of confidence and let’s him go. Back in the CIA surveillance room, Brody reveals to the team that Nazir plans an attack on the Vice President the following morning. Saul visits a police officer that leads him to be suspicious of hot-tempered analyst Peter Quinn. To Saul’s chagrin, Estes explains that Peter is actually an “FBI liaison.” On the morning of the planned attack, Carrie watches Nazir’s men place bombs into a News van. With Carrie’s orders, agents fire on the terrorists, killing multiple men. A short car chase ends with the reveal that Nazir wasn’t ever at the scene. Because Nazir’s still alive, the episode ends with Estes calling off Quinn from murdering Brody.
Homeland functions best as a character piece. It’s a thin CIA procedural that falters whenever it throws around legal jargon. The show’s success has hinged on alleviating plot discrepancies (this season’s leaps in logic are even more egregious than last) by focusing instead on the emotional states of its characters. “Two Hats” emerges as the most icy, machine-like, and similar to a contemporary Hollywood thriller yet. The plot-centric turn the show has taken threatens to expose a lack of depth. For the first time in the entire series, Carrie remains on the peripheries of the story. Given her recent penchant for frenzied madness, her existence again as a solid agent doing her job with fervor, is a welcomed change. That said, the bizarre turn of Saul following Peter Quinn as a suspicious member of the team came from nowhere. Talk of Quinn as an “analyst” and an “FBI liaison” feels as forced as his presence as a potential threat came from left field.
Brody being caught in the quick sand of a growing CIA ruse and a dangerous terrorist mission continues to be the most interesting thread left in Homeland. The interrogation scene that crosscuts Brody’s memory of his recent meeting with Nazir with over-the-shoulder images repeatedly replacing Nazir with Carrie and Saul, visually reflects the solider’s state of suffocation and the control these three beings have taken over his life. His turn over to the CIA proves his skill at deception works on Nazir as well as it has on the CIA. Unfortunately, his willingness to believe that this particular CIA mission will be that which free him from the burden of compliance is a stretch. Of course, one must wonder why Nazir himself would be in the back of a truck transporting henchman to do dirty bomb exchanges.
Fear that Homeland will slowly transform into 24 has seemed superficial until recent episodes have devolved into clear-cut chats about plot reveals and rehashes of threads (like Jessica’s infidelity) that were never all that interesting to begin with. The sneak preview for the last three episodes nicely crafts how the house of cards will continue to crumble. Again Homeland has a way of hinting at its own demise by dabbling in network tropes and high-concept twists. So far, the writers have been able to climb out of pratfalls with occasional surface wounds, but the same amount of muscular confidence. However, again, might “Two Hats” prove that poor procedural elements and tenuous plot angles are all that’s left in the Homeland tank? [C+]