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+]
As ever, you seem to be pretty much spot on.
The Quinn FBI liaison thing was that he was effectively seconded to the FBI by Estes (presumably as a ruse to get him into the field), similar to what Quinn did at the tailor’s shop in Gettysburg. As I understand it the CIA isn’t allowed/isn’t supposed to operate within the USA, so the FBI thing is a dubious legal hairpiece to get around that. Or something – that’s how I took it.
The series has been distinctly underwhelming as a work of ‘proper’ tv – you’d have to be crazy to mention it in the same breath as the Wire for example. BUT the flipside is that it’s become entertaining claptrap (minus the Dana subplot and bloody Mike). I think so anyway, but I watch a lot of trash whereas you seem to have some, y’know, taste.
The more I think about it, and you bring up a good point, the more Homeland seems an obvious trap of trash entertainment tucked into the circumstance of TV as “art.” Perhaps its just a good bit of timing on the creators’ parts. But think about it: a CIA agent with bipolar disorder starts fucking a soldier she knows is a terrorist? The soldier’s wife sleeps with his best friend? Their daughter shacks up with the Vice President’s kid and kills someone? It’s the stuff soap operas are made of, or worse (read: better). As you say, I’m willing to accept that now the show has explicitly shown its colors as an entertaining, though disposable, piece of media. Reworking my brain to see it that way may garner better feelings.
Interesting that you mention The Wire. The guys over at Grantland just got dinged for insisting on comparing every episode of Homeland to The Wire. Stupid really.
It’s the evidence pinboard in Homeland that put me in mind of The Wire – looks the same. I get that it’s referencing Carrie’s evidence board towards the end of series 1 when she’d started cracking up and it was all colour coded, and the implication is she might have been losing her mind, but she was still a CIA operative, but even so. The Wire.
I thought that the part with the CIA agent sleeping with the guy she’s spying on was the most plausible aspect of the whole thing to be honest – she spent series 1 watching him in his home when his guard would theoretically have been down and having him occupy her every waking moment after all. Bound to get a little attached.
Problem is that the show was based on Hatufim or whatever it was called – the Israeli show. then it got picked up for more than 1 season, and suddenly the writers had to stretch it out to at least a second season. Also there’s a bit of sequel syndrome going on – they need to keep you interested, it has to exceed the first series.
Sadly in doing so it’s become a bit silly, and in trying to avoid becoming stale by relying on the 1st series schtick of plot twists to make you second guess every character, it’s had to play around shifting the pace and generally becoming more plot driven.
Shame if you genuinely don’t enjoy stupid tv, but if you don’t mind it, the acting is still pretty high quality although Danes’ crazy face acting is starting to grate as is her ability to just follow the damn plan. Plus side, Harewood is fantastic, Lewis likewise, Mandy Patinkin is wonderful and Rupert Friend has left my little black book of actors whom I’d like to throttle – he’s a total revelation.
As for comparing Homeland to The Wire, why would you do that?
Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong, I loved the angle of them falling for each other in Season One. In fact, that season was, to my mind, a perfect 12 episodes of television. But really, it’s classic “trash” (for lack of better word) on paper. Now, with the rehashings and plot mechanics at the surface, the show’s becoming less about the gray areas and more about what you’d expect on paper. Agreed about the acting. Though I must admit Danes never did it for me in this show. She seems to have captured everyone’s hearts, but I just don’t get it. She was serviceable and, at times, wonderful in Season One. I think she’s been something of a drag in Season Two. Even the excellent interrogation was reduced by her unwillingness to not be “frenzied” at every moment.
Walking Dead is my next watch. The expectations are through the roof though.
PS: There’s always The Walking Dead, which has no right to be that good given it’s about bloody zombies