25
Nov
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 9
Two Hats
Jordan
Homeland is a machine driven by character, a show built around the slow burn development of the ever changing dynamics between its leads. But sometimes, it seems to forget that it isn't 24. That earlier show had a "plot before anything" mentality that made all of its characters, even its center, Jack Bauer, slaves to story. This is why Jack could be a heroin addict for a season that involved drug dealers, or why literally any character (except Jack or, increasingly as the show went on, Chloe) could be revealed to be a mole without anyone crying foul. The characters on that show lacked consistency because 24 was all about delivering a plot full of twists, turns, and action, not about delivering a coherent character arc over the course of seasons. Jack Bauer's sacrifice was a continuous theme, but beyond that, he did what the story required of him.

In its piece-moving episodes, Homeland tends to put its plot first, and this usually leads to weaker episodes of the show. Was I surprised by the show's late-episode twist, wherein Quinn came this to killing Brody? Yes. But does that make it an effective development for the character, or an instance of flash over substance? I tend to think the latter, and that disappoints me. I've come to expect better from this show, but at least a few times a season, that means it fails to live up to my expectations.

Where 24 was a show built on its breathless reveals and last-minute twists, Homeland lives and dies by its characters, and to see them behave irrationally to serve the story will always irk me. When Saul and Virgil started investigating Quinn tonight, it seemed to be for no reason other than that he was going to be dispatched to assassinate Brody later in the episode, and the show felt the need to foreshadow it by having Saul think, for virtually no reason, that something was off about Quinn. The foundation of this show is an emotional one, and its stakes are never higher than when its characters feel that everything is falling apart. So every time the people I have come to care deeply about are sacrificed to the story, it stings more than it might on a different show.

Quinn isn't the only problematic character here, though. Roya has been a problem from the start, but when her arrest didn't make me feel anything at all, it reminded me just what a cipher she has been all along. I think Homeland needed her character this season. Keeping Nazir off-screen for a large chunk of the season was smart, and that necessitated giving Brody a middle man. The problem, though, is that Roya is all function and no shading. We know she's a journalist, and we know she is closely tied to Nazir, but that is all we know. The show has had fun making her a mystery, a shady woman who reveals nothing of herself, but all that does is make it impossible to invest in her. She's a cog in a machine, and not like Brody. Where he is tormented by his status as a pawn in a larger struggle, Roya hasn't even made it clear she's self-aware at all. If the show revealed her to be a Nazir-constructed android, it would be outside the show's reality, but it would make character sense in a way that little else can at this point.

I have complaints about "Two Hats," but its hardly a bad episode of television. It has little moments that hearken back to some of what this show does best. The sequence of Virgil and his (is it brother?) tailing Quinn was very exciting, as it usually is when the show reminds us that espionage is often more about making sure you don't lose the target when he changes clothes than about shooting at things and engaging in car chases (I love James Bond, but that franchise gives me very different things than what I want from Homeland). The scene with Carrie, Saul, Quinn, and Estes sit in that storage space and ask just how much they believe Brody's story gets nicely at one of my favorite running themes of the show: The idea that you can never really know someone else, no matter how much time you have spent observing them.

Homeland is at its best when it reminds us how little these people really know, and how much they have to rely on faith and blind instinct. At one point tonight, Saul says that until the team knows better, anyone could be a terrorist. And that engine of paranoia is one of the show's most thrillingly propulsive forces. I may prefer the version of this show that is about tragically flawed characters struggling to come together and falling apart, but I'll admit that the paranoia of the security state is a thematically rich area, and that the show can do stories about that very well when it cares to do so. "Two Hats" makes some character choices I'm not crazy about, but it also does a lot of things quite well. Its quietest moments, whether its the scenes of Virgil tailing Quinn or the (fairly effective) moments between Jessica and Mike at the safe house, that stand out the most to me, the moments where the show just lets us observe its characters and try to get in their heads. We'll fail, as our heroes often do, but when the show let's us work out on our own how hard it is to ever really glean truth from observation, it is fascinating television.

Notes:

-Looks like Quinn's black-ops boss is F. Murray Abraham. That makes me very happy. Also, that means he will have appeared on Homeland, Louie, and The Good Wife this year. Not bad, Salieri. Not bad.

-"There's a TV in every room. They're all big screens too!" Chris is ONE "pancakes" away from being Walter Jr., and one silent episode away from being New New New New Bobby. Also, "hey Dad. It's me, Chris." Listeners of the Review to Be Named Podcast should have enjoyed that.

-"Do you believe me? Because that's all I care about right now."

-"FBI liaison? An analyst?" "He's wearing two hats today."

-"Believe it or not, I'm your best friend in the world right now."
Tags: Homeland
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