31 December 2014

Carrie on up the North West Frontier (Grand Review: 'Homeland' Season 4)

Actually, the song "Lady in Red" is about Chris de Burgh's missus, or so says Wikipedia

So, with Brody out of the picture, we now get to see what happens when our favourite blonde CIA operative works without a redhead in her life that isn't a baby. It involves a lot of alcohol and some frankly dodgy spy moves.

As always with my Homeland reviews, this contains major spoilers from the get-go.


Carrie is now a CIA Station Chief, but not in Istanbul as planned, but in Kabul. It pays more and I hope she's using that for her daughter's college fund, because the bairn is in the US being looked after by her sister (she can't take her to Afghanistan as it's a war zone). She's in charge of drone operations against terrorists and we join her having a walk in Kabul interrupted by a time-critical situation. A suspected terrorist, Hassan Haqqani has been found and she calls in the F-15Es (not drones, but that's a technical point). He dies (or so we think)... but forty people in a wedding party go with him, with the exception of a medical student of which more later. It turns out that the usually reliable Islamabad chief, Sandy (a bloke) went on this with less than the usual intel verification... so she goes to Islamabad to investigate.

Sandy, now as conspicuous as the bald white man in Islamabad he is, tries to flee but is found by a mob and despite an attempt by Quinn and Mathison to help (via shooting dead a couple of locals), bites the dust.

(Yes, I've got plenty more groaners where that came from)

Carrie is called back to the US, along with Quinn, seemingly permanently. However, Carrie soon persuades Director Lockhart (who replaced Saul Berenson) to assign her as the new station chief; she's suspicious that Sandy was getting his usually very accurate intelligence on the location of high value targets by providing other intel to Pakistan's ISI spy agency... which isn't something the CIA actually approved. As a result, she leaves her kid behind yet again.

Quinn meanwhile ends up in a sexual relationship with his motel manager, who is a bit overweight. Defending her honour in a diner, he gives one taunter an injury that requires 63 stitches... it's becoming increasingly clear that he and the CIA are heading towards parting company. He comes along with Carrie.

Also coming along to the party is her old boss Saul, who after spending some time arguing with the DoD about the Afghanistan draw-down (something a private contractor touting for business really shouldn't do) goes to Islamabad. At this moment, the 'kill-it-with-fire' thoughts on the future of Homeland that I was starting to have during Season 3 return with a vengeance... at the same time that Showtime order a fifth season of the show.

For some reason, the CIA decide to follow the medical student, who is in fact the nephew of the terrorist. This involves Carrie pretending to be a journalist.

Meanwhile, while looking at some YouTube videos of Sandy being blown away, Quinn sees someone standing with a mobile... the ISI sicced the mob on him! Carrie et al find where the guy in question, a local hood who does wet work for ISI (i.e. kill people) is staying and Quinn sneaks in to clone his phone, just before the guy gets a call telling him to clear out.

Saul has a tense conversation with a couple of figures in the ISI and we also learn that the US Ambassador's husband, Dennis Boyd has been the one passing documents to Sandy... when he's blackmailed by an attractive female ISI officer.

Medical Student, who is called Aayan, is stealing medicine from the local hospital, something that gets him kicked off the course by the father of a fellow student. One of Carrie's colleagues, Fara, follows him and finds out who he is giving the meds to... his uncle, who isn't dead after all, so the CIA decide to use him to get to the terrorist. Aayan then goes to a safe house that Carrie has prepared for him. She makes up a bed on the couch... and then, for some unearthly reason, proceeds to give him an anatomy lesson he'll never forget by seducing him.

(Does Claire Danes have a no-explicit-nudity clause in her contract? It seems like it)

She gets him to admit that his uncle is alive. Saul fails to realise that he's the ex-CIA director (so fairly recognisable in the spy business), shadows the ISI goon at the airport... and gets duly abducted by Haqqani's lot. Indeed it takes a while before the CIA actually realise this.

After a couple more sexual encounters, Carrie gets her CIA chums to stage an attack on the safe house, which we don't know they're behind until after; this results in her getting carried into a van (pun intended) and complaining about punched in the face. She wanted convincing, not a broken nose (she doesn't actually get one). Nice twist, this one.

Aayan hops on a coach and the CIA track him to a meeting with his uncle. Who by way of greeting, proceeds to shoot Aayan in the head... and for a trump card, pulls Saul out of the car. Carrie in a moment of possible madness orders the drone to take out the entire party, former boss included, but the cooler heads prevail.

Carrie unfortunately is about to not just lose the plot, but the entire Combat Information Center. Dennis Boyd tells the ISI that Carrie is on some serious medication... and Female ISI Officer decides to pull a tactic that Carrie later states is low even by the standards of the espionage business. They tamper with her meds, which results in her going seriously loopy (if there's one thing Claire Danes does well, it's playing crazy)... to the point she starts hallucinating, shooting people with fingers... and seeing the distinctly dead Brody, Damian Lewis making a brief appearance. The aim is to get her sent home... it just succeeds in making her very, very annoyed.

Saul is taken to Haqqani's compound, where after having to listen to the terrorist make love to his wife for the first time in three years (poor Saul, it's not the first time he's found himself in a situation like this), he manages to escape via picking his cuffs with a nail in the floor. He gets to the nearest town, but is ultimately recaptured.

Director Lockhart at this point waltzes in and starts acting like a drunken bull in a china shop, threatening the Pakistanis (who are really not coming out of this series looking that good) with a cut in their aid package if they don't get Saul back. Ambassador Boyd manages to calm things down and after Saul makes an appearance on Jihadi TV (or rather just a video - it's not actually put on the Internet as we shall see later), a deal is struck involving swapping five high value Taliban prisoners for Saul. This is not an exchange Saul is happy with, as we will see later.

At this point, Colonel Khan comes to Carrie and tells him that Boyd was the one who told the IS about her meds. Dennis the Menace ends up being arrested and is somewhat in denial about all of his role in this.

The exchange at an airstrip almost goes very wrong when Saul refuses to leave, but is eventually persuaded by Carrie to go through with it. The very tense situation is resolved... but then out of the blue, the convoy with Saul and Carrie in comes under RPG attack. The Marines from the embassy are sent to deal with the situation... at which point we learn Dennis told the ISI about a secret entrance to the embassy. In a moment so 24 it just needed a ticking clock at the end, the episode ends with Haqqani about to attack the embassy.

The attack goes down with a large number of Carrie's CIA colleagues killed as they begin the process of destroying the classified documents and generally evacuating. The Ambassador and Director Lockhart get to the safe room where Haqqani lines up a bunch of hostages, including Fara. He wants a document containing the list of CIA assets in Pakistan so he can exact involuntary head amputations on them. After three hostages get a bullet in the head, Lockhart demonstrates a complete lack of backbone and gives him the document. At that point, the Mighty Quinn and another CIA officer attack the terrorists, with the result that a wounded Haqqani legs it. Before that however, he kills Fara with a knife in the back. This is definitely a show not afraid to bump off characters without warning, that's for sure (I was spoiled for this; Twitter post by Fara's actress on the day after US transmission got re-tweeted by another account).

Meanwhile, the Marines come under fire from a sniper as Khan is stopped from sending backup by Female ISI Officer because she really doesn't like the Americans. Carrie and Saul survive, but their driver John (who I believe was in previous seasons) gets a piece of glass to the carotid, ending his career permanently. Carrie plays a spot of Counter-Snipe, but to no avail; the sniper legs it just before the Pakistani military arrive.

The Americans are of course furious about this attack on their embassy; having a jihad flag hanging from the window is just an insult on top of 36 fatal injuries. The US decides to break off diplomatic relations with Pakistan and as a result the CIA is having to pack up its stuff. Dennis asks the Ambassador to get his belt so he can hang himself, but is unable to go through with it and is taken back to the US to await trial.

(It's at this point where the RL Pakistan/Taliban relationship took a dramatic turn towards the hostile with the Peshawar school attack; it seems if you want something not to happen, feature it on Homeland. The Pakistani government weren't happy about their portrayal here, but when you've have the world's most wanted terrorist living under your nose, you kind of lose your credibility in some matters)

While they're packing up, Quinn goes AWOL and decides to engage in a spot of Haqqani hunting. Carrie is many things, but she's not one for going off on sole unsanctioned missions where the probability of being killed is high. Quinn also takes the video of Haqqani shooting Aayan in the head, hands it to his medical school friend and she ends up putting it on YouTube, hopefully helping damage his reputation in the long-term.

Off screen, Carrie's father dies, adding more emotional trauma to an already unhappy blonde spy. She traces Quinn to where Haqqani is being driven back to his compound to a warm welcome from a crowd, a group of counter-demonstrators is arriving and the first of these is preparing to blow up the terrorist leader with an improvised bomb. She stops him from doing that - they'll know it was the Americans, then heads towards him to shoot him herself... and is stopped by Colonel Khan, who points out who else is in his vehicle.

It's Dal Adar; a senior CIA officer and one of the top people in the agency. What a way to lead us into the finale... which instead of being a spectacular meal turns out to be the equivalent of a BR cheese sandwich.

Everybody ends up back in the USA. Carrie's estranged Mom, who she hasn't seen for fifteen years, suddenly turns up out of the blue and she learns that she has a half-brother. There's her dad's funeral and much of the rest of the domestic is really too soapy to mention, apart from Carrie and Quinn kissing. Carrie isn't ready to commit to a relationship as she's bi-polar and they don't work out well with her.

Saul loses his job, but gets a year's salary as severance. With Lockhart resigning, he is offered the possibility of being director of the CIA full-time, but there is the issue of what happens if the video of him being captured is released... but that's sorted as the real reason Dal Adar was there is revealed.

He was doing a deal with Haqqani, in what is clearly meant to be a cynical comment on US foreign policy with a comparison to Israel's first Prime Minister having bombing a British Army barracks. One might argue there is a difference between targeting soldiers and civilians... Haqqani gives him the sole copy of Saul's Jihadi TV appearance and agrees not to harbour terrorists; in return they basically let him take over Afghanistan (on the grounds that it's going to happen anyway) and remove him from the kill list. It's a stinky deal and Saul says so.

Quinn is asked to go on a special op to Syria to hunt an Islamic State leader; after initially declining, he agrees to go, handing the team member due to replace him a letter to Carrie to be sent if he doesn't come back.

Carrie drives to Adar's house to confront him and tells him that Saul would not approve if what he's doing. Adal just tells her that she can ask Saul himself... who is sitting in his garden, clearly accepting of the situation, or so we are led to believe. A furious Carrie gets into her SUV, drives off... and then cut to credits.

Sorry, the least you could have done there was have her crash the car or something. That was a poor ending and Howard Gordon can do so much better.


After a slow start and some initial desire to "kill it with fire", Homeland has made a frankly welcome return to form... until the frankly poor finale, which docks this one down a whole point. I'm happy this has got a Season 5, but my "kill it with fire" impulse is twitching.


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