After stumbling in the dark for some episodes, “Homeland” shines a very bright light on its thematic goals for the season.
“The old games are proving less and less effective, obsolete even,” Sen. Lockheart, who is poised to take over the CIA, tells Saul Berenson, the agency’s temporary director.
“Old games?” Saul asks.
“Certain categories of clandestine operations: double agents, coat trailing, stimulated defections,” Lockheart rattles off dismissively until Saul cuts him off: “Live sources. Human beings. That’s the gold standard of espionage.”
Their conflicting views is the Very Important Point “Homeland” wants to make this season, and this episode is anything but subtle about it. If Lockheart and Saul’s dialogue wasn’t enough, “Homeland” lays it on thick with a visual metaphor. The two are on a boys’ club-y hunting retreat, with Lockheart not pausing to shoot down both his targeted geese and Saul’s.
The rest of the episode -- from the very maneuver its title, “The Yoga Play,” borrows from -- is a meditation on the the art of tradecraft, those “old games” as it were. The motivation for it all -- to reaffirm Saul’s views -- is more than a little heavy-handed. (And the exchange, in which Lockheart casually tosses out the option of unprovoked military actions against Iran, raises its own problematic questions about the world “Homeland” is living in.)
But watching Carrie, Quinn and their enemies play those old games sure is fun to watch.
Carrie, dangled in front the Iranians and off her meds, is in a vulnerable spot. It’s a little unbelievable that Jessica -- Morena Baccarin giving her best Claire Danes cry face -- turns to her terrorist-husband’s unstable mistress to help her find her daughter, who broke her boyfriend out of the loony bin. But if the whole point of the Dana and Leo’s great escape was to get Carrie acting reckless, we’ll take it. As irresponsible as Carries efforts are, she at least appears to pull off the mission, relying on a begrudging Virgil and Max (Max!), a yoga instructor and a late-game interception by Quinn -- a network of humans or “the golden standard,” as Saul puts it.
And it’s not just Carrie, terrorist mastermind Majid Javadi depends on the same human networks to get into America. Once he crosses the border under the dubious cover of someone who works in “paper products” (really? in 2013?), he is assisted by a medley of dark and scary henchmen. The most wanted terrorist in the world doesn’t get to zoom about Vermont backroads without a little help from his friends.
Later in the episode, Javadi, spying on a suburban scene from his car, spills the burger he is chomping down all over his shirt. The scene is treated like it’s an ordinary problem anyone has faced, a shirt stained by lunch eaten on the job. Espionage is not just a thrilling profession but a daily struggle that consumes its apprentices, a point “Homeland” makes with how often spies are just spying on other spies, who know they’re being spied on. Carrie even makes a joke of this reality when Quinn first confronts her: “Shouldn't you be hiding up a tree or something?”
Their relationship takes on a more emotional tenor, where Carrie admits that she is not quite comfortable with the surveillance state she’s living in: “I’m not sure I like being watched by you Quinn.”
“I am at a safe distance,” he responds.
If all this exploration of tradecraft isn’t rebuttal enough for Lockheart’s dismissal of it, Saul gets to make another monologue more explicitly laying out how wrong Lockheart is.
“Being a spy isn’t the same as sitting in a blind, waiting for the enemy to come on to your guns,” Saul says, our hunting metaphor coming full circle. “You’re in the jungle, usually in the dark. with bad information and unreliable partners”.
It’s clear that Saul does want to make the world a better place, that he really believes in protecting his men and women, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t lost some of humanity in the process. When Quinn tells Saul that Carrie has been taken by the Iranians -- a scene that plays out chillingly as they strip her, bag her, and whisk her away in the dark -- delight that they are “back in business” trumps any concerns about her safety.