‘Homeland’ Recap: Sink or Swim

Saul’s big master plan -- and the arc of “Homeland’ Season 3 -- is just crazy enough to work.

Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin plays Saul Berenson in "Homeland."
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Saul’s big master plan is, in short, ludicrous: use a Marine-turned-terrorist in the throes of heroin withdrawal as a Trojan horse for an Iranian coup by way of political assassination; elevate another known terrorist to the top of a government long hostile to the United States; and trust him to be the U.S.’s little puppet to bring about world peace. Ludicrous! The details get even murkier when Saul explains to Carrie what happens next, once Javadi is in power.

“He can do something -- something to break the logjam, something besides another war, something that will change the facts on the ground just enough,” Saul says.

But if that is the kind of show “Homeland” wants to be -- the kind of show that asks you to abandon all notions of logic, plausibility and geopolitical mindfulness --then so be it. Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon have a long way to go to match Shonda Rhimes’ spectacular brand of “Scandal” crazy (the chair leg Brody took to his arteries is no match for Thursday’s wrist chomp on “Scandal”). But sure. Let’s give them a shot.

I will give Season 3 credit in that the three-act, fully formed arc the showrunners promised did in fact emerge. While still not as tight, smart and thrilling as Season 1, it’s no doubt been an improvement on Season 2, which amounted to the writers struggling to dig the show out of the Abu Nazir-style P.O.W.-hole they buried it in by backing down in the Season 1 finale.

I will also give Season 3 credit for having the courage to turn the show’s most beloved character Saul “Papa Bear” Berenson into a megalomaniac, unreasonable jerk. Sure, he’s Ahab, and this -- ahem -- ludicrous plan is his big white whale. But he has lost all sense of compassion -- the compassion that made him both loveable and a good spy in the first place. As Carrie coldly puts it when he asked her how she’s doing in the hospital, “As if you actually care.”

Shoot the agent you just put through mammoth-sized emotional ringer for trying to save her baby daddy? OK. Give the desperate captive you’re about to ask a very big favor of “violent, mind-bending hallucinations”? Sure, why not. What Saul will require of his CIA pawns knows no bounds, and worse still is how he mocks those who question his judgement.

“You done letting us in on your thought process?” he jabs at the special ops henchman who suggests moving the date of his plan back. And he has no patience for those who don’t want to cooperate.

“You want to die, huh? We’ll see about that,” he tells Brody.

Carrie finally stands up for herself and everybody else, snapping at Saul, “Have a little faith Saul. Two weeks ago there was no operation and now there is, because of me. I really need you to get that.”

She’s right. Saul’s crazy plan may just be crazy enough to work -- but only thanks to her.

Nevertheless there’s no shaking the comparison this episode made between Saul and Abu Nazir -- even if it came in one of Brody’s wrenching hallucinations. This episode may be titled “One Last Time” but there is no going to back to the way Saul was.

Mostly exposition, this episode lacked what “Homeland” does best: spies doing cool spy stuff to spy on other spies. It also had what makes the series insufferable at times: the forced parallels of Brody strapped to a cot and Carrie trapped in a hospital; turning a formidable foe into a bumbling idiot in the form of Lockhart’s spy trap gone awry; and of course, Dana. However the episode ended with me wanting to see how this final third act unfolded. Like Brody being pushed off of the boat, this is the show’s sink or swim moment. Here’s hoping it does better than Brody did the first time around.