Sunday's episode of "Homeland" was the most "Homeland"-y "Homeland" to have ever "Homeland"-ed. Called "Big Man in Tehran," it featured all the highs and lows of the entire series – all the things that make the show compelling, suspenseful, thrilling and surprising - as well as the aspects that make it ridiculous, groan-worthy, frustrating and pandering.
In the pro column: Carrie was back to being super spy Carrie – dying her hair brunette, speaking lots of languages and saying stuff like, "It's on." Brody's ginger locks have grown out to a perfect ginger stubble. There was fun with burner phones, henchmen with Bluetooths, some discussion of torture, Quinn being all cute and concerned about Carrie's safety and a couple decent Saul zingers.
And now for the cons: Saul is still reaching out to people he has no business trusting - this time the Israeli spy hired by his political enemy to monitor him while sleeping with his wife. Carrie is still not coming to terms with her pregnancy, getting flustered at the sight of her baby bump, perhaps out of misunderstanding of how the female body works. There was the inconsistent use of subtitles, too much concern about women wearing head scarves and parallels made between Carrie and Dana (but no actual Dana, which qualifies as a pro). Then there was that laugh-worthy face of shock Saul wore when he realized his ludicrous plan that everyone told him was going to backfire had, in fact, backfired.
On a side note, the suggestion last week that Dar Adal has a direct line to a Javadi was acknowledged again: he does and Saul knows about it, so oh well for the theory of foul play there.
"Big Man in Tehran" returned to one of the show's original themes that made the first season so compelling: the ambiguity surrounding Brody's allegiances. Brody seemed determined – more determined than even his CIA handlers – to go on with the mission in last week's Kathryn Bigelow-inspired train wreck of a border crossing. Now in Iran, that determination appears to have eroded away, and Brody seems to be enjoying playing America-hating martyr a little bit too much in his new country. Brody's meeting with Abu Nazir's widow – an even more explicit reference to Season 1 – presumably has spurred this change of heart, along with his desire to stop running. But even as everyone else has given up on Brody's commitment to the operation, Carrie believes he is on their side. She turns out to be right to trust her baby-carrying gut, but likely for the wrong reasons.
There's a chance that, as Carrie believes, Brody knew all along he was going to have to put up a mighty performance until the bitter end to get close enough to Akbari to kill him, in a giant play like Carrie's "I'm crazy" act that occupied the first third of the season. But this episode – with Brody snapping when Akbari tells him he was in on Nazir's plan to turn Brody against his country in the first place – suggests that Brody's decision to kill Akbari was spur of the moment and rooted in a desire for personal revenge rather political redemption.
Even more ambiguous are Carrie's reasons to continue to trust Brody.
"I've been right about him this whole time," she tells Saul, a technically true statement.
But it's hard to deny that her emotional – and now, perhaps, biological – attachments to him haven't clouded that judgment, correct as it has turned out to be.
"Homeland" likes to makes Big Important Points about the larger geopolitical circumstances that shape creatures like Brody and Carrie, while nodding to the personal melodramas also at play in their decisions. Plausibility issues aside, "Homeland" works best when these elements blend together seamlessly – look back to Season 2's high point "Q&A." Too often, however, "Homeland" lets the latter drown out the former. "Big Man in Tehran" left us on the precipice of drowning in that pool again.