Sunday, November 4, 2012

TV Review: Homeland 2x05: "Q&A"

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ML- It's the time of year when I start thinking of "Best Of" lists for the past 12 months. In terms of TV, I've been keeping track of my favorite shows since 2008, inducting the best I watched that year (either live, DVD or Netflix/Hulu) into a "Hall of Fame" which now consists of Six Feet Under, Survivor, Lost, Friday Night Lights and Community.

This year, the drama side has three clear frontrunners, and one of which is Homeland. Season 2 has been a whirlwind ride and is only half over, and perhaps by the finale it will be a runaway choice for HoF placement. While watching this week's episode, however, I spent a lot of time weighing it against the current top pick, Mad Men.

Mad Men aired an episode of its stellar fifth season called "At the Codfish Ball", in which several characters met for an awards banquet and faced differing forms of disillusionment and moral corruption.  Towards the end of the episode, there was a beautiful shot of all the involved characters sitting at the table, digesting their individual discoveries. That image stuck with me, as did the one of the 5 SCDP partners looking out of their new upstairs viewpoint, an endless world of possibilities lying ahead of them. It's instances like this where television stops being mindless entertainment and starts becoming art.

Homeland doesn't take the time to stage such poignant living artwork, but does that make it any less masterful? Obviously, the show is damn good, entertaining and full of uber-talented ladies and gentlemen. It lacks, however, the added flair of planned perfection I'd attribute to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Probably the best instance of such directorial depth comes from episode 3, "State of Independence", when Carrie took her pills and silently, submissively succumbed to her suicidal angst -- not before puking them out, of course. It transports the show from being dialogue and blocking and lighting and props to being a work of art. The image of Claire Danes' big bug eyes lying on the bed, waiting to die, is a picture worth a thousand words.

Homeland is a different kind of art. It's a grittier project, devoted to throwing your point of view out of whack and creating layers of doubt into your mind. When Carrie drinks her wine at episode's end, the speculation as to what's going through her head gives us another artistic moment. Is she a woman recklessly declaring her love for a terrorist, or a savvy interrogator just getting the job done? We don't know, and the best part is that the show itself doesn't know, either, or at least isn't ready to tell us yet. The pacing of this show is unlike any other I've seen (though I've heard it described to The Vampire Diaries) and is in itself a high mark for the case of the show as a work of art.

The reason I even brought any of this up was born out of a minor criticism of this fantastic episode. It has nothing to do with Carrie or Brody or newcomer Peter, as I thought every scene set in the interrogation chamber was perfection. (Side note: I read a great article in which a CIA expert fact-checked Homeland at every turn, especially regarding the interrogation. Check it out.)

My issue was with the scene in which the four Brody family members reunite at the end of the episode. Brody, having just gone through an emotional gauntlet; Dana, having just possibly killed someone while riding around with Lil' Veep; Jess, who keeps putting herself out there and accepts Brody's lies in the name of being a good wife (and achieving social status that gives her life some meaning); and Chris, who is STILL ABSOLUTELY USELESS. That's my major gripe, everyone: Chris. Had the writers developed him even one iota this year (or, let's face it, last year) they could have given him a beat that peaked in this scene with the rest of his family, matching the emotional resonance of "At the Codfish Ball"'s over the top, grandiose spectacle.

I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that Homeland is not Mad Men, and that's not a bad thing. There's no comparing them, just as there's no comparing Breaking Bad or even Downton Abbey, the third front-runner for drama Hall of Fame this year. One man's Animal Practice is another man's Homeland, and there are bits and pieces of art in every show out there. Mad Men is classical music, Homeland is moody jazz with some rock influences.

I suppose we should actually cover Carrie and Brody. In hindsight, it's obviously the story would take them here: Brody will play triple-agent and report to the CIA on Nazir's retaliation plans after the nuclear facility attack. Carrie and Brody are back in each other's lives: his alibi is that they're having an affair. How long until the two start up with getting physical once again? The idea of the CIA operative and the terrorist falling in love is pretty poetic, in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way.

How long can this story be sustained? Let's assume the finale is Brody saving the day and preventing the attack. Does he relocate and get out of government, like Saul said? Does season 3 involve a personal attack on Brody from former Nazir loyalists, forcing Carrie to come to his aid? Or will Brody prevent the attack but pledge a darker loyalty, now out of the government cross-hairs? The show has options, but I'm not sure if they can remain interesting for 5-7 seasons.

By the way, Dana and her storyline are dumb, but hopefully they'll evolve into something more interesting. She now has some leverage against the VP, something Brody may be able to take advantage of, too. Just please, writers, give Chris a purpose, or kill him and send the family into a funk. Just don't keep him on the payroll in his current state of being. Do that, Homeland may be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Episode Grade: A
Episode MVP: Damian Lewis
Original Airdate: 10/28/2012

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