Pretty much since its third season began Homeland has had viewers on the brink of divorce, but Sunday's episode, the fourth of the season, featured a twist that might just be enough to get former fans back on board. Major spoilers to follow, obviously, but without getting into precisely what happened let's begin with what this means for those who already quit on Homeland.
If you left…
We don't blame you. The second season was nutty, and the first three episodes of the third season were slow. The fate of marine-turned-terrorist Brody has a big stink of "what's the point anymore?" This episode, however, did give Homeland a purpose, even if as its plausibility continues to plummet.
So do you come back? Well, that depends if you had any affection for the second season. Time's James Poniewozik wrote this morning on Twitter that it's "funny" that after so many complaints about last season's many crazy twists, a lot of people's reaction to this latest one is "Awesome! Finally a crazy twist!" If you're waiting for Homeland to return to being a taut, smart meditation on the War on Terror and life in the age of digital surveillance, keep waiting. But if the absurdist pot-boiler elements of season two kept you interested, then, well, this could be fun, if silly, again.
If you gave up somewhere at the beginning of this season, you don't need to go back and watch the first three episodes to catch up. Showrunner Alex Gansa told The Hollywood Reporter that they were "playing a bit of a con here from the story room," so unless you like being tricked, it's probably best to just read up on everything you missed and jump right back in. It's hard to know where this is all going, but at least there seems to be something to look forward to week to week. Which brings us to our spoiler-filled section...
If you stuck with it…
Well, how betrayed do you feel?
To recap: After spending three episodes where it looked like Saul and Carrie's relationship was irrevocably shattered, we learn that the two have been working together all along to try to nail down the Iranian responsible for the Langley attack. That means the lugubrious descent into madness we endured with the institutionalized Carrie for the first three episodes was a complete and total red herring. And Gansa is downright giddy about fooling his audience. "We’ve taken a degree of pleasure in it. I was an amateur magician when I was a kid, and for me, the best tricks were the ones where the magician convinces the audience that he’s made a mistake — only to prove at the end that he’s been ahead of them all along," he told THR. "We’ve been leaning into that idea a little bit, and hopefully it will have paid off in episode four."
In the land of TV pundits some were willing to get excited over the reveal. "There are so many things that I like about this development — what it does for pace, future plot, character, my interest level — that I don’t really care that it may not make sense," Willa Paskin wrote at Slate. (Her reaction to Gansa's reveal was a little less positive.) Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club gave the storyline a "provisional" B+, writing that if the show is "suggesting that all of this was done with the idea of simultaneously getting heat off of the CIA proper and drawing out someone who might try to flip Carrie, I think that’s a little too much like 11-dimensional chess on Saul’s part, and I call shenanigans."
Others debated with themselves. Linda Holmes of NPR, for instance, tweeted: "Really torn between 'clever dodge' and 'cheap stunt making several episodes pointless.'" Alyssa Rosenberg at Vulture explained that after the big reveal she was left "torn between pleasure at the show’s nervy plotting, and rage-y frustration at its turn away from the strong, bold themes that made it so unique when it debuted and toward something more mundane." And others weren't sold at all. Maureen Ryan at the Huffington Post wrote that it "didn't work for me; not even the beard could make me buy what the show was selling." The twist left Alan Sepinwall in "annoyed mode.
For those of us who watched the first three episodes of the season, the resolution of this episode was both energizing and frustrating. It meant that, yes, there was finally something to look forward to next week. (At least when it came to Carrie and Saul's relationship. Even a Dana defender is skeptical about this potentially homicidal rehab boyfriend story.) But it also meant that Gansa and his team are relishing making the audience look like fools.
There is something undeniably fun about learning that Carrie and Saul are working together for some serious spying. We say stick with it. Maybe it will be good! Or maybe it will be good for hate-watching!