If the twist at the end of last week’s Homeland was gratifying to some but enormously irritating to others (the Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman described it as “cheating” and “hackery,” among other choice words), tonight’s episode, “Yoga Play,” was a reminder that the show is at its best when it remembers it’s a smart thriller about counterterrorism and espionage and not The Lament of Carrie and Brody. Peter Quinn! Max! Surveillance! GOOD. Gloopy love scenes between two people who have all the chemistry of a pair of sock puppets! BAD.
When Homeland first hit TV screens one of the biggest reasons for its success was the fact that it was a very smart show about very interesting things—namely spycraft, terrorists, and the machinations of a dysfunctional, unaccountable, and possibly corrupt agency. But somewhere between season two and the salvia flashback that was “Tower of David” the writers seemed to be distracted by all the praise liberally strewn their way, and became convinced that they’d created the greatest fictional romance since Rhett and Scarlett, or Antony and Cleopatra, or Honey Bunny and Pumpkin. The problem with that, as any teenage girl can tell you, is that doomed romances tend to be fairly hard to resuscitate, and the painful drawing out of Ginger Snaps (as I like to call our two lovers) made the show neglect the storytelling and intrigue that actually made it interesting.
Not so in “Yoga Play,” which was to my untrained eye the best episode we’ve seen so far this season. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief about the fact that all the moving pieces Carrie and Saul were relying upon for their off-the-books asylum charade happened to fall into exactly the right position, that is (tune in to FX next year for American Horror Story: Psych Ward). There was minimal Dana and absolutely no Caracas (which sounds appropriately enough like “crackers” if you say it fast enough). There were hoods and forced nakedness and men who go bump in the night. And the F-word was used approximately 478,536 times, which I always find gratifying.
Let’s start with the skinny man who appears to be of Middle Eastern descent, and whom I’m assuming is Javadi since he appears to have a reasonably high level of clout (and since IMDB says he is). With Carrie “dangled” before him like refined sugar in front of a Biggest Loser contestant, he’s apparently taken the bait enough that he’s flown into Canada (that reliable friend to all foes of America), driven into Vermont, and then installed himself in a sprawling manse with servants named Navid and Aram after having messily eating a big juicy sandwich and spied on a woman playing with her children in her front yard. But will Saul ever get to gut him like a fish? Possibly not, given that the way he so derisively uttered “yoga” with his lip curled like an Iranian Cyril Sneer. Either Carrie’s been made, or Javadi just really hates Western appropriations of Eastern spiritual traditions.
I found the yoga play to be the least rewarding part of the show—despite the fact that it brought back my favorite character, Max—for the following reasons: 1) Carrie went rogue again and threatened the integrity of an enormously important and clandestine mission so she could do a favor for her boyfriend’s wife. 2) It was stupid. 3) It involved the FBI’s Agent Hall, who really is a nasty piece of work. And 4) It succeeded when it should have failed, because Agent Hall presumably leaked the information about Dana and Leo to TV news, and Dana just happened to catch it being mentioned while she was paying for gas. Again, a lot of moving pieces coming together in an extraordinarily jammy fashion.
Still, Dana discovered Leo had been lying to her about his brother’s suicide, and lying to Dana is the one thing you must Never Ever Do if you want her to like you and not be all wilty and sullen in her bedroom listening to Leonard Cohen LPs. Leo’s poor life skills almost caused not one but two horrible car accidents, because the writers really don’t know what else to do with irresponsible teenagers who have their licenses. And Dana ran away to a nearby cop car and Agent Hall brought her home, giving us a fleeting glimpse of Chris looking perturbed and Jessica looking a million miles away from her usual soignée self.
The best part of the episode, by far, was when Saul went duck-hunting with Senator Lockhart, and not just because Tracy Letts’s spooky resemblance to Dick Cheney forced us to believe it was only a matter of time until Saul got a faceful of birdshot pellets. (We can only hope the beard would have saved him, given that it appears to be as thick and bristly as fiberglass insulation.) The real twist in fact was that while Saul thought Lockhart was schmoozing him up so Saul would agree to “temper” his crazy ways in order for Lockhart to support his confirmation as head of the CIA, the real person the President was going to nominate was Lockhart, a man who apparently hates the CIA and wants to destroy it until all that’s left is ashes and predator drones at 17,000 feet.
This all went down in a 12th-century banqueting hall in which food was served out of silver tureens and there were mimosas and cups of espresso on trays (maybe it’s Treat Yo’Saul day). And after some guy—who I thought was the elusive Homeland President but who actually was “Michael Higgins”—gave a big speech praising Lockhart’s nomination as director of the CIA, and Lockhart said how “humble” he was (which is, btw, the quickest way to let a group of people know that you are not humble at all but are actually an asshole), Saul got up and made a super awkward follow-up speech in which he emphasized how important real human spies are, and that Lockhart will need to win their respect since he’s been doing nothing but criticizing them during his time in the Senate. Lockhart looked mad, Saul went home, and found Mera entertaining a gentleman caller named Alain. Bad day for Saul, losing his shot at the big job and apparently his wife, to boot.
Still, it was a worse day for Carrie, who woke up in the dark to find men in her room. The men made her strip naked and looked in her teeth for bugs, like she was a prize-winning thoroughbred or something. Then they covered her head and took her to Javadi, who said, “Carrie Mathison. You’re in good shape. Must be all that yoga.” Meanwhile, Peter Quinn (we must refer to him by his full name, always) stormed into Carrie’s house with his gun out against Saul’s explicit orders and had to inform his boss that the Iranians had taken her.
Carrie flushed her little green pills down the toilet, again, which is not only a bad idea but horrible for the environment. And this endless yo-yoing cycle between crazy Carrie and sane, staring-at-herself-in-the-mirror Carrie is really, really tired.
I got the sense that Leo might not be as bad an apple as has been hinted at. He seems to feel genuine shame and guilt for the game that killed his brother, for one thing. But he isn’t billed to appear in anymore episodes for the rest of the season, so we’ve most likely seen the last of him. Sorry, scrunchy Dana cry-face.
The actor who plays Javadi, Shaun Toub, was in the fantastic, Oscar-winning movie Crash (he played Farhad), and was raised in Britain. The actor who plays Leo, Sam Underwood, is British, as are the actors who play Peter Quinn and NoFirstName (just kidding, I know it’s Nicholas) Brody. This means nothing, but if I were a young male American actor, I might be a bit snotty about it. Also, Sam Underwood’s native accent totally came out when he was yelling at Dana in the gas station.
How is poor Brody doing in his heroin stupor? Apparently we will have to wait another three weeks to find out, because El Niño’s character isn’t listed as appearing until November 17’s episode, “A Red Wheelbarrow.”
What did you think of last night’s episode of Homeland? Let us know in the comments.