Last night’s Homeland went back to the literary well again, this time drawing its name from a William Carlos Williams poem colloquially referred to as “A Red Wheelbarrow.” In essence, reading the poem suggests that as we learn the layers of a situation, we gain more and more perspective. With each line, another detail is added to the picture Williams paints, and what starts with just a wheelbarrow becomes the story, itself.
Ultimately, as Williams writes, it all depends on the wheelbarrow. Unfortunately, for the most part, Homeland’s has become a creaky John Deere with splintered wood handles and a nail or two through its tire in danger of overturning its contents during this third season. Like Williams’ poem, there were a lot of layers to last night’s episode, but the way they are connecting is painting a jagged picture.
At the same time, last week’s “Gerontion” was just as uneven as this hour, but the thematic motif ran strongly throughout the episode. I felt like my recap could’ve consisted entirely of comparing passages of the Eliot poem to elements of the episode. While this week’s final 15 minutes were excellent—honestly the first time I felt my hair stand on end in a year-plus—and bringing Brody back into play is going to accelerate things quickly in the season’s final four episodes, the wheelbarrow carrying us to the finish line remains pretty wobbly.
So much really depends upon Carrie, the show’s tortured heroine and one of the few people we’ve been asked consistently to continue to root for over the last three years. But at this point, how many more times can she come “this close” to ruining another mission by jumping out of the CIA surveillance van? Can’t Virgil put child locks on the doors or something when she’s involved?
When Quinn’s silenced bullet went through her bicep, it brought with it an end to the last shreds of credibility Carrie possessed as a CIA agent and strong leading female character. When we first met her, she had agency, power and resolve. From early on (and even into this season’s first third as dirty doctors pumped her veins full of thorazine), she was willing to do whatever it took for her mission to succeed. Her 9/11 guilt fueled her; she had to be the best agent because she couldn’t allow herself to be so wrong again. After being led to believe she’d been wrong about Brody, it destroyed her. Her duty was paramount; everything else was secondary.
But somewhere between a remote pacemaker and a covert Canadian border crossing, a switch flipped in Carrie’s cerebral cortex and she became—pardon me—crazy in love. Over the last few weeks, we were forced to come to terms with the fact that Carrie’s ultimate goal remained clearing Brody’s name for the good of their (ugh) unborn child. Nothing else mattered. I’d said for weeks she was holding a candle for him; with the lighting of a votive before meeting with Franklin, things were set ablaze.
As Franklin screws a silencer onto his pistol, Carrie realizes that he plans to kill the bomber and with it any chance of that future she and Brody had planned during their pillow-talk while the rest of the team listened in. What’s annoying is that Brody still remains—as Saul said—the guy who put on the suicide vest. The idea of the American government admitting they incorrectly searched the world over for a man who was ultimately innocent (of this attack, at least) would never happen.
A few weeks ago, Quinn gazed upon Carrie’s Brody map and gave her the benefit of the doubt, saying he believed she was just trying to do her job. But everyone should’ve known that she’d been emotionally compromised and was growing increasingly unfit to do her job for the last season and a half. In reality, she shouldn’t have been let in the doors at Langley.
Outside of all that, the episode did pretty well to show how each of the characters is being impacted by the intensity of the mission. Fara’s been playing hooky, lying to her bed-ridden father about her job, and wrestling with the danger she’s bringing to the rest of her family before a suit from the Inspector General’s office stops by to mansplain her back into working again. The agency finally lets Dar Adal out of the building—I wonder if the Metrobus stops at the country club—to work his connection to Bennett to lure him into action.
Meanwhile, Saul’s enjoying the last few days of being able to pull rank on Senator Andrew Lockhart and launching a coup d’etat in the Middle East with Javadi as his new nabob. But while he’s jetting off to parts unknown, his own perspective is so big picture that he’s missing the details at the homestead. The show is called Homeland, after all, right? Saul and Mira’s marriage has been so weakened by Saul’s pursuit of a Peace Prize that it has allowed Alain Bernard to infiltrate their home. Though Mira’s moved back into Saul’s bed, Bernard bugging the family computer was one of the more interesting parts of the episode, since we don’t know yet who he’s working for.
With Carrie and Franklin’s covers still intact (despite her best efforts), the show delivered another in a long line of tense stakeout set pieces at a dingy hotel where we meet the Langley bomber long enough for Franklin to put a few bullets through his head and dissolve his body in the bathtub, Breaking Bad-style. I wonder how many of Homeland’s best moments have involved a sniper.
As the van speeds Carrie to the ER, her “spy-dey sense” kicks in as she realizes something is wrong and Saul is gone. In reality, he’s found his way to her spider-necked friend in Caracas, dropping off $10 million in exchange for a smelly, dirty drug addict. The pile of spent rigs lying at our erstwhile Sergeant’s side and the glazed-over million-mile stare might possibly paint Brody the most haunted he’s ever been.
Literary critic Stanley Archer writes that, in tone, “A Red Wheelbarrow” “does not invite a dismissal of the generalized introduction,” and “We wish to know what these things matter, to whom they matter.” Each of the principal characters this week was forced to assess what mattered—family, country, love, duty—and how they weighed both sides ultimately informed how this hour would play out for them. Unfortunately, so much depends upon credibility and a strong foundation, and at this point in the season, we’re lacking both.