I’ll cop to worrying that Homeland, after the species jump of “Species Jump,” might turn on a dime and retreat this week, and “Andante,” which means “moderately slow,” spends the first act finding its stride. When Carrie’s Angels wind up their search of Dante’s (Morgan Spector) apartment—after he stirs, zombie-like, from his Rohypnol-induced slumber—what our heroine really wants is to grab some eggs and bacon with the boys, until she (and Homeland) remember that, several seasons ago, some numbskull in the writers’ room came up with the brilliant idea of giving her a daughter. So, in the interest of getting the bad news out of the way now: We need to talk about Franny.
As my colleague Amy Amatangelo has noted of Meredith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy), Midge Maisel (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and others, neglectful mothers are common enough on TV to merit the term “trope,” and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is among the worst. In fact, I’d argue that she’s more of a danger to her child than Meredith and Midge are to theirs—no one in their lives ever mentions that their children have vanished, so I have to assume that they’re with some Mrs. Doubtfire down the hall, nursing resentments for the comedy clubs and supply closets of their own adulthoods. Carrie, by contrast, zigzags from obsequious to impatient, from helicopter parenting to long-term abandonment—if memory serves, Franny (now played by Claire and McKenna Keane) lived with Carrie’s sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), for the whole of Season Four. In the course of “Andante,” poor Franny:
— Likely overhears her aunt basically call her mother a hard-partying whore, and her mother tell her aunt to go fuck herself.
— Frets over her mother’s frequent absences, asking Maggie, “Why doesn’t she like to be here?”
— Finds herself dragged out of her home with nothing but the clothes on her back and brought to a cheap motel somewhere in the environs of Washington, D.C., where she sees that her mother is A) dead broke and B) occasionally uses the alias “Karen Harris,” like that’s not weird at all.
— Rather reasonably questions her mother about her plans, only to receive an unsettling (and very testy) answer: “Isn’t it obvious, Franny? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
— Finds herself at the apartment of her mother’s shady FBI agent / whistleblower / pharmacological monitor / possible Russian operative / friend, only for her snooping in the guy’s photo album to set in motion the series of events by which she’s awoken in a strange man’s apartment by a federal raid while her mom is fucking the dude.
This child hasn’t been neglected. This child has been scarred for life. And we haven’t even gotten to the fact that her father is a U.S. Marine turned prisoner of war turned murderer turned congressman turned accused terrorist publicly executed in Iran!
And yet. Using Franny as a plot device to bring Carrie and Dante’s mutual suspicion from a gentle simmer to a full boil in approximately 38 minutes turns out to be another of Homeland’s trademark “This is so crazy it just might work” Hail Marys, so contrived your eyes might roll out of you head but completely gripping all the same. At the center of it all, in fact, is a sequence in the tradition of classic suspense, simultaneously bringing both Carrie and the audience to their clearest understanding of Dante to date simply by splicing her interview with his ex-wife and his visit to her sister. Alongside the score’s creeping strings, Dante’s glances over his shoulders and Carrie’s discovery of Dante’s lies generate not tension, exactly, but anticipation: We know there’s a reckoning coming, we just don’t know exactly how it will land. That it lands with reference to the events of Season Four, like the reference to Allison last week, seems to me a signal that Homeland truly does want to crawl out of the hole it’s dug itself, and Dante’s ex-wife’s description of Carrie is a supremely self-aware knife in the side. “You know what really bugged him?” she says:
The sheer unfairness of it all. Because at the same time he’s over there, trying to bring some sanity to the situation, there’s this woman, this CIA station chief, who’s completely off the rails. Right around the time he’s sent home from Kabul, a total pariah, this crazy lady drops a drone on a wedding party, killing 40 people. And you know what she gets? A promotion.
I. AM. DECEASED. And I haven’t even begun to discuss the other utterly bonkers thing that happens in this episode, which is that White House chief of staff David Wellington (Linus Roache) professes his love for President Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) in a resignation letter after national security advisor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) informs him that he’s been sleeping with an agent of Russian military intelligence. Or the part of the episode where Saul, who’s brought Max (Maury Sterling) into his off-book operation with a hand gesture and a line (“You fuck me even this much…”) that I need of GIF of immediately, roasts Carrie by saying she’s not exactly “citizen of the month” (LOL) before overseeing the raid in which she’s caught fucking a dude she suspects is in Russia’s employ in the middle of the seventh season of a series that started with her fucking a dude she suspected was working as a sleeper agent for a terrorist mastermind.
“Andante”—which is anything but, when it comes down to it—isn’t a great episode of TV, or even of Homeland. And yet. Any hour capable of inspiring the following alternate headlines can’t be all bad, right?
We Need to Talk About Franny
To Madam (President), with Love
Better Call Saul (Again)
More to the point, “Andante” crystallizes the promise of ‘Species Jump,” and of the season’s progression so far: In deciding to focus on creating excitement rather than offering “profound” thoughts on the current political climate—by returning to the series’ bread and butter, which I’d gloss as “erotic espionage melodrama”—the minds behind Homeland have almost succeeded in writing themselves out of the deepest, darkest corner since Brody’s death, and possibly discovered, in the process, an important insight about what gets you promoted and what gets you treated as a pariah when it comes to the U.S. intelligence community. This is its map back to the realm of TV series worth watching, and I’m newly excited to see where it takes us.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.