Homeland 4×01: The Drone Queen
N.B. I’m watching Homeland on UK time, so apologies if you’re already streets ahead of this. And by ‘streets’ I mean ‘two episodes’
I spent the first two seasons of Homeland with my eyes glued to the TV and my heart in my mouth. The third season, however, was spent staring slightly incredulously at the screen and uttering ‘Ugh, Carrie, really?’ and ‘Seriously, Brody, seriously?’ at various points throughout. That doesn’t mean that I am one of those people who would rather see the back of Homeland. Nor am I one of the people who for some reason were of the opinion that the entire series was carried by Brody, and couldn’t possibly go on without him. On the contrary, one of the worst episodes of Homeland I have sat through was the one that solely featured Brody, practically dead in a tower block in Venezuela, being administered heroin by a doctor resembling Michael Jackson. That, in my opinion, was Homeland’s low point. So I was actually not sorry at all to see the back of Brody. It has always been the brilliance of Claire Danes’ portrayal of Carrie that has kept me watching. I was never really 100% invested in the Carrie/Brody relationship, and the whole thing was drawn out far too long. When Brody made his exit at the end of last season, I was hopeful. Homeland was now free to reset the clock, wipe the slate clean, leave the Brodys (including, thank heavens, Dana – not to mention poor, inexplicably mute Chris) behind.
And much about Homeland is new as it moves into its fourth season. New locations, new characters, new conflicts – even a new baby. It’s certainly a departure for the show, which until now has taken place largely, as the title might suggest, on US soil. But as Carrie – or, as she is termed by her colleagues early on in the episode, ‘the Drone Queen’ – returns to her sparsely furnished Kabul apartment, pours a large glass of white wine and washes down a pill or two, it’s clear to see that old habits die hard. The same can be said for Saul (Mandy Patinkin), all the way back in New York, stuck in a private sector job and visibly itching to return to a world where his opinions have a larger effect than merely jeopardising a contract.
Homeland will never be as gripping as it was in its first season, when there were so many unknowns surrounding all characters, including our unpredictable protagonist. Three seasons on and we’re now at the stage where we get Carrie and how she operates. Her rash decisions are par for the course, and are more likely to induce an exasperated eye-roll than a tension-filled gasp. What’s interesting is that the writers now seem to be using this to their advantage. Instead of capitalising on our sympathy for Carrie (something we had in spadefuls in season 1 but that has since been wearing dangerously thin) they are instead causing us to question her choices increasingly. Carrie is now Station Chief in Kabul, rather than Istanbul as was originally the plan, and it is strongly hinted that the choice of Afghanistan over Turkey is related to the fact that the former is far too dangerous a place in which to raise a baby. It says much about Carrie that she would choose to become the Drone Queen rather than care for her own child. This repositioning of the audience’s feelings towards the protagonist is an interesting decision by the writers, and I’m curious to see how it pans out. There are many points in which Carrie’s responses to the consequences of her actions – especially the inadvertent killing of forty civilians in a poorly-timed attack that becomes the focus of this episode – cause us to feel as uncomfortable as we do seeing the words ‘The Drone Queen’ iced delicately onto a birthday cake. Luckily, not everyone in Homeland is completely devoid of a moral compass. Peter ‘Cheekbones’ Quinn (Rupert Friend) is still strongly questioning his role in the conflict playing out in the Middle East, and he’s not about to let Carrie off lightly either. Apparently, for now, he is the new Saul – concerned by Carrie’s behaviour, and ready to play devil’s advocate if need be. Not that Saul is oblivious to Carrie’s actions even all those miles away – as a (pointedly ignored) phone call suggests partway through.
This episode, on the whole, was slow to get going and quick to wind up. It felt like the action was only just beginning when the credits began to roll. Showtime chose to air the first two episodes back to back in the US last week, and it’s a shame Channel 4 didn’t follow suit. Having said that, I’m not ready to give up on Homeland just yet. We were left with a lot of questions: who was the mysterious ‘X’ on Islamabad Station Chief Sandy’s phone? Would Sandy (played by an enigmatic Corey Stoll) survive to see another episode? What is the significance of the young medical student who survived the wedding party attack ? And just how long can Carrie keep avoiding a) her baby and b) the emotional consequences of her role – especially when people keep turning up to remind her that she should be feeling guilty? I don’t just mean Quinn – I’m referring also to King Arthur from Merlin (Bradley James), who pops up in uniform halfway through the episode, and actually turns out not to be King Arthur, but First Lieutenant J.G. Edgars, who regretfully – on Carrie’s orders – flew the mission into Pakistan that has everyone in a tizzy.
Instead of showing remorse following Edgars’ confrontation, Carrie merely acts annoyed. But then when has she ever been one to listen to other people?