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Homeland – Still Positive Review: Frustration Nation

After last week’s disquieting and uneasy closing moments, which led many to believe that Carrie was made by the Iranians, (especially with Javadi’s little “yoga” quip) and thus put in some serious danger, there was a considerable amount of tension built up for the following episode. “Still Positive”, however, opens in a way that totally dissipates all the tension and anxiety created by “The Yoga Play” and immediately dismisses whatever intriguing conflict that would arise out of that situation.

Instead, Carrie is simply taken into a safe house for some mild questioning. This would be a fine narrative progression, if we had not been deliberately led to believe that shit was going to hit the fan. Why end an episode with a cliffhanger if you are not going to follow up on it? It comes across as gimmicky and is ultimately frustrating for the viewer. Having an ending like that only builds up expectation (as it probably should), but if the writers don’t deliver, then any narrative choice will be inevitably disappointing. Adding any unnecessary, and unfulfilled expectations to this already frustrating season is not the way to go.

Still, this was a serviceable episode of Homeland, particularly the first half. The ongoing operation is intriguing and following Carrie’s experience from playing the helpless captive, to turning the table around on Javadi is fun to watch. This small operation is reminiscent on the first season’s covert investigation on Brody. Both closed, high-risk investigations whose success or failure could impact those involved in grave and significant ways. I enjoy how personal this mission is for Saul and how much is riding in its success. His personal life is in shambles, his professional life is on its way to ruin, he really needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat if he wishes to remain an important figure in the CIA. God knows he needs a win. But his closeness to this case could be a hindrance; it could lead him to approach things in a reckless and emotional manner, much like Carrie has shown to do in the past. The character parallel and the potential dramatic progression could turn out to be compelling material.

Already we have seen little slips in Saul’s judgment, stubbornly assuming that Javadi would show up at the café and not bothering to check the nearing neighborhoods ahead of time (How could he not have known that Javadi’s family lived there?). These are things that are hard to believe, especially because Saul has always been a competent person and the missteps that happen in the episode are so glaringly obvious. As the mission starts to fall apart, so does the episode. I don’t know if the writers could justify this as a product of Saul’s slightly erratic approach. Instead, it feels like contrived storytelling, in which they (the writers) needed Javadi to do something insane in order to raise the stakes for Saul or setup for him losing his temper at the end of the episode. It doesn’t feel as believable as it should, which takes away from the truly engaging dynamic between Saul and Javadi. From what we have seen, Javadi is not a villain in the same vein as Abu Nazir was (regardless of his strange shift in characterization). There is much less humanity in him, which makes him a less compelling foil, but his brutality is quite unnerving. His past relationship with Saul adds a layer of intrigue to the story, which it kind of needed since it wasn’t entirely interesting before this episode.

Though the beginning of the episode provided promising material, Carrie and Javadi, Javadi spying on Saul, learning their history together, etc. The episode loses a bit of its footing when the narrative veers away from Saul’s operation. The first Dana scene emerges twenty minutes into the episode, and a part of the Homeland audience dies inside. Although the Dana storyline wasn’t entirely offensive, it has no place in the show; it just interrupts the ebb and flow of the predominant storyline. However, this could be the beginning of the end of Dana’s story. Moving from home, cutting all ties from Brody, where does she go from here? Hopefully somewhere far, far away where we don’t have to hear from her anymore. Still, this could also be setting up another storyline in which Brody attempts to contact Dana somehow (just as she is disavowing her father, he pops back into the picture) however impossible that may be; I wouldn’t put it far past these writers. For now, we can hope that there will be some Dana-free episodes to come.

Not long after Dana’s first appearance in the episode, we get another annoying development when we learn that Carrie is pregnant, with a ginger, Brody-spawn no less. Oh brother. How many times can the ‘unexpected pregnancy’ storyline plague strong female characters in television? This is such a lazy and cheap way to introduce drama in a show; it is a cliché that goes against everything we know about Carrie. Despite whatever mental health issues she may have, she is still a together, competent woman who has not given any indication to be aloof about birth control (considering her proclivity for anonymous sex); she is a woman who knows how to protect herself.

We can assume that the pregnancy was conceived in her and Brody’s mini-vacation at the cabin from season two, and judging by the drawer full of pregnancy tests she has known for a while. When exactly did she find out? As if this development weren’t awful enough, the fact that Carrie has known since before she was institutionalized and apparently wasn’t given a pregnancy test before being prescribed potentially harmful medication makes absolutely no sense and just wouldn’t happen. This feels, again, like poor writing. Like they are making it up as they go along. Why the writers decided to go this direction is absolutely puzzling. I have no interest in watching Carrie become a mother, though I don’t believe the writers will ultimately go there. My money is on an eventual miscarriage, which will leave emotional scars on poor Carrie Matheson. Sigh. Not looking forward to it.

“Still Positive” had the potential to become an adequate episode of the series, reminiscent of the earlier installments that made Homeland so successful and entertaining. But the disjointed Dana storyline and the direction the writers are taking with Carrie significantly affected the overall quality of the episode and indicate a rocky future for the series.

 Random Thoughts:

- I assume that the writers believe it will be interesting to explore the idea of Brody essentially ‘losing’ a child while at the same time ‘gaining’ another, but if he is not present to experience it, what is the point? This is me attempting to rationalize this new storyline, but it is not working.

- The pregnancy does work as another reminder of Brody’s far away, virtually non-existent presence on the show and in Carrie’s life.

- Saul has twelve days to get something useful out of Javadi and/or turn him in and reap some kind of reward from his capture. Once Lockhart is set to take over, there does not seem to be a place for Saul or Carrie in the CIA.

- Dar Adal is up to something, in addition to potentially throwing Saul under the bus and getting in with the new director, he seems insanely shady.

- How did Javadi bug Saul’s safe house? Who is the mole?



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