Homeland: “The Drone Queen” Season 4 Premiere Review

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Carrie Mathison and Co. have returned in fine form.

High-concept TV is hard to pull off. Not only do you have to make sure that your characters are fleshed out and interesting to follow for several seasons, but you also have to make sure the situations they find themselves in are exciting, not too complex, and sensical within the world of the show. It’s a tricky juggling act, having both a high-octane plot and solid character development, which is why many shows of this nature often drop the ball.

Homeland, at least for a while, was one of these shows. It’s domestic terrorist love story was initially exhilarating, but as the show moved past Brody’s usefulness, almost every scene he was in felt contrived. I realized at some point last season, when there was a stretch of episodes that didn’t include him at all, just how inessential he had become to the series. Unfortunately, his continued presence caused a chain reaction. As long as Brody was still in the picture, every other plotline had to scramble to give him a shred of relevance. The result was an all-out mess.

Then, something incredible happened. The show killed off Brody. The moment came late in the finale, so much so that I was nervous as to whether or not they’d actually go through with it. The result of this action was a completely fresh start. By putting this tired plotline to bed, Homeland has hit the reset button, paving the way for new and compelling plotlines, and for character development—particularly Carrie’s—that doesn’t revolve around a relationship gone sour.

Still, it’s understandable to be nervous. With unlimited possibilities comes great potential to screw things up again. Well, I have good news for you Homeland fans. You have nothing to fear. “The Drone Queen” is an excellent return to form: a thrilling piece of espionage drama, and an important examination of everyone’s post-Brody psyche. The best part? Brody isn’t mentioned at all.

We open on a completely new Carrie, or so it seems. Since the events of last season she’s become laser-focused on her work, earning her the titular nickname. She’s working in Afganistan, partnered with a new operative named Sandy (Corey Stoll) to plan and execute tactical airstrikes on known terrorist targets. She’s tough, efficient, and respected by her staff. Gone are her manic mood swings and erratic behavior. After a season of watching her behave rather bizarrely, it’s nice to be reminded of how good Carrie actually is at her job.

This is, however, only what’s on the surface. Back at home, Carrie seems to be resorting to her familiar habit of taking her pills with too much wine. A Skype call with her sister reveals that her and Brody’s child—named Franny—is being taken care of by her family back in the states. Originally, she was supposed to work in Istanbul, which would have been a safe enough location for her to bring her daughter with her. Yet, it seems Carrie was looking for more of a challenge.

This is what I find so absorbing about her character; the juxtaposition of her professional success with her personal woes. Carrie has always been at her most interesting when she’s forced to put on a brave face for the world while hiding some inner trauma she’s dealing with. What exactly made Carrie want to abandon her child? Why is she pushing herself to work in a more dangerous environment? How will this affect her missions going forward? All of these questions are intriguing, and have the potential to lead to a fascinating character study over the course of this season.

Meanwhile, Carrie’s work life soon becomes complicated as well when one of the targets she orders a hit on happens to be located in the middle of a wedding. Once the news leaks, there is a public outcry and political unrest. Carrie travels to Pakistan to meet up with Quinn and Sandy to formulate a game plan. It soon becomes clear, however, that Sandy only seems to be working for himself. He has a mysterious contact who advises him about the targets he gives to Carrie, and Quinn reports that he leaves the embassy campus to go off on his own several times a day. His character is suspicious, and will likely be a catalyst for the show’s central narrative arc. Stoll is an impressive performer, and his addition to the cast is very exciting.

What’s most interesting about this plot is the fact that it essentially makes Carrie and her team the screw ups who now have to save face, while the people of the Middle East come off completely innocent. On a show that’s constantly on the hunt for terrorists and vicious political leaders, it’s a nice change of pace to see the CIA get into some trouble themselves. In one poignant scene, a lieutenant who’s responsible for flying the drones berates Carrie at a bar for acting without thinking. “You people are monsters,” he says, to which she awesomely responds, “get the f*ck out of my face, Lieutenant.” Yes, it seems as though the CIA is not being portrayed in a positive light, but Carrie is not going to take this lying down.

A young Pakistani boy named Aayan (Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma) has a video of the wedding in question, and has lost his family in the explosion. He seems to want nothing to do with the protests against the United States, but I have a feeling his goodhearted nature will come into play later.

Back in the states, Saul now works for a private weapons company and lives in New York with Mira. He’s still a little rattled from the events of last season, and almost screws up a big contract with the Pentagon because he posits and anti-war stance. Things at home aren’t going so well either, as he still seems to be married to his job first and his wife second. Though I always find myself invested in Saul’s domestic drama, this plotline does worry me a little. With so much happening in the Middle East, his problems feel a little disconnected. I certainly hope they find away to draw him back into the fold soon, because Carrie and Saul are a truly electrifying pairing.

Despite this minor cause for concern, “The Drone Queen” is still a wholly gripping hour of television. The episode’s final minutes are wonderfully intense, with Sandy’s name being leaked to the press. What follows is a harrowing mob scene in the streets of Pakistan, as Carrie and Quinn shoot at civilians to defend themselves, while Sandy gets dragged out of the car and trampled. We don’t see what happens to him, but I have a feeling that Stoll wouldn’t have been hired for just one episode.

In the ending scene, Carrie looks at herself in the mirror before going up to talk to the ambassador. She wipes the blood off her face, puts on lipstick, and fixes her hair. In a way, it almost reminded me of the show’s first season, when she used to get dressed up to go out and pretend to be a married woman. There’s a chance she’s about to lie again, and I can’t wait to see what she says. Welcome back, Homeland. You’re a totally new show, but you seem to have recaptured your old magic. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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