Claire Danes

Homeland - The Star

For such an uneven show, Homeland has always excelled at season finales. At the close of every year, the writers have shaken up the show enough that even the outlines of the following season are a complete mystery. Homeland‘s third season was a plot-heavy slog during many of its early episodes, which seemed like filler and empty melodrama. And the show wasn’t all that interesting in the last few installments, when the action completely took over to the detriment of character development. But “The Star” brought things to a thoughtful, daring, necessarily cynical end that felt every bit as satisfying as the rest of this season had not.

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Homeland - Big Man in Tehran

I remember the instant I was hooked on Homeland. After a ten-year separation, Nicholas Brody, a POW presumed to dead, and his wife Jessica, who had moved on with her life after being effectively widowed, were reunited. He was a ghost, she a vision. In his need for comfort, familiarity, and sexual need, Brody effectively tackled her onto the bed, while she accepted it in a cloud of confusion, guilt, and compassion. Then, for the rest of that first season, they assessed and reassessed their marriage to see what worked (very little) and what didn’t (most everything). Homeland used to be unafraid to feel. The big question that overhung that debut season — whether Brody had been flipped by Abu Nazir to the dark side, and thus whether he was being honest with his family, which he desperately wanted to be a part of once more  — was fraught with emotional weight. But in the past few weeks — and this season as a whole — the show has traded in character for cheap suspense.

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Homeland A Red Wheelbarrow

After last week’s episode focused on an intellectual debate between swift justice and the twisted road of espionage, Homeland ditched all of that entirely in “A Red Wheelbarrow” to opt for a well-plotted if characteristically ridiculous installment that found Carrie getting shot and Saul tracking down Brody in Venezuela. Like the William Carlos Williams poem it alludes to, “A Red Wheelbarrow,” is all about suspense: the “set piece,” I suppose, of Carrie butting heads with Dar and Quinn and getting a bullet in the shoulder for it and the longer one of Saul’s mystery trip. Both have in common Brody, who has been on the lam or drugged into glass-eyed docility since the Langley bombing. He’s maintained a presence back in Washington through Carrie, his sole advocate back home. She’s explosive in nature, attached enough to him and righteous enough about the truth that we don’t really need the excuse of a baby for us to understand why she’d champion him and his innocence within the CIA. I’m really hating this pregnancy for slathering an extra level of drama on a show that’s already 100% cheese. The show has written itself into a cowardly corner by making her fetus at 13 weeks, and therefore un-abortable. Of course, the best outcome might be for the massive blood loss from the shoulder wound to cause her to miscarry, or for Carrie to pull a Peggy Olson and put the baby up for adoption before telling the father about it. 

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Gerontion

The third season of Homeland has been a kind of meditation on the merits and and demerits of espionage, a thematic venture that sounds much more promising on paper than what’s been offered on screen. Part of that disappointment stems from the fact that the writers haven’t really come up with a point of view on the subject: one week Saul is the voice of reason for railing against the increasing devaluation of human relationships in spy work, the next week it’s that same kind of relationship that jeopardizes an operation. The show’s debates have become sound and fury, signifying nothing. Last night’s episode, “Gerontion,” is a continuation of this season’s unfocused jumble of ideas. Take, for example, its attempt at staging a debate between the moral relativism necessary to work with evildoers versus the ethical imperative bringing those evildoers to justice. “We should try [Javadi] for what he’s done,” says newbie analyst Fara, referring to the Iranian intelligence official’s role in funding the Langley bombing. Later in the hour, Quinn gets uncharacteristically introspective, declaring, “I just don’t believe it anymore…that anything justifies the damage we do.” He still feels guilty over killing that kid in Venezuela, which is good, because he’d be a sociopath otherwise.

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After last week’s surprise ending, where we learned about Carrie and Saul’s two-person undercover operation, “The Yoga Play” couldn’t go back to the shock well again. Thus we have a more relaxed (and meandering) episode this week, one that’s more focused on character and (hopefully) wrapping up dud storylines. We finally get a glimpse of the terrorist du saison, Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), who cuts quite a different figure from the deceased Abu Nazir. In keeping with the third season’s focus on the white-collar aspect of terrorism, Javadi comes across as a baddie with soft hands, someone who has a white-shoe law firm on retainer, is rarely seen out of a suit, and for whom burger juice on his button-down is always a first-priority problem. And the tall, thin, neat-looking Javadi doesn’t just strike a different visual note from the Nazir: Saul theorized last week that the second-in-command in the Iranian intelligence agency is less motivated by ideology than by money. (Insert joke about wanting some cheddar to go with that burger.) If he’s already filched $45 million from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, though, it’s unclear thus far why he ordered the Langley bombing, unless it’s to prove his anti-American bona fides. 

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Homeland Game Over

Carrie is Homeland‘s cockroach. We begin “Game Over” with her mired in a Kafkaesque nightmare, frustrated at every turn and more or less confined to her bed. By the end of the hour, though, she’s the survivor who, with Saul’s help, outwits and out-wiggles her way to the top of the heap. There’s no way to get rid of her — she’s just too good. If Carrie and Brody’s affair is the adrenaline-pumping, feeling-your-blood-course-through-your-veins kind of drug, Carrie and Saul’s bond is the opposite — the calm that comes after, the sensation of landing back on Earth and feeling strong and clear-headed again. Though the idea of Saul and Carrie at war and butting horns was interesting in theory, it was less so on screen, largely because they plotted alone, then only met up so Claire Danes could yell obscenities at Mandy Patinkin. Thus, it was extremely satisfying to see the two characters reunite and celebrate the success of the first step in their plan. “You’ve been very, very brave,” Saul reassures Carrie, then offers, “Come on, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.” It feels so good to have Papa Bear back!

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Homeland

The last time we saw Homeland‘s Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), he was at the Canadian border, being framed for the murder of 200+ CIA agents and ready to run away with Carrie (Claire Danes). Out of loyalty to Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and her her former place of employment (and maybe even a sliver of a survival instinct), though, Carrie decided to stay in D.C., but promised her bad romance that she’d clear his name. Since then, she’s no closer to fulfilling that promise. Instead, Carrie’s been stuck in a terrifying psych ward, where she figures the only way out is through groveling. Assuming that Saul and her doctor are in cahoots, she tries to thank them for doing her the “favor” of putting her back on lithium. The doctor thinks she’s still paranoid, though, which isn’t going to bolster her Brody-was-framed argumemt; she’s in fact so far from being able to leave she’s not even allowed visitors yet. Nor does she help her case by bashing her head against the bathroom mirror. “I’m going cr — I’m doing everything’s that’s asked of me,” she cries to a sympathetic nurse, who inexplicably risks her own job to allow Carrie to meet with a lawyer. But Carrie sees this white-bread attorney, Paul Franklin, as a recruiter for one of America’s enemies – a sign of her paranoia, perhaps, but also a surprising indication of her extant loyalty to the CIA.

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Homeland Uh Oh Ah

Terrorism is a blunt, imprecise force by design. Anti-terrorism is a blunt, imprecise force by necessity. That’s essentially Homeland‘s big statement about the War on Terror. The initial impetus for the series was an unmanned drone strike that killed an innocent little boy, Abu Nazir’s son, whose death a Stockholm Syndromed Brody was convinced to avenge. The carefully choreographed assassinations of six terrorists last week also ended in another child’s death — collateral damage is as unavoidable on CIA missions as a black turtleneck. Now we see that hammer come down on one of the agency’s own, with a newly Machiavellian Saul gripping the handle. After exposing Carrie’s mental illness and affair with a terrorist suspect to the world, Saul spends “Uh… Oh… Ah…” (I hope the episode isn’t named after Dana’s scene in the laundry room) playing hide-and-seek with his former protege. Fully aware that her mentor has set her up to be the agency’s scapegoat for the Langley bombing, Carrie attempts to confront him at the start of the hour. But he won’t be found until he wants to talk to her. Even then, it’s only after he’s exercised his power to have her discredited in the eyes of the press, then detained, subdued and medicated — all against her will.

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Homeland

As far as I can recall, there was no theme song for Homeland‘s season three premiere. That seems appropriate – it’s in line with the fact that, with Brody in hiding and the CIA in tatters, the Showtime drama is undergoing an identity crisis. For the first two seasons, Abu Nazir, Homeland‘s Osama Bin Laden, was the show’s Big Bad. Then Nazir was killed. Now what? For the first half of “Tin Man is Down,” it seemed like Marid Javadi, an Iranian terrorist responsible for arranging the bombing that took out over 200 senior CIA officials in the second season finale, might step into Nazir’s shoes. But showrunner Alex Gansa has promised “something that’s smaller, that is sort of a little more John LeCarre” for the series’ third year, which might mean something more inwardly focused: the point of the CIA. The Langley bombing occurred two months ago, and the rubble still stands as a rebuke to the intelligence agency for failing to foresee the event – Congress is forcing the CIA to sleep in the bed it wet. As the spy bureau’s acting director, Saul now carries the burdensome responsibility of not just rebuilding and redefining the organization, but defending its actual existence.

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Over the last month, many critics and even its creators have been citing Showtime’s new series Homeland as the first “post-post-9/11 program” as it deals with the issue of what to do now that the biggest threats of the last decade have been eliminated. It’s hard to say if that’s truly the case, but for now it would be fair to say that Homeland is the first legit espionage show to appear on the small screen in years. Legitimate in that this is a very realistic portrayal of what the word ‘espionage’ means. Webster defines it as “the practice of spying or using spies to obtain information about the plans and activities especially of a foreign government or a competing company.” It doesn’t make mention of aggressive tactical operations, shootouts, explosions, fist fights or kick boxing matches. The verbal form of spying, no matter the definition one uses, refers to the basic act of observing, not fighting. So much of what’s portrayed in television and film of the spy world is focused on offensive measures, often times meant to be interpreted as defensive counter-measures. But, in Homeland that concept is reversed, and to great effectiveness. Rarely do we get to see the truly defensive measures that are taken on U.S. soil and what our intelligence community’s response is when we are the foreign entity being infiltrated.

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Where has Claire Danes been, you might be asking? If you’re not asking that, I’m asking it for you.

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meandorsonwelles-header

Richard Linklater returns to the big screen with an entertaining backstage period piece that’s pretty insubstantial, save for Christian McKay’s remarkable performance as Orson Welles.

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meandorsonwelles-header

Freestyle Releasing has unveiled the final domestic trailer for Richard Linklater’s upcoming drama Me and Orson Welles, which stars Zac Efron and Christian McKay.

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